Supplements » Global Industry 2020

New York roundtable: Saying no to the ESG naysayers

Funds Europe – Is working from home set to be the new normal and what advantages to firms are there, if any?

Garland – The answer is that it is part of the new normal, but don’t underestimate the importance of being together in the office. I think the flexibility is fantastic, and I’m sure you’ve all found this. But when you can get to the office, that kind of activity shifts dramatically. We are very, very clear that we need to keep the office environment, but we want to give flexibility, and I think the great thing is it changes the work/life balance. It also means you can broaden the pool of people we can hire from, which is such a huge positive.

Ehret – The reality is that unplanned interaction in the office is the thing that makes collaboration and innovation happen, and it’s hard to do that remotely. There has to be an office component, but we realise that we can be more flexible with staff as well. We’re operating in 20 different locations. Remote working is something that we must accept and embrace.

Jones – I want to speak about our efforts around diversity and inclusion that we’ve been so focused on for years. I believe that this new normal of flexibility lends tremendous momentum and support to the whole D&I [diversity and inclusion] focus. I think it’s a huge win for the financial services industry, which has always been an outlier by not really offering a diversified, flexible work environment.

Coldren – We hear from our employees that one of the biggest advantages is the lack of the commute. Being in Boston, the commute can be a challenge and people feel like when you take that out of their day in the morning and the night, you give them more time, they’re more productive, they’re more efficient, so we’re hearing a lot about the lack of the commute as being a big positive. As a sales organisation, we do believe that people benefit, especially on the sales side, from being around one another. Clearly, we’ll make more work-from-home opportunities available, but we still believe in an office culture and people being around one another and having all these one-off discussions.

Van Eck – We have been deferring the back-to-work decision, to be honest. Offices outside the US have tried to go back to work as they really believe in teamwork. But cases have spiked again. Rent saving isn’t really the dynamic that we’ve been focusing on either, because I don’t know what the new normal is going to be. How that is done equitably, I think, is really important right now, but we don’t have solutions to that.

Garland – We’ve deliberately not come out with a rules-based approach. Our view is we’ve got to trust our employees, show them the benefit of being in the office, but if they want to work from home three days one week and one day the week after, that’s fine.

Ehret – One of the big negatives is the difficulty of onboarding new employees, especially recent graduates or those early in their careers, to create the culture and training, and allow them to engage easily with a network of peers.

Van Eck – I had an in-person lunch with two colleagues where I really felt like going forward for the next several years, we had to work something out in person, some uncomfortable things needed to be said about people’s strengths and weaknesses and doing that in person was the only way to do it; there’s no way we could have had it on Zoom. There’s a certain amount of Zoom fatigue that people have where there’s more multi-tasking going on during Zoom meetings that’s a little bit hard to detect.

Jones – We’ve all, over time, recognised that our desire to bring people back into the office in some way, shape or form is not about an enhancement of productivity, because we’re all worn out and exhausted from the productivity, but it’s really around how we instil the culture that has kept so many people working here or attracted new people. I think over time, remote working will become part of our corporate culture. There’s going to have to be a balance.

Van Eck – And there’s no science. The Economist had a good article with all these CEOs with different opinions and there was absolutely no basis for them whatsoever. This was the year of the HR department. All these work-from-home issues put a premium on having good HR staff.

Ehret – The training and learning component of what we do has really been enhanced so dramatically, and so much of it can be done online, so much of it can be done through Zoom. We’ve been able to take advantage of a lot of tools. I think people are more willing to take advantage of training opportunities and new tools because they have a different kind of time availability than ever before.