Return to Work with CGWM’s Leetal Stark: ‘The City is so quiet’

In this brand new series, we ask female members of the ESG community about their lockdown habits and the prospect of returning to the office

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.

Kicking off this new series is Leetal Stark, investment manager at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management.

How has the coronavirus affected your day-to-day work – from both a portfolio and workplace perspective?

Overall, it’s had a really positive effect. The slower pace of life has enabled me to fully appreciate how much I enjoy my job, and the work I do for clients. From a portfolio perspective, it’s allowed me to have time to conduct in-depth research on new themes and restructure legacy portfolios.

I have missed my colleagues and office life – but I can also appreciate working in a quiet environment.

On a personal level, it’s really helped me to appreciate my family. From not being able to be with them for so long during lockdown – apart from reading bedtime stories to nieces and nephews over Zoom, which I loved – it’s been great to be able to see them again.

What have you enjoyed and disliked about remote working?

I have enjoyed the ability to work for longer without interruption. But I have really missed the social interaction – the conversations you have at the printer or in the kitchen. I have missed the end of day satisfaction of accomplishing my daily step goal, which has plummeted since I’ve been working from home, despite getting out for daily walks and exercise!

Are you making plans to return to work in the office?

I have already been in the office for a few days and I am looking forward to returning two or three days a week. I have enjoyed the peace of working from home, it’s not always the ideal environment, so it has been really nice to get back into the office environment too.

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Have you thought about changing how you commute?

The City is so quiet – it’s been quite strange. I used to get the tube every day as it only takes 20 minutes, but the days I have been into the office, I have taken the bus or walked. The problem is, I don’t have the time to do a two-and-a-half-hour commute, so I will need to bite the bullet of tube commuting at some stage. But during the summer, I will keep walking or taking the bus for as long as possible.

Has your employer’s attitude towards remote working changed?

Overnight we went from an office-based organisation to one that was fully mobilised to work from home. It’s been amazing. And not just Canaccord, but pretty much every financial institution in the City.

There will be some employees who want to be in the office most of the time and not be at home, others who want to continue working from home and maybe come into the office for one or two days a week. They have benefitted from not doing the commute five days a week and can use that time more constructively. And there are others who are shielding or have family members who are shielding and won’t want to come into the office at all.

Canaccord is taking a pragmatic approach, from an operational perspective and will be engineering a careful return to work based on individual needs and requirements. And even for those in the office, there will be a difference. The company has launched a ‘Dress Appropriately for your Day’ policy, so if you don’t have client meetings, you don’t need to be suited and booted and can dress more casually.

Canaccord also launched its #wecandothis initiative, working with TeamedUp and its Olympic and Paralympic athletes, to help look after employees’ mental and physical wellbeing during lockdown. We had physical health weeks, with videos such as ‘lockdown legs’ with Judo champion, Gemma Howell, as well as mental health weeks with videos from inspirational athletes such as Olympic swimmer, Lizzie Simmonds, talking on topics such as motivation, goal-setting and teamwork.  

Which lockdown habits do you think will be ingrained in your every-day life?

Daily walks, for sure and using Boris Bikes for exercise. In the absence of spin classes, I have been putting on a great playlist and cycling around London parks. This has given me the confidence to take to the roads and use the hire bikes for travel as well as great exercise.

WFH, for the wider investment community, will have a massive impact. For those with families, having that flexibility is worth its weight in gold. I think it will be beneficial in terms of keeping parents in work, particularly mothers. Often, when women who work in the City have children, the inflexibility of working conditions means it is difficult to balance work with family life. If companies support home working, then I think the City will be more attractive for working mothers.

Share some good news you have heard recently about companies’ reactions to the Covid-19 crisis.

Lots of companies have really pulled together to come up with innovative practices in the fight against coronavirus. The sentiment that lots of organisations were rallying together to help the country was fantastic.

At the beginning of lockdown, CGWM pledged its support to provide a lifeline to the Critical Care Unit front line workers at St George’s Hospital, London by donating £10,000 to Critical NHS. The money donated was used to purchase meals from local restaurants and food manufacturers for our frontline workers most impacted by Covid-19 – we have since found out that some of these local hospitality businesses would have ceased trading without this business too.

How do you find working remotely during volatile markets?

It has been tricky. The volume of news flow and research – whilst very helpful – can at times be overwhelming. When markets move so quickly, it can be difficult to filter through to the most relevant information. Whilst I am currently unable to drop by the desk of our CIO, Michel Perera or Deputy CIO, Richard Champion, to ask their thoughts, our CIO team has been generating incredible content – the team conducts a call every morning for the whole front office to give us updates and features different people within the CIO – this helps us to cut through the noise and feel connected as a company.

Do you have a ‘top tip’ to share on working remotely?

It’s important to have a timetable – factor in breaks – lunch and exercise are important, even if it’s a 30-minute walk to get some fresh air. At the start of lockdown, I would often get to 3pm or 4pm without having had a proper break. It’s important to have that time away from your screen. Compartmentalising your day is useful – having time to do your client calls, time to read the material and conduct the research to support you on the calls and time to catch up with the team. Time management is crucial, because when you are at home, the hours in the day can often bleed into one another. My daily and weekly to-do lists are very important for me too.

What do you do for fun when you take a break from working at home?

Channelling my inner six-year-old, I have rediscovered skipping. I love it. I take my rope to the park at lunchtimes and do some skipping. I have also really enjoyed cooking – I am often guilty of eating out for lunch and dinner most days of the week and tend not to cook very much at all. But I have enjoyed finding recipes and buying all the ingredients – cooking has become my favourite part of the day.

What is your favourite sustainable snack when working?

Almonds and grapes – sustainably sourced of course!

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Natalie Kenway

Natalie is global head of ESG insight for ESG Clarity and has been an investment journalist for 16 years. She won Editor of the Year at the Aviva Investors Sustainability Media Awards 2021, and was Winner...