Culture shock: Covid-19 and WFH

by Krystal Scanlon 17 August 2020

​To kick off our exploration into private equity’s culture, we asked a selection of representatives from private equity houses across Europe how Covid-19 and working from home has impacted culture.

Here are their responses:

How have you maintained culture while working from home?

Amanda McCrystal, global head of marketing and communications at Pantheon

Team activities:

  • Virtual Cutest Pet contests
  • Pantheon’s Got Talent Championship
  • home-based team Yoga sessions
  • a photo challenge where Pantheon people have re-enacted famous artworks or film scenes,
  • virtual lunch breaks, coffee breaks
  • weekly socials which have covered, of course, pub quizzes, magic, Pictionary
  • virtual sports days in the garden
  • Cookery and bakery tutorials, wine tasting and cocktail making

Time off

People across the firm are being encouraged to take holidays and days off to break the monotony of remote working and give their brains and eyes a rest.

Communication

  • Most of all we’ve encouraged everyone to be in regular touch.
  • It’s actually been fun to ‘visit’ people at home, meet their kids and partners and actually take the time to get to know people better.
  • They’ve really helped to build camaraderie and strengthen our culture.

Jérémie Delecourt, head of corporate development, human resources, communications and middle office activities at Ardian

Communication

  • Maintain close contact within our teams and care for our employees.
  • For us consistent and transparent communication has been key in retaining a strong sense of internal culture and collaboration.
  • Sharing “Ardian@Home” videos to distribute insights from employees in different offices and teams. Employees from around the world provided short testimonials on how they were managing through the lockdown.
  • Checking in with employees through surveys to gauge how they were adapting to life under the pandemic.

Sofia Wetter, HR director at Nordic Capital

Nordic Capital prioritised open and frequent communication.

Line Managers held frequent online meetings with their team members so as to support them as they adapted to a new way of working and also to check on their mental and physical wellbeing.

Mike Edwards, chief operating partner at AnaCap

We have continued to hold regular weekly firmwide video calls to share news, discuss recent economic variables and create an open forum for the entire team to raise any matters along with more frequent project orientated forums which maintain high levels of communication.

Personnel development

  • More recently, we promoted three individuals to Partner across the Private Equity and Credit strategies.
  • Launched an additional new firm-wide initiative to support those in need with a focus on diversity and inclusion.

Ruth Tompkins, HR director for the private equity team at EQT Partners

EQT has such well grounded values, dedicated colleagues, and long-term focus on responsible ownership - and that has helped us to maintain a collaborative culture.

Katja Baur, CFO at Montana Capital Partners

The motto was – let’s hold together whatever comes and just go for it!

How have you maintained culture while working from home?

Amanda McCrystal, Pantheon

There’s a lot of interaction between offices, between teams and many people have commented how much they are enjoying that and how beneficial it has been to regularly, literally, see, talk and hear from people they rarely do under normal conditions.

Jérémie Delecourt, Ardian

  • Through Covid-19, our employees quickly adapted to maintaining connection with each other using digital tools – replacing meetups with video calls, coffees with virtual ones, and conversations with phone calls.
  • Our staff managed to make the most of the situation and showed a deep care for one another.
  • Our teams demonstrated deep compassion – this built a lot of trust throughout the organisation and allowed for much more flexibility

Sofia Wetter, Nordic Capital

  • Nordic Capital has always had a strong culture that is based on teamwork and a solid commitment to working in close and trusted partnership.
  • Reinforced during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people have been required to adapt quickly, work hard and find new solutions for navigating the new normal

Mike Edwards, AnaCap

  • One interesting aspect of operating remotely is that video conferencing ensures everyone arrives on time and the meetings have become more time efficient finishing on time or slightly shorter than scheduled, an element that will be fully embraced as we start to revert to a new normal.
  • This period has also enabled us to take a step back across the firm and refocus on what makes AnaCap unique and distinct.

