The lure of greater flexibility and a thirty-second commute has made remote working a popular choice for many over the years. And with the cost-savings offered up by smaller office spaces and more digital collaboration, it often benefits businesses as much as it does their employees.

Despite this, financial services firms have typically been slow to follow this trend. This is largely due to the need for robust governance and control requirements – naturally, this is easier to manage with boots on the ground. But with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing us all to play catch up, is this the dawn of new era?

Many businesses have already committed to long-term remote working. They are often the ones that found the transition surprisingly seamless. Their secret? We think that the answer almost always lies in company culture. 

It’s true – remote working does have a big impact on conduct risk management and the wider control environment. The normal support systems you would find in the office are no longer available and so it’s easy for your employees to find themselves isolated and demotivated, which brings with it an increased risk of poor conduct. Some managers may also struggle to spot and act when issues arise if they aren’t physically able to see what employees are doing.

But with a healthy culture in place, risks can be minimised from the off and are much easier to handle if they do arise. So, how can this be achieved?

1. Clearly outline your goals and your purpose

Behavioural science has shown that people are more motivated in their work when they are able to connect it to the bigger picture. While this might be easier for frontline staff, who can visibly see the impact their work has on the lives of their customers, it can be harder for back-office teams to keep your customers front and centre, day in day out. Understanding the strategic direction of your business is helpful for keep everyone on track, and organically reduces the risks of non-compliance. Outline the strategic direction of your business, including goals, vision and values, so your employees can truly understand what they’re contributing towards.

Behavioural science has shown that people are more motivated in their work when they are able to connect it to the bigger picture.

2. Ensure leaders are still visible

There is no real replacement for personal interaction. Before lockdown, it’s likely that staff would’ve been used to seeing senior leaders around the office almost every day. Naturally, it’s harder to create that same sense of belonging and comradery when your workforce is dispersed. But there’s plenty of ways that can be done virtually now — and some might prove more effective than before.

3. Enhance governance

In a drive to increase accountability, all APRA-regulated businesses will soon be subject to the Financial Accountability Regime. While a robust governance structure is always key to meeting regulatory requirements, it is more important than ever when staff are working remotely. Ensure you have the highest quality MI, from a range of sources. This’ll mean you can effectively address any conduct issues that arise in an efficient manner.

Building an effective culture is not something that can be done overnight. Firms looking to incorporate any form of remote working model must recognise how their current practices work in regards to regulatory expectations in the above areas. When you know your starting point, you can continuously track and measure your position as you bring in changes, keeping track of new risks as they appear.

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