This article first appeared in ESG Clarity, 9th September 2020
Lockdown rules in the UK and Europe were eased over the summer and many investment professionals are looking at how their future working lives may look like.
Following on from our popular Working from Home series, we ask female members of the ESG community about lockdown habits, the prospect of returning to the office environment and adapted attitudes towards remote working.
In this article, Mandy Kirby, chief strategist at City Hive shares her remote working set-up and views on how the industry can innovate to benefit everyone’s workplace preferences.
How has the coronavirus affected your day-to-day work – from both a portfolio and workplace perspective?
I have been working from home for several years and have an established routine for the most part, and so actually, the hardest part was accommodating other people in the home with me! I had already been through a process to understand what time of day I am the most effective at different tasks and to find the optimal physical and mental space.
As a veteran, I’ve been able to leverage gaps in my schedule to get other home-related things done. Coronavirus of course knocked that sideways by adding in home school, more meal prep, more cleaning and several other people suddenly appearing in my favourite working places.
What have you enjoyed and disliked about remote working?
I am happy being alone to focus on work, but I do enjoy my own version of watercooler moments in the local cafe, and the collaborative way I work with my business partner, Bev Shah. Creativity needs changing scenery, and that was challenging while in lockdown. And of course I’m not actually alone and so concentrating on analysis and writing has been very difficult. I have felt very torn by the competing needs of my children and the pressure to keep them literate and happy.
Has your general attitude to travelling to work or for business changed?
Our company ethos has been to accommodate life and work. Because we set our schedules, we’ve always tried to commute to meetings off peak. I’m a happy cyclist and I wonder whether we’ll see more cyclists now – where I live is fairly central and rentable bikes are a common site outside my house. I love international travel and do miss it. I believe it’s culturally important to see a local environment, even if you only visit once. But perhaps we have to find other ways to understand and know our clients and colleagues.
Which lockdown habits do you think you will be ingrained in your every-day life (daily walk etc)?
I really hope it will be daily exercise beyond running up and down stairs– as I’ve passed a milestone birthday!
If remote working is adopted more permanently, what do you think are the benefits for the wider investment industry?
It is such an opportunity to evaluate how we use our time and how we can bring changes that will benefit everyone – but to do so we need to separate out the remote working aspects from the pandemic ones. The anxiety around health and availability of goods and services should subside, but not everyone has a good set up to work remotely permanently or would suffer from isolation or lack of oversight.
So, we should focus on how to be more flexible and innovative, and balance productivity with overall happiness (more studies are needed here, too). We came into this will the ability to communicate, and with collaborative technology. It’s ridiculous to me that in a global industry with global timezones we are all expected to commute in to be at our desks at the same time, even though we’re checking emails at breakfast and later at night. Adding in elements of flexibility could bring a lot of balance and help ease the strain on infrastructure.
I think more research should be done into optimal levels of human contact. We already know some people need much more daily contact and reassurance, and there are benefits to creativity and cohesion from teams being together at least some of the time – especially for those in mentally draining or repetitive administrative roles. But that shouldn’t tie us to desks. Office design had already moved from open plan to considering different types of space for different work. We’re fortunate in our industry that we don’t have to be on an assembly line – how can we innovate?
Share some good news you have heard recently about companies’ reactions to Covid-19 crisis?
I’ve been impressed with a few companies that have responded in a very human way to the needs of their staff, acknowledging the mental strain people might be under, the additional responsibilities that they have, the hard work that is being undertaken and the sensitivity they need to have towards going back into the workplace. Positive aspects have included regular communication with employees, open forums to share concerns and ideas, and gifting extra holidays to all staff in recognition that this is an unprecedented time. This has not been performative either, it’s been internally focused.
I’ve also seen a lot of effort put into making employees comfortable about going back to the office, for example offering healthcare measures like testing and onsite medical staff.
How have you managed home schooling and is this something you anticipate will continue?
It has been hard as my kids are young enough that they both need support and encouragement through their schoolwork. They do love and miss their school, and initially I put a lot of energy into making the days interesting as well as educational. I had to give myself a break after a while! I do think it made us all a bit more resilient – I’ve become much more confident about coping with long journeys or boring trips. If we have to homeschool again, the hardest part will be the loss of social interaction, as it means my lovely kids just want to chat to me all day!
What do you do for fun when you take a break from working at home?
Gymnastics and hide and seek in the park, climbing trees, feeding the ducks. It’s really wholesome! I had to squash the urge to check the news all the time.
What is your favourite sustainable snack when working?
We’ve been doing our best to support local businesses that have pivoted to grocery supply, so I’ve had some really odd baked goods and catering-sized jars of kitchen staples. My favourite though is ingrained from school days – a simple satsuma or apple.