WAR sites or work from home? Post-Covid-19 approaches to business continuity

A massive increase in home working is driving changes to the business continuity (BC) strategies of UK Finance’s member firms, with potential implications for resilience.

A massive increase in home working is driving changes to the business continuity (BC) strategies of UK Finance’s member firms, with potential implications for resilience.

Through discussions with members of our Business and Operational Continuity Committee (BOCC) over the last two years we have learned that the rise in employees working remotely has pushed many firms to consider moving away from the use of Work Area Recovery (WAR) sites, either by reducing the number of seats in those sites or eliminating them entirely in favour of working from home as the default BC strategy. The maintenance of empty office space is increasingly a difficult cost to justify for many of our members after several years of successfully operating through a global pandemic with employees working at home.

We were keen to understand to what extent BOCC members were considering a transition to such an approach, as well as the reasons driving that change and any new risks it might present to firms and the wider financial sector. We conducted our Work Area Recovery (WAR) site strategy survey in early September and have presented the key findings below.

Key findings

  • Only 60 per cent of respondents said they currently have a WAR site (e.g.: an in-house site, owned or leased by the firm, third party provided, or shared with other organisations). The other 40 per cent have either never had a WAR site or have given theirs up in the last two years.
  • Of the firms that currently use WAR sites, survey results show a clear trend of firms moving away from them:
    • 79 per cent of firms who currently use WAR sites said they had reduced the number of their WAR sites, or the seats in those sites, since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
    • Of the 21 per cent left who have NOT reduced their number of sites, or seats in those sites, half are currently considering doing so.
  • For firms that currently still use WAR sites, over half think it is at least somewhat likely that their firm will move away from traditional WAR desks entirely in the next five years. However, a number of them noted in free text comments that this will depend on the future approach to work area recovery sites taken by supervisory authorities.

For firms that do not use WAR sites, survey responses indicate a high degree of confidence that eliminating those sites has not negatively impacted resilience. In fact, the majority of members who have transitioned away from WAR sites in the last several years expressed their belief that working remotely as a BC plan actually carries less risk than their previous strategies.

Several respondents mentioned the fact that when WAR sites were required in the early stages of lockdown, they weren’t available and therefore didn’t fulfil their purpose. Others commented that they had already planned to move away from WAR sites prior to the pandemic, and successful home working in the last two years had been a vindication of that decision.

We will be discussing the implications of our survey results with regulators in the coming weeks to identify the risks and benefits this trend may have on the wider financial sector. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out at Kaitlan.billings@ukfinance.org.uk