By Melissa Norris and Megan Staczek
The coronavirus pandemic has shown the investment management industry that its people can successfully work from home (WFH), regardless of function. But everyone is wondering what’s next. People are asking questions such as: Will this change be permanent? Will firms be more open to people working remotely – either permanently or partially? What are the impacts of a workforce that is in some form working from home?
While there are many benefits and challenges to telework (see the addendum to this article below), we’re taking an even broader view of the current situation with the following questions:
- What WFH structure do employees want? And what structure works for the employer?
- How does firm culture play into a possible shift to continued WFH?
- Should firms instate a permanent or more robust flexible WFH model?
- If so, how will this impact teaming and culture?
- How will these decisions impact continued employee satisfaction and recruitment success?
Our thoughts follow.
A Change in Mindset
There’s been a change in thinking in the way business is conducted in the investment management industry. It follows that many are now considering what this will look like going forward, and how leaders must change their mindset to be effective in a virtual environment over extended times.
While we don’t have all the answers about what the future holds, here’s what we do know: a large majority of employees are looking for flexible options, and firm culture is a key factor in determining the success of a continued WFH structure.
In recent conversations with investment management professionals, all have expressed a strong desire to continue some WFH. Even the most social people who look forward to returning to their offices still want flexibility. Firms need to give this issue serious thought given current market demands.
Culture is that unique component to each firm resting on its beliefs, values and assumptions. Firms that are more star-system driven, and those with employees who make decisions independently with little input from others, will have an easier time adapting to a longer-term WFH model. Firms that are more collaborative, consensus-building organizations may find 100% continued telework to be more challenging, however.
How Does a Firm Engage with Continued WFH Structure?
Given these industry-wide shifts, leaders are beginning to think about whether a permanent or part-time WFH environment is suitable for their firm longer term. In related discussions, leaders may wish to address how to:
- Stay connected with their teams.
- Cultivate relationships and deepen trust between employees and their managers.
- Engage virtually in ways that reinforce firm culture.
- Onboard new associates in ways that teach firm culture.
- Build and sustain effective teams and peer groups in the virtual environment.
- Decide which positions and functions to continue as remote work and which need to be done onsite.
- Learn new ways to manage work and performance from a distance.
- Align team priorities and the interdependent nature of work.
- Avoid fatigue and not only survive but thrive.
If your firm does decide to adopt a partial or permanent WFH environment, we suggest that leaders and their teams work to:
- Engage employees across the firm to identify the most important aspects of the culture and how to sustain them while virtual.
- Survey associates to find out what has been working well and the top challenges for them in a WFH environment.
- Focus on team-development and team-building to reinforce culture, core values and engagement. (Yes, this can be done by video!)
- Increase leaders’ abilities to create connection and engagement virtually.
- Build a cultural assimilation process into the virtual onboarding for new associates.
- Further retention and culture by developing ways to form connections with leaders and managers in the virtual environment.
- Set up virtual meetings to allow a new employee to observe their mentor, possibly while off video.
- Look for opportunities to create spontaneity and comradery in order to ignite creativity and innovation.
- Consider opportunities to socialize as a team in a relaxed setting following longer meetings.
- Establish regular “office hours” where workers can pop-in virtually.
- Create “no-meeting time zones” to allow workers to break from their screens and recharge.
It’s important for investment management firms to consider allowing continued flexibility to their workers. A split-work environment, with some time spent in the office and some time at home, may be the most viable structure for future success. Why? The 100% in-office and WFH models all have benefits and challenges that are effectively balanced out by adopting a hybrid structure.
A change of this scope will likely represent a culture shift for many firms. But the benefits to adopting this model long term – including improved work-life balance and positive correlations to employee satisfaction, retention and hiring – are compelling reasons to consider this shift. The reality is that WFH is moving from a perk to a norm. Firms that resist such a culture change risk negatively impacting their brand, and potentially alienating their current workforce and the types of candidates they attract to meet future hiring needs. To remain competitive in the marketplace, firms will likely need to continue to provide some level of remote work capabilities going forward.
The next step for leaders is to dialogue with their teams to explore the issues and questions raised in this article. In the current environment, it’s critical for firms to take steps to map their way forward in order to succeed and thrive and be an employer of choice.
If you have any questions, or you’d like to continue this dialog, please feel free to contact us.
Addendum: The Benefits and Challenges to Telework
The entire industry (and beyond) has seen that work from home (WFH) is not only possible but comes with myriad benefits and challenges.
- More flexibility, which correlates to happier employees and increased retention
- Access to a broader geographical applicant pool
- More success with diverse candidates
- Reduced commuting time and costs
- More time for self and family care
- Increased productivity for some, with fewer in-office interruptions and distractions
- Fewer opportunities for negative unproductive talk around the water cooler
- Greater comfort, sharing and creativity among employees working together as they show up in a more casual way – from their home offices with their dogs and kids in the background
- Increased profits from lower real estate costs, and from accessing talent from regions that support lower compensation levels, among other reasons
- Although the question arises as to whether individuals performing the same duties in Oklahoma and New York City are compensated equally because the value delivered is the same, or differently due to the varying costs of living in those regions
- Building and sustaining culture and engagement
- Developing trust and strong working relationships among colleagues and their teams
- Finding new ways to ensure that diversity of thought and innovative approaches are cultivated, whether attendees are a blend of virtual and in-person, or all virtual
- Communicating culture to new hires
- Onboarding new hires
- Developing talent, including mentoring and shadowing
- Setting effective boundaries between work and home/family environments
- All meetings must be scheduled – there are no more ad hoc encounters to cover quick topics
- Spontaneous dialogues that lead to relationship-building and problem-solving occur less frequently
- Large group settings may be more challenging over video
- Conversations are sometimes more formal if people are less comfortable communicating over a screen
- Brainstorming may be harder virtually as both attention and connection can suffer
- Networking may be awkward for some
- Limited human and social interaction may lead to feelings of isolation and depression for some
- Developing ideas and advancing projects may take longer
- Video conferencing fatigue
Jamesbeck is a highly specialized executive search firm that focuses exclusively on the global investment management industry. The firm helps clients identify, assess and integrate top-tier executives across both investment and non-investment positions. Jamesbeck was founded in 2002 and works with some of the industry’s leading asset management firms. The firm has offices in New York, San Francisco, and London. For more information, please visit http://www.jamesbeck.com/.
About Megan Staczek and Leadership Coaching at Jamesbeck
In an effort to further align ourselves with our clients and ensure the success of our placements, in 2018, Jamesbeck partnered with Megan Staczek, an executive coach who brings 24 years of coaching and consulting experience to C-level executives and senior managers. As Jamesbeck’s coaching partner, Megan assists clients with seamlessly on-boarding and integrating selected candidates into their organizations. She also leads a coaching and consulting firm, Capacity Group, focused on helping leaders and teams grow and transform to meet new business challenges. Please reach out if you would like an introduction to Megan.