Leading in the new normal: Work as both a place and an activity, has changed. What does the future look like?
Expert: David Masters, Lansons
Facilitator: Ralph Jackson, Lansons
State of play
Since the onset of Covid-19, there has been a sea of change in how asset managers function at an operational level. Asset Management was already an industry in transition prior to the pandemic, with demographic shifts, regulatory changes and the rise of ESG – both as an investment consideration but more importantly, as a requirement of our own corporate behaviour – changing the way we think about ourselves. But this ‘new normal’ has created several additional challenges for asset managers.
- While overall, Asset Management firms have proved to be very resilient to the unique challenges of Covid-19, not all departments have adapted as well as the rest
- There is a recognition that our workforces will not be simply willing to return ‘to normal’ when the necessity of working from home passes. Businesses need to find a way to develop a hybrid model of working, with colleagues working effectively both on and of site.
- Company attitudes to returning to work are very divergent, with some hoping to get the workforce back on site as soon as possible, and others expecting the majority of the workforce to remain at home in the long run
- This leads to many questions about the future of our office real estate. While most want to maintain a strong physical presence, the purpose of the office has come into question and there is an overall desire for more engaging and collaborative spaces than we currently have
While the way Asset Managers work is very different now in comparison to pre-March 2020, not all functions within our businesses have responded as effectively to this new challenge. While marketing teams have overall responded well to the challenges set about by remote working, other departments, particularly those with higher regulatory control or in the business development or distribution spaces, have struggled, with many needing to return to the office earlier than others.
Similarly, different personality types have coped better than others, and colleagues with different life circumstances have seen themselves needing different levels of support. Overall, junior staff have struggled more so, with many struggling practically with small, cramped, or shared accommodation, but also professionally as they are not benefiting from long-standing networks with clients or general experience like more senior colleagues.
But balanced against this is the fact that many of the workforce will not be willing to completely give up a lot of what has developed in this new normal: there are benefits from the way we are working today. There is less commuting, some have found a better work life balance, perhaps less distractions. Overall, delegates agreed that we need to continue to foster these benefits and empower staff to work flexibly in a way that works for both themselves and the business.
The ‘return to the office’ remains a top agenda point for most companies, and delegates demonstrated that attitudes towards this continue to diverge from company to company. While many reported a desire to have as many colleagues back on site as soon as possible, others stated that mainly working from home will become the norm from now on.
As an industry Asset Management has always been real estate heavy, however delegates unanimously agreed that the ways in which we utilise this space – focusing more on collaboration than desk working – is now at the top of leadership agendas. Overall, delegates aspired to create more collaborative spaces within their offices for meetings and creative workshop sessions, with the expectation that ‘heads down’ independent working was more likely to take place from home in the future.
Similarly, finding ways to maintain the company culture is a top priority. For many, this has included increasing spending on talent development and training, as well as sticking to long standing initiatives such as internship schemes or graduate programmes. But this also has included initiatives oriented around keeping colleagues feeling as though they are part of a community, albeit virtually. Initiatives discussed included coffee catch ups with different seniority levels and colleagues you would not normally work with – feedback from which was very positive.
Finally, looking at client relationships, research since the beginning of the pandemic has shown us that, overall, asset owners and clients are reflecting positively on our new ways of communicating – they like the directness and immediacy web working brings. Again, delegates reported a huge divergence in the needs of their clients, with some stating that clients are happy continuing to liaise remotely, but others pushing for face-to-face meetings for Q4. Overall, however, this will be decided based on the development of the pandemic and the severity of the second wave.
- The ways in which asset managers function has changed for the long term – we are working within a new paradigm and must respond accordingly
- Overall, asset managers have responded effectively to the pandemic and our workforces have been resilient and agile. While some colleagues hope for some semblance of normality resuming, particularly from a social or professional development perspective, workforces on the whole will not be willing to go back to the office 5 days a week
- There have been many benefits in terms of company culture and people are enjoying the increasingly flexible approach to work. However, maintaining this a positive company culture remotely will continue to be a challenge in the months ahead
The future of office real estate is on the top of leaders minds, and there is an aspiration to build more collaborative spaces within their offices for meetings and creative workshop sessions, with the expectation that ‘heads down’ independent working was more likely to take place from home in the future.