The management of Axa Bank Belgium have reached an agreement with staff unions to leave the decision on whether to return to office work or remain with tele-working to staff themselves.
The coronavirus pandemic saw a fundamental change to the workplace, which many experts are seeing as irreversible. Many employers were obliged to have their staff work from home because of health restrictions. Other chose to continue even when restrictions were relaxed. The old way of thinking – that people work better under the direct supervision of their superiors – turned out not to hold water.
Some companies went even further. Telecoms company Proximus intends to get rid of half of its office space in two blocks towering over the North station in Brussels. Staff will work from home, while those who come in from time to time can ‘hot-desk’.
Other companies are bound to follow suit, with all of the consequences that entails for the office market.
The Axa decision affects staff at the headquarters near the Royal Palace in Brussels can decide from 1 September whether to work from home or the office, and a mix of the two is being recommended.
A mix also seems to be the preferred choice of office workers in polls. Working from home offers time savings and more comfort, but it also deprives staff of many of the benefits of working with others, even if it is only gossip around the coffee machine.
The choices will be made on the basis of discussions with managers and colleagues, the bank said. And there is no reason to think customer service will suffer.
“We do not expect an extreme situation in which most people no longer come to the office at all,” said Lisa Pieters, spokesperson for the bank. “But we want people to be given the responsibility and freedom to decide for themselves when they work from home.”
Axa Bank has so far offered its staff the most flexible regime for tele-working. The situation for the other banks at present is as follows:
Belfius: staff can opt for a home-based programme involving at least 50 days a year working in-office, rising to a maximum of 100 days. For those who prefer not to adopt that plan, the existing two days a week working from home applies.
KBC: Staff from 1 September can work 50% at home, as long as they are in the office a minimum of two days a week.
BNP Paribas Fortis: negotiations are still under way.
The regimes described refer only to head offices, and do not affect the staffing or opening hours of agencies.