Return to work with HSBC’s Sophie Haas: ‘My perception of remote working has changed’

HSBC Private Bank's head of sustainable investment offering shares what she misses about the Canary Wharf 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.

In this article, we speak to Sophie Haas, head of sustainable investment offering at HSBC Private Banking.

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

A lot of my work involves networking and collaborating with colleagues from different departments such as research, asset management or group sustainability, all seating on different floors of our 42 floor tower in Canary Wharf, which meant spending a lot of time up and down the elevator. Every day I would grab a coffee with a colleague to talk about what’s coming, aspirations and how we can progress things. I definitely miss the social aspect of work.

What have you enjoyed and disliked about remote working?

Working in an open space can at times be a little chaotic: At home, I don’t need earplugs anymore, and I can read lengthy piece of research or regulation without interruption. I can also spend longer periods of time writing new investment ideas and themes.

Are you making plans to return to work in the office? Or are you planning to work remotely permanently?

My own perception of Working from Home has changed. Prior to the crisis, unless I was expecting a delivery or the plumber, I always preferred working from the office. Now that I understand the benefits of working from home once in a while, being able to focus on reading and writing for longer periods of time, I would like to do that on a more regular basis.

Have you thought about changing how you commute? Has your general attitude to travelling to work or for business changed?

I’ll admit, I have not missed taking the Tube during rush hour one bit and I am not looking forward to go back to that. We all spend far too much time commuting on a daily basis when we could use that time on other things like go for a jog or a walk.

During lockdown, I have actually bought a bike and I’d like to start cycling to work on a regular basis, weather permitting. I’m also happy that the City of London is taking cycling more seriously and making more cycling lanes. Obviously, the office dress code will have to change if more of us are to cycle to work!

While a lot can be done remotely and on Zoom, I still think face-to-face meetings once in a while help solidify work relationships with colleagues.

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

With the lockdown, I’ve learned that it is not necessary to have expensive gym memberships, yoga studio membership, spinning classes and more to keep fit. Those costs add up. I bought a nice yoga mat at the beginning of the lockdown and started jogging along the canal close to my home more regularly. And YouTube provides an endless supply of yoga routines.

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

Generally, companies have started asking themselves a lot more questions about the wellbeing and welfare of their employees in this crisis. A lot of firms realised we’re all in this together and need to protect all stakeholders in those challenging times, not just shareholders. The spotlight had always been predominantly on the E of ESG, but with the Covid-19 crisis, people are getting a better understanding of the Social aspect of ESG. Shareholders, consumers and socially conscious citizens are paying more attention.

How do you find working remotely during volatile markets?

It feels very disconnected. In our office in Canary Wharf, I’m so used to having Bloomberg TV or MSNBC running in the background, my colleagues Bloomberg terminals providing breaking news, it’s a bustling environment and you feel much more in the moment. You have your finger on the pulse of the market. It feels very strange to hear the S&P falling by 10% from your living room, almost unreal. You also have no one to share that experience with.

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

Set boundaries. While home schooling has its own set of challenges, working remotely without children can also be difficult. Work and personal life start blending into each other, particularly when you don’t have a separate home office and work from your living room or dining room, you’re not sure when your work day starts and when it ends. You work late into the night and reply to work emails on weekends.

Even if you don’t physically leave the office and work behind, it’s important to establish boundaries: a cut-off time in the evening, blocking time in your work calendar for a run over lunch or a morning workout session. Make time for yourself in your work schedule.

What is your favourite sustainable snack when working?

Rice cakes. My head pops into the fridge far too often when I work from home. But you can eat an endless amount of rice cakes responsibly.

The full Return to Work series is below:

Return to Work with Rathbone’s Sophie Lawrence: It has been a great test of collegiality

Return to Work with Sanlam’s Alice Farrer: ‘If travel is not necessary, why do it?’

Return to work with Hawksmoor’s Bridget Gaskell: WFH stigma has been completely eradicated during lockdown

Return to Work with BNY Mellon’s Suzanne Hutchins: ‘It has been stressful but manageable’

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

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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...