Do Investors Finally Understand ESG?
This panel discusses how their firms have incorporated ESG metrics to holistically expose the risks and opportunities in their investment portfolios.
Two years to the day after our offices closed due to COVID-19, we’re welcoming our workforce back to the workplace. There will be many adjustments, but the largest requires a culture shift: embracing the work-from-anywhere flexibility that’s flourished while we were away.
At PGIM, the asset management business of Prudential Financial, Inc., we’ve found that working from home has not been “shirking from home” — far from it. Like many financial services firms, we’ve shown solid results in terms of productivity, profitability and client satisfaction despite the lack of in-person interaction. Perhaps that’s why a new survey by Prudential and Morning Consult finds that most hybrid workers — 78% — believe hybrid work models that balance remote and in-person work will be the primary way people work over the next 10 years.
Now that pandemic concerns are fading, how do we reimagine the office for a workforce that has learned to work without one? To successfully navigate the hybrid world, we need to listen to what our people are telling us:
Admit the world has changed
Employers who expect a “return to normal” are in for a rude awakening.
Prudential’s survey found that 57% of hybrid workers say returning to the workplace has increased their stress, with just over half of those (53%) saying more flexibility from their employers could help.
Many employees have made lifestyle changes during the pandemic — some are working earlier to get the job done while balancing caregiving or added a midday workout into their schedules. They love seeing their kids in the morning, picking them up after school, and no one misses the commute. All of our work lives and home lives have intertwined in new ways.
A lot of these changes are going to stick. When one of our senior leaders expressed a preference for all investment professionals to return to the office five days a week, the general response was this: If you’re entrusting a portfolio manager with a $20 billion portfolio, why would you not trust her to decide when she needs to be in the office?
This attitude is especially prevalent among younger talent — and among women. A recent McKinsey and LeanIn.org survey found that men in financial services are 76% more likely than women to say they have the flexibility to work remotely — even though more women than men favor remote work by a significant margin (45% to 36%). Take their flexibility away, and talent may look elsewhere.
We have two years of data now that shows us how well people perform when they’re in charge of their own work environment — companies who choose to ignore that data do so at their own peril.
Meet colleagues where they are
The pandemic forced firms to rapidly scale up their remote work capabilities, a significant innovation we must continue to utilize as our offices fill again. Why meet in a conference room when a virtual room may better serve everyone’s needs?
Take, for example, how Zoom and Microsoft Teams have helped democratize meetings, allowing more people to participate thanks to the virtual environment. The friction of moving between locations has been removed. Extroverts can speak up, introverts can type in the chat. International teams are more integrated and scheduling early or late calls to connect colleagues across time zones is easier because commuting isn’t a factor.
And though 45% of respondents to Prudential’s survey are concerned it will be harder to learn new skills in a remote or a hybrid work setting — remote-working tools have expanded the reach and reduced the cost of our training and development programs, allowing colleagues from all over the world to participate virtually without the need for expensive and time-consuming travel.
The work of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion teams has also flourished in a remote environment. With events simply a click away, more employees than ever before are attending Black History Month, International Women’s Day, Pride Month and Hispanic Heritage Month programming. This success proves the power of giving employees more ways to show up and engage, outside of an office setting.
Make face time meaningful
At the same time, we know that networking and camaraderie — both of which support career development and company culture — are hard to build remotely. The majority of respondents to Prudential’s survey (72%) say returning part-time to the workplace has been better than they thought it would be, citing collaborative team meetings and networking among their key priorities.
In-office time should be focused on driving these behaviors. Over the past two years, firms have added hundreds of employees around the world who’ve never met another colleague in person. To integrate them into company culture, we must focus on building out the networks of these individuals and make sure they know their contributions are valued, wherever they spend the majority of their work hours.
If employees are required to come in, we need to make sure there is time dedicated to social and cooperative activities. Office floor plans should be configured to drive those interactions, making more room for collaborative spaces.
In the same way, virtual spaces can be creatively utilized to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to connect. One of our leaders begins his team meetings with remote staff five minutes early to make room for informal chitchat, the kind of thing that happens naturally when colleagues gather in the office.
The last two years have made it clear it’s not enough to have a policy that allows flexible work; it must become a cultural norm. No one should have to act like a hero when they say, “I’ve got to go coach my kid’s baseball team,” or feel apprehensive when they leave early for an orthodontist appointment. We need to trust people to get their job done.
In a hybrid environment, leaders have to be aware of “proximity bias” and avoid favoring in-office employees. They should regularly engage with direct reports who work remotely and ensure that impromptu meetings include hybrid workers who are working from home that day. In this way, they can reduce the pressure to “be seen,” which may overwhelm our employees’ desire to work in the way they’re most comfortable.
The 9-to-5 workday is a legacy of the industrial age, when Henry Ford was setting up assembly lines, when men worked in factories and women were expected to stay home. The pandemic has highlighted all the ways in which this dynamic no longer exists. If we want to help our employees be at their best — and attract the best talent — we can’t “return to normal.” We need to maintain the ways we’ve learned to work better.
Otherwise, our return to the office won’t help any of us in the industry move forward — it will put us further behind.