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The bank office renovation revolution

Jul 20, 2018 / Consumer Banking / Technology

Banks aren’t quite trading in pinstripe suits and formal board rooms for hoodies and scooters—but interior innovation is on a roll.

As other traditional corporate cultures take a cue from design-savvy tech companies, banks are trying out redesigned workspaces. And why not? With branch reconfiguration all the rage, it makes sense to treat the employees as special as customers. 

The designs look pretty and contemporary, but the motivations behind them are timeless. From the renovated corporate headquarters to the community branch, the goals are to increase employee productivity, attract desirable job candidates as well as customers, and maybe save a few bucks along the way.

Attracting top-level staff among millennials and Generation Z also ranks as a top priority. Both demographics comprise about half the U.S. workforce. The problem of employee retention looms in financial services and throughout the business world, as young employees predict they will change jobs every two years, according to a recent Deloitte survey.

So step into the open office, where collaboration is the buzz word that makes things hum. Here’s how three banks benefited by updating their workspaces from the inside out.

Lead Bank: Change at the Crossroads

Lead Bank recently overhauled its Crossroads office in Kansas City, Missouri, where the three-branch institution is based. To create an open environment and increase collaboration, the bank went all in on the redesign strategy. In fact, you could say they literally bet the ranch: They traded traditional desks for farm tables. 

“We could get more work done and [do it] better,” says Brooke Clouse, Lead Bank’s director of retail services and senior vice president.

Lead Bank also removed traditional physical barriers such as teller counters and installed a popular coffee café. Old movies play on a TV. It’s a favorite for staff and clients. Plus customers, not managers, decide where to meet—whether on the rooftop patio, in armchairs, or in the conference room, Clouse explains.

“At first [people] were apprehensive and nervous about it,” Clouse says. “But after they got into the groove, they were really excited.”

Turns out the main attraction isn’t a mocha cappuccino on the rooftop: It’s a spiffy meeting room. “Clients can use it for free, or staff can use it on their down time,” she says.

The twist is that anyone can use it—even someone unaffiliated with the bank. The room is free of charge and is equipped with Apple TV and video conferencing. It’s in such high demand that users must schedule time slots.

Patriot Bank: The guts to gut rehab

With locations in Connecticut and New York, Patriot Bank gutted its Stamford headquarters to create open environments with low-profile cubicles and a brightly lit office space. Renovations such as these are part of a larger effort to leverage brick and mortar, explains Richard Muskus Jr., Patriot’s president.

As an added bonus worthy of a paper airplane toss, Muskus adds: “You can see the tops of people’s heads and yell at each other.”

The offices on the bank perimeter utilize abundant glass to allow more light in and visibility; the color combination is a trendy light gray, accented by newly installed LED lights. “It’s meant to be in fashion, but it helps brighten it up so people don’t feel like they’re in a basement all day,” he says.

The common space is inviting, too: It has a diner-style booth in the kitchen. “The environment is important to us,” Muskus points out. The in-house creativity that went into rethinking the office has also sharpened how business gets done. The new surroundings allow credit analysts to collaborate, for example.

“We had the luck to design it ourselves,” Muskus says of the reconfiguration. “It’s worked out very well for us.”

Fifth Third Bank: The writing’s on the wall

Headquartered in Cincinnati, Fifth Third Bank recently revealed an ambitious renovation plan called OurWorkplace, which seeks to create more flexible office spaces. Part of the Bank’s NorthStar initiative, OurWorkplace was piloted in Detroit in 2016; as of press time; work is wrapping up at Fifth Third’s Central Ohio office in Columbus.

The newest OurWorkplace combines beautiful, bright and funky. The Community Spot invites folks to leave feedback on how to improve the bank’s local presence. It’s a wall of blue-hued clipboards, lined up like paint swatches in a home decorating store. Feel like writing directly on the walls instead? There’s a place for that called the Collaboration Station.

Private offices are out; conference areas are in. Treadmill desks, huddle rooms, couches and cafes encourage teamwork, incorporate sustainability practices, increase employee engagement and reduce real estate and occupancy costs—hopefully to the tune of $20 million by 2020. 

Modular furniture and fewer offices also reduce costs and energy. Most companies, including Fifth Third, don’t use 30 to 40 percent of their desks on an average day, according to Fifth Third. Travel, meetings and vacations turn empty desks into underperforming assets.

Fifth Third’s headquarters is also home to ONE67, a new 15,000-foot innovation center that aims to increase creativity and employee engagement. (ONE67 is a spin on 5/3, or 1.67.) Movable walls, pods and casual work areas encourage brainstorming and bring decision-makers together.

“The various spaces were designed to enable individual employees to work comfortably where they can be their most productive and creative selves for what they are working on,” said Melissa Stevens, the bank’s chief digital officer, in a press statement.

Stevens’ team works out of ONE67 with an open seating concept. “We host project teams to teach agile development, speeding up the process from concept to launch—by more than double in some cases.”

Actionable advice for redesign magic

While their investments as well as designs differed, all three banks shared themes that made their renovations successful. Here are five tips for renovating and managing your bank’s new workspace, according to Fifth Third.

  • Communicate with staff and customers. Town halls, meetings and intranet can help.
  • Create a change management team.
  • Allow for an adjustment period. Ask for feedback.
  • Offer tech support via phone or in person. With traditional work spots changing, switching to more laptop usage is likely, for example.
  • Consider open houses and tours for staff and customers.

Communication, patience and a managed transition are key for employees and clients to feel at home in the new spaces. Redesigned spaces mean human readjustment—but given the choice between a cubicle and a café, who wouldn’t want to stand in line?

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Anne Brennanis a business writer whose credits include the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, TheFiscalTimes.com and MSN.

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