Odyssey’s Quarterly Buyside Newsletter Q3 2020
Trends and Insight
Trends and Insight
The pace of returning to the office and the implications for employers and employees
Where the investment management industry stands at this cultural moment, and the steps it is taking
Private Equity and Private Credit
Summary: Leading investment management firms note that returning to the office has been slower than imagined. Even though the direction is towards returning, that return is taking place more gradually than expected. Not desperately trying to get back to pre-March working life is partly a sign of firms having managed to cope during this crisis. But with longer periods out of the office, concern is growing around issues such as company culture, talent retention and diversity.
After almost half a year of dramatic disruption from the pandemic, working from home (WFH) has gone from a bizarre surprise to an accepted reality. It has already gone on for longer than many of us anticipated, and the end is not yet visible. With uncertainty about when and how offices will re-open, there are fresh concerns about what additional adjustments may be required going forward, and whether working from home is sustainable, or even beneficial in the longer term. In recent weeks, we’ve had around 20 conversations with senior investment firm decision makers on WFH topics; these stemmed from our virtual roundtables conducted in April and May of 2020. The typical respondent was a C-Level/Head of HR from a multibillion-dollar investment firm, ranging from private equity, to public equity and multi-strategy firms, all headquartered in the U.S.
Our first major takeaway: the past six months have seen a complete reversal in how working from home is viewed. As one HR Head put it, “The anti-WFH culture in our industry has now been flipped on its head.” Where once there was widespread cultural expectation of significant office facetime, during lockdown, senior management in many firms learned that both front- and back-office personnel were highly productive; in their eyes, returning people to the office quickly brings risk but little incremental reward. Management also expected employee interest in returning to the office would increase with time, but the opposite has happened, and most employees are reluctant. Consequently, the plan to return has become much more nuanced: in phases, evolving, and offering significant flexibility.
In recent years, we have experienced an increased focus on gender representation in the financial industry, and recent protests have rekindled awareness that significant progress in racial diversity still needs to be made. Our industry has a long history of working towards social good, and this lends itself to a refocused and intentional plan for an inclusive workplace. Odyssey examines this cultural moment, and harkens forward at what’s to come.
2020 will be memorable for many things. Undoubtedly, one dimension that will cement this year as a landmark one, is our revived cultural re-examination. Over the last three years, the “Me Too” movement has provided an outlet for many women to communally share their experiences with sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, and in the wake of the protests for George Floyd and now Jacob Blake, we are witnessing a reawakening of racial consciousness both within the U.S. and globally. The Democratic candidate for Vice President is the first woman of color to run for that office from a major party. When looking back, 2020 will likely stand out as an incredibly difficult, but pivotal year.
Most investment firms say they are planning a “conservative approach” to returning from our current WFH environment…
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