On 23 March 2020 Boris Johnson told the country that people ‘must’ stay at home and certain businesses must close. 163 days have since passed, and along with many other countries the UK has had to adapt to the ‘new normal’.
‘Business as usual’ seems to be the trend du jour; almost replacing the ‘new normal’. But what does business as usual look like in the new normal? What impact has coronavirus had on the legal recruitment market within the asset management sector, and will the big return to work come?
Adaptation and remote working for many fund managers began before 23 March. The safety of employees coming first, operational and investment processes transitioned, and business as usual continued throughout lockdown, and smoothly for the most part thanks to solid preexisting IT infrastructure.
The great news is that many of our clients are doing well, with deals still getting done. Business has been good; performance getting stronger. In addition, those that reported expected initial hits to the business in response to the markets in late March/April are recovering at a steady rate. I am pleased to say that for the most part legal and compliance furloughs and redundancies have not occurred, and roles have been back filled. There are of course managers that have unfortunately not managed to hold out, the employees of which will hopefully find new posts soon.
Demand for legal recruitment within asset management has been reasonable. However, with a large number of fund managers concluding by May that they should not reopen their offices until at least September 2020, and a very significant number citing January 2021 (or until the release of a vaccine (whichever comes first), it has understandably not been high volume. What has, however, seemingly continued with vigour, is the hiring of investment professionals, developers and other critical hires. For some funds, these open positions have continued throughout, and while headcount not pre-approved for the year has been pursued a little more cautiously, it has been happening. The knock-on result of this will, we hope, be an eventual increase in greenfield legal hires, and not merely backfilling.
The return to work
Our window into the market has made it clear that there has not been one approach taken by all. Some funds have made exceptions for traders, and there have been varying degrees of encouragement to return to the office. For some a gentle push; a ‘return if you would like to’; for others an invitation to return with the reminder that you are expected in unless you have a good reason to stay at home; and finally others applying no pressure or encouragement to return to the office at all.
Not all are, however, waiting until September 2020 or later. There are a number of fund managers in London who are already back in the office. Fully back. These managers have plans to put screens up, have desks a good two-metres apart, and are already able to enforce social distancing while at-desk and while moving around the office.
Many managers have already opened their doors and are phasing the return. For some they have 20%-30% back full or part time. All volunteered. Those employees have all had to use a ‘booking’ system at least 24 hours before entering to ensure the office does not become overpopulated. No visitors are allowed.
The early September returners (subject to latest virus development) also see this as a phased return. When the return does take place, the transition measures will, manager dependent, require not more than 30%-50% of the office to be in at one time.
Some managers are still torn about working from the office. Those working in larger high-rise buildings housing thousands of employees see one big logistical difficulty, the lifts. If the limitations are just two per lift at any one time, they will be queuing all day to enter. On top of this there is the need for many to use public transport: employers do not want to ask their teams to use this as they feel they will spread the virus. The return will thus have to be voluntary, as unless they can avoid public transport, they cannot come in.
Flexible working to continue?
Will the new flexible working continue once it is ‘fully safe’ to return to the office? It is fair to say that this entirely depends on the company you work for. Working from home five days a week will be an option for some managers but not for all. On 16 August fund manager Schroders declared “a new approach to flexible working”. They became the first major London fund manager to tell their workers they will no longer be required to come into the office, even when the pandemic is over. Others may follow their lead, but flexible working can take many forms. Based on our intel, for most, the flexible working offered will never be full time virtual. For example, Linklaters recently announced staff will be able to “work remotely for between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of their time, as long as they tell teams in advance and that roles are fulfilled”.
I hope this has proved a useful read. Most of our clients have been very active in terms of return planning and have been managing this well despite the ever-changing government guidance. Understandably, a lot are waiting until the schools return to decide what next.
Novo has always enjoyed a strong presence within the asset management sector, and from a legal and compliance hiring perspective, been lucky enough to maintain their position during lockdown. This is in no small part thanks to the confidence of many in the sector.
If you have any questions about hiring, please feel free to get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: +44 20 7129 1221.
Catherine Cook is a founding director of Novo Resourcing. For more than a decade she has successfully hired lawyers and compliance professionals for the asset management sector. Cook has attained market recognition as the go to recruiter for the hedge fund sector in London. Originally from Wiltshire, she has a Law LLB degree from Southampton University, is a qualified stand up paddle instructor and keen horse rider.