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Monthly Update

Getting back into the office: Boutiques lead the way

Despite the stop-start nature of lockdown restrictions together with all of the uncertainty over the last 18 months, financial institutions – including asset managers – are busily assessing the logistics of bringing their staff back into the office once again.  This process, however, will not be straightforward  – while a number of ethical issues remain unanswered. The Independent Investment Management Initiative (IIMA) – formerly known as the New City Initiative [NCI] – conducted a survey of its diverse membership – in which it asked them about their preparations for returning to the office.

 69.7% of respondents to the survey said they had already returned to the office, while a further 18% intend to do so during Summer, and 10% by Autumn. Many boutique firms are currently requiring their employees to come into the office on a rotational basis. The overwhelming majority (76.7%) of IIMI members said that they planned to adopt a flexible working approach while 11.6% confirmed they would not. Of the firms which said they would adopt flexible working, just over half [51.3%] plan to let their employees work from home 1-2 days per week. A further 32.4% said they would allow staff to work from home 2-3 days/week, while 16.2% of members are open to letting employees work from home 4-5 days/week.

Of the firms who are reticent about introducing flexible working, 28% cited productivity concerns as the primary reason for being sceptical, whereas a further 28% warned it could have an adverse impact on training. This comes amid growing concern among senior leadership that staff training and the ability to innovate are not as conducive when performed behind a webcam or through intermittent attendance in the office.

This is prompting a handful of large organisations to take a forceful line on returning to the office. Employers recognise this carries risk, which has led to some organisations demanding that only staff who have been fully vaccinated can return to the office. This is the policy among several high profile US financial institutions – including Morgan Stanley – which recently announced that only staff or clients who have been vaccinated can enter its New York office. A similar policy was adopted by BlackRock. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs recently said staff must confirm their vaccination status although the bank added that unvaccinated staff could still come into the office but they must socially distance and wear masks. Interestingly, 55.8% of IIMI members said they would not make it mandatory for staff to be either tested and/or vaccinated. 20.3% of respondents said staff must be regularly tested but not necessarily vaccinated. 6.98% of IIMI members will insist that employees be regularly tested and fully vaccinated although 16.2% said they are unsure.

Of those firms which will not require staff to be fully vaccinated or regularly tested, 27.2% said indirect discrimination risk was an issue,  while 22.7% said such a policy would pose serious ethical concerns. “We are a small team where we expect everyone to take collective responsibility . We provide the ability for all staff to undertake testing regularly and encourage it, but we do not mandate it,” said one member.

IIMI will be conducting qualitative interviews with its membership about their post-COVID-19 working practices in the next few weeks. The findings of this more detailed paper will be published in the early Autumn.