As the world moves to reopen, a topic on most managers’ minds is how to approach the return to office. If we summarize observations from industry surveys, like the one from Odyssey Search Partners and JSB Partners and conversations with clients and colleagues, it appears that all clients intend to return to the office this fall in some fashion or another. However, managers have different plans in terms of how many days per week. The spread appears fairly even with about a third indicating they plan to return for 2-3 days a week, 4 days a week, and 5 days per week.
Some clients have already implemented their chosen model, while others are looking to decide later this month as kids go back to school and progress continues with vaccinations. As the summer ends, it will be interesting to see how the Delta variant impacts these return plans as parts of the country are increasing Covid-related restrictions. While these approaches recognize the reality of a new normal of a hybrid work environment for most, more than half believe it is temporary or will wait and see.
The new model in whatever variation brings with it the longer-term challenge of balancing the maintenance of productivity, culture, and performance with providing people the flexibility that many employees have come to appreciate, and in some cases thrive in. In general, this industry—across investors, managers, and service providers—was surprisingly efficient and productive through the remote environment brought on by the pandemic. Managers have recognized the high productivity and performance levels from their distributed teams, allowing them to rethink real estate commitments and open up to broader talent pools across diverse geographies. Many have integrated these factors into policies and procedures from the front to back office, as well as in cybersecurity policies.
Another area being rethought as a result of experience during the pandemic is investor communication. The operational due diligence (ODD) process has pivoted to the virtual environment with virtual meetings and an increased reliance on documentation reviews. In many cases, the efficiency of virtual meetings has led to more communication rather than less and this will likely remain a core part of this process moving forward.
Our own prime brokerage team completely pivoted to the remote environment and will be transitioning back this fall with facets of the remote model that will remain. Our Capital Introduction team, for example, was able to leverage the virtual environment to conduct more activities than pre-pandemic with significantly higher participation per event. This will definitely continue when we return to the office. We believe that the overall industry will evolve to a point where there are fewer large in-person conferences per year, with other more focused or smaller events remaining split between in-person and virtual.
Strategic planning and investment
With the start of a return to the office, however staggered, we have also seen a return to strategic planning and investment. Our Business Consulting team has seen a significant increase in discussions related to launches of new funds or strategies and investment in infrastructure. Through most of the pandemic, our clients leaned on us for more tactical initiatives and colour on the pandemic, with clients focused on transitioning to and operating in the remote environment, intentionally keeping change to a minimum. In recent months, we have seen this shift to a focus on a year-and-a-half of pent-up demand for investment and change.
The most common investments are in trading infrastructure, data management and automation, strategic outsourcing, addressing ODD gaps, revisiting legal structures and launching new vehicles or strategies. Additionally, we have seen start-ups that delayed launches during the pandemic, finally launch in 2021.
Our clients’ renewed focus on strategic investment has enabled us to maximize our value proposition by leveraging our team’s deep expertise in allocating resources directly to client projects and needs. This increased engagement builds upon the high levels of client connectivity we have been able to maintain throughout the pandemic. That said, we are very eager to reconnect in person with our clients when it makes sense as the world continues to open back up this fall and into 2022.