Lockdown rules in the UK and Europe have been relaxing in recent weeks 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, Amanda Young, global head of responsible investment at Aberdeen Standard Investments.
How has the coronavirus affected your day-to-day work – from both a portfolio and workplace perspective?
My schedule has had to be a lot more flexible. It’s only me and my eight year-old son, George, so I’ve also had to fit my working schedule around George’s schedule too. We used to have an au pair, cleaner and a dog walker to help out, but they haven’t been here during lockdown.
I have to be very disciplined with my time – in the morning, while I’ll be working, I make sure my diary is free of calls. That means, I arrange meetings and calls for after 1pm, when school is over and George can amuse himself. I must say, the team have been excellent in that regard and we’ve all made it work.
Getting things done can be quite a challenge as you can’t just pop over to someone’s desk to ask them a question. There’s a lot more calls and video conferencing which I think slows things down quite a bit. On the upside, with no commuting and travel, that gives you a bit more room to be more flexible. I have to admit though that screen time is far more tiring, so it is important to take proper breaks and be disciplined.
What have you enjoyed and disliked about remote working?
I have enjoyed spending more time with George, we’ve taken up a lot of new outdoor hobbies, baking and cooking together, it’s been fun.
I’ve also been amazed at the real sense of community that has blossomed during lockdown. I live in a little crescent of houses and all the neighbours have really come together. In fact, we have a WhatsApp group, so if someone needs shopping or errand run, we all use that and help one another out. Actually, it’s thanks to the group that I found out some of my neighbours love dogs and have offered to walk mine, which has been a great help. So, that sense of community has been lovely.
However, what has really hit me is how much I’ve missed being around my colleagues and that physical contact you have. You know, someone to give you a hug or take you for a coffee on a bad day. I have friendships at work, and we talk online, but it’s not the same. That physical, emotional support, I’ve really missed that.
Are you making plans to return to work in the office?
We have been informed it’s very likely we won’t be going back to the office until the end of the year, but when we do go back, I think a lot will change.
In business, I think people will be judged more on their output, rather than how much time they spend in the office. I enjoy working in the office and around my colleagues, so I’m certainly looking forward to going back, however what will be nice is knowing that working from home will now be encouraged. Before, I used to panic if I couldn’t get childcare, but now I’ll feel much more comfortable because people will know that I’ll still be as productive as if I were in the office.
I suspect the new “norm” will be a greater mixture of working patterns; I don’t think the normal office environment will exist in the future.
Have you thought about changing how you commute?
Luckily, I never had a very long commute (just a 20 min walk to work!) Although, I do miss it as it was a chance to get a bit of exercise and breathe at the end of the day. Currently, it’s a 10 second exit strategy from my study to the kitchen!
What will change is the need to travel for work. I think people will be far more accepting of you attending meetings remotely, and there will be a reluctance to expose yourself unnecessarily on public transport. I think we will all travel less for work in the future, which will be great for the environment.
Has your employer’s attitude towards remote working changed? How?
We’ve always been very flexible, however in the past, people may not have been as comfortable to work from home unless it’s an emergency. Now, our co-workers, managers, etc. can see our level of productivity and output, which in turn allows us to feel more comfortable working from home –reassured in knowing that we can still get the work done.
Which lockdown habits do you think you will be ingrained in your every-day life?
I’ve started running. I never used to, but with the dog I’ve recently taken it up – and it’s great. I don’t run every day, but running in the sunshine is my new favourite hobby. I also get the newspapers delivered. It’s been so long since I had the time to just sit and actually read a newspaper, so that’s been an enjoyable way to relax.
If remote working is adopted more permanently, what do you think are the benefits for the wider investment industry?
I think remote working will become more commonplace. It will benefit families and women in particular who need a greater degree of flexibility when managing childcare and family needs with work. That should provide a better work/life balance and ensure we keep people in the workplace longer as they will feel more satisfied with this balance.
Share some good news you have heard recently about companies’ reactions to Covid-19 crisis?
Some companies have implemented some very positive strategies, demonstrating that their employees are at the heart of their business. Ensuring staff are safe and providing emotional and physical support to work from home has been really impressive to see. Some executives have offered to forgo their bonuses in order to align themselves with their wider workforce. Other companies have ensured they are providing more financial support to their communities and through charitable giving. I have also seen an improvement in some companies in how they communicate with their staff, given they are now all remote. For workers who can’t be remote, ensuring proper care, healthcare provision, and sick leave are all in place has been important.
Do you have a ‘top tip’ to share on working remotely?
Be kind to yourself. Take time for you. Also, make sure you reach out if you are struggling because you are not alone. I think it’s important to recognise we all have bad days. Everyone in the company has them – managers have them too – which often people don’t realise.
Also, be realistic in what you can achieve; don’t let social media tell you that because you’re working from home you have to learn 12 languages or master wood-carving! Don’t be too hard on yourself. But, most of all, appreciate the good moments when they happen.
What do you do for fun when you take a break from working at home?
George and I have started playing a lot of garden games including cricket, boules, grass-tennis, you name it, as well as lots of board games (we have epic Boggle tournament on the go at the moment).
What I’ve also loved is connecting with people. On Zoom and Houseparty, it’s great and I recommend it. In fact, I recently had my own birthday party on Zoom. I was supposed to be in South Africa for it, so instead all my SA friends had an ‘Out of Africa’ party, which was fantastic. I do the same with my team, where we meet on Zoom and have Friday drinks and stay in touch.
And to round it all off – I have big soak in the tub at the end of the day, which you just can’t beat.
What is your favourite sustainable snack when working?
I have avoided snacking so far! I do have breakfast at my desk though and the occasional chocolate digestive.
The full Return to Work series is below: