Return to Work with M&G’s Chapplow: Covid-19 should encourage the AM industry to think long and hard about people management

Véronique Chapplow, investment director at M&G, shares her WFH set-up and hopes for her return 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.

In this article, we speak to Véronique Chapplow, investment director at M&G.

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

It has affected my work a great deal. I have found it difficult to keep my team spirit alive and kicking. More than anything, I miss the impromptu, unplanned discussions that often help resolve sticky situations.

What have you enjoyed and disliked about remote working?

I’ve enjoyed the extra sleep in the morning and I’ve come to fully appreciate my small outdoor space.

I dislike the sedentary aspect of it. There has been huge demand on our time, with investors concerned about the market volatility, meaning a clear extension of working hours, with hardly any respite. I also find that the greater use of ‘silent’ email communications can be fraught with misinterpretation.

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

Yes. I have asked to be considered as one of the first people to return to the office, but it remains unclear when this will be able to happen. In an ideal scenario, I would return to the office three or four days a week, but the likelihood is that this gets scaled back to two to three maximum.

If you are returning to the office soon, how do you feel about it?

The idea appeals, but the practical aspects aren’t as straightforward. I would normally use the packed tube link between Waterloo and Bank. In the new normal, this extreme level of close contact seems impossible to contemplate.

Have you thought about changing how you commute?

Yes.  I am currently planning to cycle to work from Chiswick. I’m a decent cyclist, but road bikes are new to me and I’m having to learn a new skill – however I am rather enjoying the experience. I’ve also started open water swimming as I’ve been missing my swimming. Before I know it, I might enter a triathlon! 

Has your employer’s attitude towards remote working changed? How?

M&G was already very open-minded, but lockdown accelerated this. The company is trialling new working practices, while remaining keen to maintain the positive aspects of working from the office: such as keeping the camera on when you Skype to simulate in-person meetings, have proper lunch breaks away from screens, take proper holidays, even if they mean staying at home.

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

I am generally more engaged with my local community: I think more about spending in local shops; I have more time to help some of my isolated neighbours; I enjoy supporting local initiatives.  I am very aware that the economic cost of Covid-19 on small business will be far greater than for a lot of the big businesses.

If remote working is adopted more permanently, what do you think are the benefits for the wider investment industry?

Apart from the benefits of the reduction in unnecessary travel, my hope is that it helps the asset management industry think long and hard about its approach to people management. Despite the increasing rate of digitalisation, the industry remains first and foremost a people business. Fostering a positive employee culture will be the golden prize to aim for.

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

As active owners, we decided to reach out to all the companies invested in the M&G Positive Impact Fund, a fund dedicated to pursuing investment returns in tandem with social and environmental returns. One of the objectives was to reiterate our long-term support to our companies, but it was also to ascertain how they were coping with the immediate and longer-term elements of the crisis. We have been blown away by the positive responses we’ve received, with most of the companies prioritising the welfare of their employees and deploying a wide range of measures.

One developed simulation software to model the dissemination of antibacterial sprays in subway/train carriages. Another one created an analytics device that detects internal inflammation in the body, which can be used for initial screening of the coronavirus. One company launched a $m “Committed to Serve” initiative to recognise front-line employees and helped support small business customers and the local community. The list goes on.

How have you managed home schooling and is this something you anticipate will continue beyond September?

I have four children – three of them have benefited from online schooling, which has helped maintain a degree of normality. My youngest son is autistic, however, and had to be taught at home. This has proved challenging as he’s struggled with the change in routine, and it’s been tricky for me to combine home schooling with the demands of work.  

How do you find working remotely during volatile markets?

In my case, difficult, as I thrive on teamwork and have experienced more stress despite my best efforts to maintain contact with colleagues.

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

Make time for reconnecting with people you do not work directly with, but who are important constituents of your work ecosystem: a Zoom coffee mid-afternoon or a Skype early aperitif to catch up on office news always works a treat.

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

I treat myself to a 30-minute yoga session – using YouTube free videos. This is a source of unstoppable laughter from my teenage children. 

What is your favourite sustainable snack when working?

Bananas… my office stinks of them according to the kids! They are very effective though in terms of giving you the extra boost to get you through your day, and are better than my endless cups of coffee…

The full Return to Work series is below:

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

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...