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Supplements » Global Industry 2020

London roundtable: Operating in the new normal

Funds Europe – Is working from home set to be a part of the new normal and what advantages to firms are there?

Cicconetti – In the London office, our working policy was already including one day per week where everyone was working from home. The pandemic has just accelerated this process.

Post-pandemic, finding the right balance between office and home is a complicated task and it really needs to be done in a way where each team sets up its own schedule. It’s a matter of trust. Going forward, I think we’ll have a 50/50 balance between home and office

At Schroders, we also feel it is very important that the senior people are able to transfer their experience to junior colleagues while in the office. I have been lucky enough to learn a lot from each manager I worked with, and it is very important that we continue to share office time with our younger colleagues.

Pilbeam – We’ve taken a slightly different approach at Natixis. As the number of staff has increased, we’ve got to the stage where we are now having to limit the amount of people that can come into the office at any one time.

What policy, what procedure is correct? I think we will wait and see. Will we stick with this? We’re not too sure, but one thing the pandemic has shown us is the adaptability of ourselves and our clients, and we’ve noticed that as a sales team and through our interactions with clients. We held our internal sales and marketing conference in October online, all from the comfort of our own home – there was no travel, no accommodation. Things were quite easy to organise, so I think we will see change that will be permanent.

It’s a people business and we do like to see the whites of people’s eyes. Will that continue if we continue with a permanent work-from-home policy? I’m unsure, but I suspect we’ll end up with some kind of hybrid model.

Ide – What I think is quite interesting is even people who at the beginning of the pandemic preferred to work from home due to concerns about travelling on public transport or, more specifically, actually being in the office, when they come in, they realise that they slightly miss it.

Our work-from-home contingency response to Covid-19 has been working very well and returning to the office in any given location will not start until applicable government advice changes. We have a robust work-from-home capability that enables almost all of our employees around the world to work remotely. That said, with regulations and advice changing all the time, we need to keep a real balance here. It also puts a kind of premium on leadership. I took last week off and I came back feeling that the clocks have changed, it’s daylight savings here in the UK, and the days, particularly in Scotland, are getting shorter. It’s quite a tough environment for people to work in. We’re almost having to come back and rethink how we respond to that.

Smith – We’ve also tried to keep the office open much of the time on a voluntary basis and in line with government guidance. At Ninety One, we talk a lot about results and relationships, they’re the two core foundations at the heart of our culture. On results, we’ve all demonstrated – internally and with our clients – that we can work effectively, for a period at least, remotely. But longer-term, we definitely see the office as the centre of gravity for our business. It’s the place where energy is created, it’s the place where ideas are generated, it’s the place where proper enduring relationships are forged. Whilst there’ll definitely be flexibility going forward, we’re very clear that there’s real value attached to the continued use of the office as a hub for our business.

Duval – I totally agree that we’re going to have a mix of working from home and the office. The question resides on the mix proportion. We do believe, as Nigel said, that the office is the place to be in our business, because it’s a people business. We can operate remotely, we’ve proven that we could do that, and France has been very military in the way we addressed the lockdown, there was literally the army in the streets everywhere. We operated, distancing ourselves from your colleagues, but you lose the sparkle – you are just carrying out tasks and maintenance, but our business is more than that – otherwise you will become irrelevant very fast.

Also, not everybody is equal in working from home: not everybody has a house or a garden or a five-bedroom house. We have employees who live in a one-bedroom flat with three kids, and believe me, it’s tough mentally for them. We should never forget that, and have it clear that working from home is not necessarily a social progress.

Lastly, we need to herald the unsung heroes of this crisis: HR, IT and operations. They have been crucial in ensuring we can work from home successfully. And, somehow, leading the firm.

Creswell – I’d like to echo that. I strongly agree with what Pascal and others have said about our industry. It has an office culture for all the reasons people have said, and I’m quite certain that will return. Before Covid, if people said they were working from home for a day or a week, there was always the suspicion, and often the reality, that people were really not that focused on their work when they were working from home, but we’ve crossed that bridge now. What’s become very obvious is that when people are working from home, they are working probably harder than ever, so that’s a really important distinction.

So, will it be part of the new normal? What is really apparent are the technological benefits, and this is a great example. Isn’t it shocking that if we were doing this by way of a conference call a year ago, by voice, we would barely be able to hear one another because the technology of the legacy carriers is underinvested and absolute rubbish? One of the permanent changes will be, even when we’re back in the office, this kind of technology will replace many of our interactions for certain meetings.