Morgan Stanley is wrestling with a complex set of regional and international challenges as it sets out to create a workplace strategy for its global financial services business.
Financial services giant Morgan Stanley is truly a global mega brand. Though its roots can be traced back to the Manhattan of 1935, today the organisation has operations in 42 countries, spanning North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, West and East Asia, and Australasia. This amounts to more than 55,000 employees in offices dotted on every corner of the globe.
So the challenge for Jena Hwang, Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Workplace & Design, is to develop a global workplace strategy and design that delivers a consistent experience, yet is sensitive to a myriad of local cultures and values. To do this, Hwang and her team enlisted the services of a global design firm to help create Workplace Design Guidelines for the organisation’s entire real estate portfolio. But Morgan Stanley’s portfolio is so expansive that it is impossible to use 1 design firm for every single project. So the aim is to develop a comprehensive design strategy that is built around a consistent set of guidelines – a design rulebook that can be the source for workplaces from New York to Mumbai. Of course, this spawns a series of additional challenges. For example, the design expectation is far greater in Morgan Stanley’s NYC headquarters than it is in the firm’s buildings in cities such as Budapest and Baltimore. Yet Hwang’s team has a duty to exceed expectations in every single project no matter the geography.
Moreover, Hwang has identified certain workplace initiatives that may have a varying impact on buildings in different locations. She claims that employees in the organisation’s London home have highlighted their need for more “mobility and flexibility”. But while flexible or agile working policies may be appropriate for people in the London or New York offices, they may not be suitable for Morgan Stanley employees in parts of East Asia. Hwang says that some preliminary research into working patterns in that region suggests a higher level of presenteeism among staff. Commenting on the cultural implications, she explains: “Often you don’t go home until your boss does and there is an expectation that you are in the office every day at a certain time.”
These findings form part of a bigger piece of research that Morgan Stanley is now undertaking before it sets out an overarching real estate strategy – and although Hwang is reluctant to jump to too many conclusions before she has a better sense of employee preferences, she is confident that it will not lead to a one-size-fits-all solution. “Even if it’s a global program,” she says, “we will have to be more thoughtful around how we apply the solutions because it is going to be very much defined by business unit, project, and regional drivers.”
However, there are some notable commonalities. Hwang says that the leadership has made it clear that Morgan Stanley should be an “employer of choice” in the financial services industry, and she understands just how big a role the workplace can have in achieving this objective. This is true even in countries like India, where the organisation’s campus is situated a stone’s throw from two US merchant banking competitors. “It is very easy for the workforce to walk across the street and get another job,” she says. “So we want to set ourselves apart. We want to have an edge in the war for talent.” In a world increasingly dependent on technology, however, that edge is shrinking. Today, all sorts of businesses need tech-savvy recruits to build apps, analytics platforms and other online tools. So while Morgan Stanley once headhunted mathematicians and traders, Hwang explains, it is now competing for these new knowledge workers head-to-head with the likes of Google and Facebook, as well as organisations in other industries. The talent and skills they want, are are now some of the most transferable in the jobs market, not just in India, but worldwide. “If the salary is the same, [people] look at what else a company can offer,” says Hwang. “Are we offering more amenities? Are we offering free food? Are we offering a more compelling work environment? There is a shift here and we need to be more responsive to it,” she adds. “If this is the type of labour that we are looking to attract, we need to be more thoughtful about how we create the right environment.”
As a business, Morgan Stanley believes that its global presence is the key to its customers’ success. Its international offices allow it to monitor a multitude of markets and be far more responsive to global trends and events. Hwang and her team realise that the same principle applies to the employees: a better understanding of the nuances of its global real estate portfolio will improve the lives of its people.