Return to work with Morningstar IM’s Leslie Alba: ‘It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re in the same spot’

Morningstar IM's Leslie Alba shares the challenges of working remotely and also learning remotely as she continues her MBA studies

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 Leslie Alba, senior investment analyst, capital markets & asset allocation, at Morningstar Investment Management Europe.

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

I wasn’t sure I would like working from home because of the number of distractions, but coronavirus left us with little choice but to work remotely. Now that I’ve settled into a routine and have found ways to be disciplined about blocking time for deep productivity, I love being at home.

I feel like I’ve found more time throughout to day to get things done. Also, our research and portfolio management teams are well connected online, and I think we’ve done a great job adapting the way we collaborate to this new environment.

How do you find working remotely during volatile markets?

For me, the most challenging part about working remotely during volatile markets is the pace at which markets move. Our team has been busy reviewing our favourite assets to ensure fundamentals haven’t materially changed. Meanwhile, we’re also reviewing our portfolios more frequently to take advantage of the assets that have sold off and continue to provide strong long term expected returns. This has meant that we’ve been pressed to get things done faster and collaborate more effectively compared to earlier this year.

In my opinion, this has resulted in some blurring of the line between work and home, with work encroaching on what would have been home time.  I think I’ve started to find a better balance now that markets are less volatile than they were in March and April, but I do sometimes need to remind myself when my workday is over.

What have you enjoyed and disliked about remote working?

I’ve enjoyed the burst of productivity and feel like I’m now living a healthier lifestyle, which has been a function of more thoughtfully making my own lunches, doing my best to make time for some exercise outside and having a better sleep schedule.

Where I’ve struggled a little bit with, especially at the beginning, was remote learning. Alongside work, I’m pursuing a part-time MBA. Since the pandemic, classes have moved to an online format. While the quality of the curriculum and the way the professors taught it was very good, I haven’t enjoyed staring at my screen for those additional hours a day. Also, engagement with the rest of the cohort hasn’t been the same.

I think I underappreciated how the walk over from our office to campus gave me space to switch my focus and intention from work to school. This disappeared when things were moved online, and my office desk was the same as my kitchen table and classroom. I’m looking forward to electives being offered in smaller class sizes and in person in Autumn.

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

Take breaks. I find it so easy to lose track of time when you’re in the same spot and don’t see colleagues walking past you in the office: a gentle reminder that you haven’t gotten up nearly as often to fill up your glass of water. Taking breaks allows me to reset, go outside for some fresh air, and come back to my desk a bit more refreshed to tackle the next items on my to-do list without burning through it, and consequently burning out, all at once.

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

I love to cook. Working remotely has cut out my commute, which means I have more time to plan and make a nice meal at the end of the day. So, if I’m not taking a break to step outside or to stretch a bit, you’ll probably find me searching the web for dinner ideas.

Which lockdown habits do you think you will be ingrained in your every-day life (daily walk etc)?

We have a balcony that we rarely stepped foot on previously, however, we’ve made better use of it during the lockdown as it’s a nice little escape from our small flat. I think spending time on the balcony, whether working, reading or having a meal outdoors will be ingrained in my every-day life (weather permitting, of course!).

Also, the shortage of stock in major grocery stores at the beginning of the lockdown opened us up to the services of our local fishmonger, butcher and independent produce dealers. The quality of the food is amazing, and we’ve continued to get our groceries from these sources. It’s a win-win: we get fresh and delicious ingredients, while supporting local businesses.

Finally, with gyms closed, I’ve been running outside more and following online fitness and yoga videos including free ones on Youtube. I’m surprised by how much I enjoy it and am reconsidering whether I need that gym membership at all.

What is your favourite sustainable snack when working?

I don’t snack much throughout the day, however on Fridays, we walk over and indulge in a pastry from a local catering company that would have needed to close in the wake of the pandemic if they hadn’t restructured their business as a bakery. Their profits go towards funding a soup kitchen they’ve set up for the community. How’s that for social responsibility?

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

This may be old news, but I’m still amazed by the global effort to quickly adapt businesses to respond to the crisis, despite profit warnings in light of lower consumption. This includes cosmetics companies for example, Estée Lauder, L’Oréal and LVMH, who through its perfumeries and distilleries units, produced and donated hand sanitizer. We’ve also seen car manufacturers including Tesla and Volkswagen donating ventilators. It really is nice to see social interests being put in front of financial interests.

The full Return to Work series is below:

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’


Natalie Kenway

Natalie is editor in chief at MA Financial covering ESG Clarity, Portfolio Adviser and International Adviser. She was previously global head of ESG insight for ESG Clarity and has been an investment journalist...