No one could have predicted the upheaval that 2020 would bring. But organizations across the investment management industry nonetheless stepped up to ease the transition to remote workforces.
Nicsa members took a deep dive into the most recent policy and process challenges that HR, operations, and client relations teams are overcoming during a recent #WebinarWednesday event on the topic, titled, “Return to the Office - The Future of the Workforce.”
Nicole Callies, Director of Business Development, Mars SalesFocus Solutions, moderated the event, which featured experts from Capital Group | American Funds, J.P. Morgan Securities Services, and Ultimus Fund Solutions. (Nicsa members can replay an archived version of the webinar here). Each speaker shared a unique pre-and post-pandemic experience.
“My firm already had the capability to work remotely at the start of the pandemic,” Callies said. “But, since we have many individuals in both the San Francisco area and India, it was still a lot to handle logistically within our small company.”
Others faced different challenges.
Heather Schwab, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer at Ultimus Fund Solutions, said her firm focused on navigating barriers to relationship-building as lines between home and office became increasingly blurred.
“We did not want to lose sight of relationships,” Schwab said. “It was definitely challenging. We had to make significant shifts because we were accommodating working parents — many of whom had to take care of their kids at home. We let them know that we were flexible; that we understood their challenges.”
When it got to the point where they weren’t taking time off, Ultimus helped employees regain control of their work-life balance.
“We had to make sure that people took PTO, and that they were logging out at an appropriate time each day,” she said. “Burnout was a real concern.”
Schwab’s team made hundreds of phone calls to talk through the situation with both managers and associates. “The key to any relationship, including your working relationship, is communication,” she said. “We let them know we were there for them.”
Sharing his perspective from the client side, Paul DeSalvo, Client Executive, Asset Managers Sales at J.P. Morgan Securities Services, said the sales landscape remains in a state of evolution.
“I don’t think anyone has the answers right now,” DeSalvo said. “What I can say is that, in the last several weeks, the sentiment has changed in the U.S. There’s been a significant uptick in client demand for engaging within an appropriate physical distance. And that’s been great. “
DeSalvo said it’s important not to overlook the value of nonverbal communication cues, which can be easily lost in a virtual environment.
“That said, we probably won’t return to the same level of in-person communication that we had pre-pandemic — at least in the intermediate term,” he said. “We’ll try to carry forth the best parts of lockdown and optimize the recent past. For instance, we discovered that the virtual meeting does have a lot of merit. It’s never been easier to collaborate with some of our global partners in Ireland, Luxemburg, and Asia.”
The Operations Perspective
Erika Ivanyi, General Manager at Capital Group | American Fund, agreed that the future requires a happy medium in terms of social distancing.
“Things have changed,” Ivanyi said. “The novelty of working from home is wearing off, and a lot more people are interested in rotating in and out of the office than they are in working permanently from home.”
Something that her fund family will not be doing is allowing associates to work from anywhere. “They have to work within a reasonable driving range so they can come to the office when we need them to,” Ivanyi said.
Ultimately, panelists said they were anticipating bright skies ahead.
“There were a lot of challenges going into the pandemic, but our team did an excellent job working through the initial new normal, which was focused on business continuity,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to the new new normal — which is post-COVID, post-business continuity.”
Note: Although the observations contained in this work represent the best thoughts of the individuals comprising the Nicsa panel, they do not necessarily reflect the views of Nicsa or any of its member organizations. Matters addressed in this work may touch upon legal or regulatory matters, however nothing herein is intended to be or should be construed as legal advice. You should contact your own counsel in order to obtain legal advice regarding these or any other matters.