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, Marte Borhaug, global head of sustainable outcomes at Aviva Investors, 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?
The virus has had a devastating impact on people’s lives and the economy and so, as someone working in sustainability, I’ve spent a lot of my time analysing and engaging with companies on how they’re dealing with the crisis, including how they’re treating their people. For example, we’ve been working on an initiative calling on companies to protect the mental health of their workforce.
What have you enjoyed and disliked about remote working?
Things on my love list are the daily home cooked lunches with my boyfriend, the quiet working environment and seeing my colleagues busting the myths that used to surround working from home. The main challenge was separating work and home, working from home means living in the office! Admittedly I struggled with that before, and so it’s an area that needs continuous improvement.
Are you making plans to return to work in the office? Or are you planning to work remotely permanently?
I plan to work flexibly and want my team to do likewise, which means focusing less on where we are, and more on the outcomes we deliver. If we need to get together as a group to be creative or resolve issues that are best dealt with in person, we’ll do that. But I also want us to be mindful of not reverting to presenteeism and excessive travel, practices that are not good for the people or our carbon footprint.
If you have returned to the office soon how did you feel about it?
I went back for the first time this week and was impressed with how well it was organised. The challenge is that the current social distancing rules make it hard for the office to be the best it can be. It’s harder to collaborate, be creative and build relationships when we have low limits on numbers of people in a meeting room! When the rules are relaxed, I am excited to see our office become a dynamic place where we want to be rather than somewhere we have to be.
Has your general attitude to travelling to work or for business changed?
Whilst my flat with no garden was a challenge during lockdown, I can’t complain about it only being a twenty-minute walk to the office. The one thing that has been positive about less travel is the reduced carbon footprint and the improved work/life balance people have discovered.
Has your employer’s attitude towards remote working changed? How?
For as long as I’ve worked at Aviva Investors, they’ve been fairly flexible. A person in my team is working from home full time and I’ve often taken the opportunity to work from anywhere – from home in Norway, where my family is from, or from a café. What’s changed is that flexible working is now more accepted by everyone across the firm and therefore available to those who might have felt they needed to come into the office five days a week.
Which lockdown habits do you think you will be ingrained in your every-day life (daily walk etc)?
I’m not a creature of habit so my routine has continued to change during lockdown. One thing I will try to keep is not to be tempted into eating out all the time but find time to bake and cook at home. I’m currently trying to be vegan during the week and love opening my OddBox, which delivers strange looking vegetables that would’ve otherwise gone to waste, and being creative with whatever turns up.
If remote working is adopted more permanently, what do you think are the benefits for the wider investment industry?
This can’t be an “if”. I think flexible working is a new normal that’s been a long time coming and the investment industry can’t become stuck in the past. Let’s trust people to figure out how best to deliver the outcomes we need whether it’s from a desk in the City or Cornwall. I think it will also help us make our industry more diverse. We know that mothers, older workers, recent immigrants, ethnic minorities, young people and people with disabilities all face disproportionately low employment rates in part because they might struggle with the travel and balancing work and home life. Flexible working practices have to be part of the solution to make our industry feel a little bit more representative of the customers we’re serving.
Share some good news you have heard recently about companies’ reactions to Covid-19 crisis?
I loved hearing about National Grid’s approach to mental health during the crisis. They already had a strong approach including being an active member of Thriving at Work, run through the Inclusive Economy Partnership, where John Pettigrew (CEO) sits on the Board. In response to Covid-19, they proactively revised their mental health and wellbeing strategy, adding online courses and webinars for employees and managers designed to address the pressures of Covid-19. Before the new material was released, 25% of employees had attended some mental health training. In one month, a further 10% (600 employees) had received it. No firm is perfect, but it’s good to see such a positive approach and I encourage any company to follow their lead.
Do you have a ‘top tip’ to share on working remotely?
Get dressed in work clothes every day. It helps to create a break between work and home and it’s a great feeling to change into “normal” clothes when the workday is over.
What do you do for fun when you take a break from working at home?
I’ve been reading a lot this year. I’ve just finished H. G. Wells War of the Worlds and it’s changed my view about science fiction. Right now I’m reading a book my friend just published in Norway about the Norwegian housing market and how our home has gone from a welfare good to an investment object – she’s smart, opinionated and funny, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.
What is your favourite sustainable snack when working?
Dash, a delicious cucumber infused sparkling water which contributes to tackling food waste by accepting misfits.