Banking

Bank of America tells more workers to come into the office

Some Bank of America Charlotte-area employees who have been allowed to work from home are losing that option as the lender scales back its roughly 10-year-old telecommuting program.

The move is the latest example of the bank limiting eligibility for its “My Work” program, under which some employees can work from home or satellite locations rather than a traditional office. Thousands of employees in Charlotte have worked under the program over the years, which the company has also made available to employees in other states.

Bank of America, one of Charlotte’s biggest employers, declined to say how many workers are being told they now must work from the office, but an affected employee told the Observer he knows of at least 50 colleagues who will no longer be telecommuting.

Working from home has become increasingly popular as more people can use home computers and smartphones to work virtually anywhere. But some companies have eliminated the perk. Last year, Internet giant Yahoo made national headlines and drew criticism when its CEO decided to ban working from home.

The Bank of America employees who have been told to report to an office fall under the bank’s global technology and operations division. According to talking points that Bank of America sent to employees, the bank conducted a review of “available workspace in Charlotte” and “identified employees who we will be relocating to begin working from office space in the city.”

The bank is “committed to an environment that fosters teamwork and integration,” the document says. That includes “providing opportunities for in-person collaboration and bringing employees together in the same physical space.”

Bank of America spokesman Mark Pipitone said the decision is part of an ongoing evaluation of the bank’s business needs as it tries to best serve customers and clients.

It is not unusual for Bank of America to make changes to where employees are required to work as the bank identifies available office space, Pipitone said. At least some of the My Work employees must now work uptown in the Gateway Center office complex on West Trade Street, where the bank already has technology and other operations.

The bank declined to disclose how many of its employees nationwide work from home. Only Charlotte is expected to be impacted by the recent decision. Employees who might now be required to work in an office can appeal the decision based on their personal situation.

Pipitone said the bank is not eliminating the My Work program or the bank’s other flexible-work programs.

Employers offer flexibility

Nicki Carrea, branch manager for the Charlotte office of placement firm Robert Half International, said the trend nationwide is for companies to give employees flexible-work options, not take them away.

Such options might include working from home one day a week or for special circumstances, such as if an employee’s child is sick, she said.

“Work-life balance in general is just something that people seem to care more about,” she said.

Most employers are still making employees come into the office every day, she said. “A majority of companies are still the 40-hour-a week, in-an-office company.”

In Charlotte’s large financial services industry, many employers prefer employees to work in an office rather than have sensitive financial documents in their homes, she said. But in other professions, such as graphic design and marketing, working from home tends to be more common as many of those jobs are freelance assignments, she said.

Kenny Colbert, president of The Employers Association, a human resources consulting company headquartered in Charlotte, said the percentage of companies offering some form of telecommuting has been stagnant in recent years.

A survey his firm helped conduct earlier this year found roughly 40 percent of employers in North Carolina allowed telecommuting. The report was based on responses of 384 companies of various sizes. Roughly half were in the Charlotte region.

Colbert said the percentage has been flat in part as some employers find certain jobs cannot be done outside of the workplace. Also, he said, employers have to determine whether offering telecommuting will increase or decrease productivity.

“You have to take a hard look at your workforce,” he said. “Are they more productive at home or are they more productive at work? When you are telecommuting, you sometimes lose the team spirit. You don’t have somebody in the next cubicle to bounce an idea off of.”

Upset over decision

An affected Bank of America employee, who agreed to speak to the Observer on the condition of anonymity, said the decision will force him and others to make lifestyle changes. The employee said he will now have to buy a vehicle so he can drive to work. He is also concerned about no longer being home when his children get out of school.

He said the bank’s decision will put more vehicles on Charlotte’s roads, impacting traffic and adding to emissions.

The bank’s global technology and operations division has about 110,000 employees worldwide. The division is headed by Cathy Bessant, who is based in Charlotte.

In recent months, the bank has laid off workers in the division, including an unknown number in Charlotte, the bank confirmed in February. In the Charlotte region, the bank employs roughly 15,000 employees across various business lines.

The My Work changes come as the bank has been focused on cutting costs under CEO Brian Moynihan’s Project New BAC.

Bank of America has been evaluating the My Work program since at least late 2012, when it asked department managers to identify job categories that would better serve the bank by having workers come into the office.

Under the program, employees can work at home or use traditional office space when needed in satellite locations, including in Huntersville and South Charlotte.

Some My Work space is in Ballantyne Corporate Park’s Betsill building, which the bank said earlier this year it will vacate by year’s end. Bank of America will continue to have My Work space elsewhere in the park and south Charlotte.

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