Ruth Tompkins, EQT Partners

  • We already had a unique Nordic approach to flexible working in place.
  • Our teams have become even more positive to digital tools and flexible working during this unprecedented situation.
  • We expedited the launch of the My Mental Wealth initiative at EQT, which provides tools and techniques on how to look after our mental health, how to identify when you or a colleague might struggle and what to do in such situations.

Katja Baur, Montana Capital Partners

It certainly raised awareness to look after each other, society, family and friends more than before.

How has Covid-19 / WFH changed your culture?

Amanda McCrystal, Pantheon

  • Some of us have been missing the daily physical camaraderie and engagement of being in the office and around people, particularly those who live alone or whose remote working environment is sub-optimal.
  • We are proactively discussing how to engage the whole firm in building a remote culture as it seems the pandemic isn’t going away in the short-term and we will be making some recommendations to our ExCo shortly.
  • The separation has definitely made us appreciate the value of our culture as well as see where we can enhance it, how we can support one another during this extended period what activities we can introduce, and how we can embrace and represent the whole firm so that everyone feels included and part of the Pantheon team while we continue to work apart.

Jérémie Delecourt, Ardian

  • For many companies, Covid-19 was a wake-up call to see that living circumstances differ greatly between people. Some care for their children, some care for parents or relatives, and others live by themselves entirely.
  • In addition, physical living situations differ greatly as well – some staff had to share common spaces in their apartments, to work from home with their flatmates, while others had enclosed home-offices to work from.
  • The “water cooler” conversations that happen so naturally in kitchen or at a café are difficult to recreate in this new environment. They became all the more important given that some of our staff lived by themselves and to ensure the more junior members of our team continue to feel they are getting enough face time with different colleagues.

Sofia Wetter, Nordic Capital

A strong corporate culture and clear shared purpose has always been central to Nordic Capital’s DNA and it has been a vital element of navigating through the Covid-19 crisis.

Organisations with a high level of employee engagement have been better able to make the necessary adjustments to their working patterns such as making a smooth transition to remote working during, and a sense of shared commitment has provided an important “glue” during social distancing.

Mike Edwards, AnaCap

  • I believe our open door approach and requirement for transparent and direct dialogue was already well established but was magnified and critical in the face of the pandemic.
  • Our initial focus on ensuring the safety of our people whilst ensuring business continuity Ultimately, we are a relationship-driven industry and company so such a shock to the way that we interact and carry out our business drove reflection, discussion and consultation.

Ruth Tompkins, EQT Partners

Given that people are our most valuable asset and our long-term growth ambitions - we take the opportunity of the crisis to reflect on how to attract and develop the best talent in the industry.

Katja Baur, Montana Capital Partners

  • Yes we certainly thought more about how to keep the team and company together during these times.
  • Had regular team calls and video conferences.
  • Used new collaboration tools.
  • Learnt how much easier life can be with less travel. And that even fundraising can be done over video.
What do you think the impact of the pandemic will have on the industry’s culture?

Amanda McCrystal, Pantheon

  • The industry will be more sympathetic and empathetic, it will be more tolerant of people’s time and priorities and it will be more accommodating of flexible working.
  • People will think twice about their global travel and footprint.
  • People are likely to value the time they are together, making the time to socialise and engage with colleagues.
  • I don’t expect all of the benefits of remote working to be retained long-term or incorporated into company culture, but I do think lots of them will.

Jérémie Delecourt, Ardian

  • We are likely to see some PE firms reconsider their policies around allowing employees more flexibility to work from home.
  • It will hopefully also instil a sense of confidence and trust in the senior management teams that employees can get their work done, regardless of location.
  • The situation will likely have also made many firms reconsider how they can build their culture in a way that is more accessible from people’s homes.
  • There will naturally be much more emphasis on digitisation.

Sofia Wetter, Nordic Capital

  • Increase in communications
  • Advantages of maximising digital tools
  • Reducing business travel - both reduce time and cost and make a positive impact on the environment through lowering carbon emissions.
  • The industry as a whole now has the chance to make positive behaviour stick - for example: changing travel habits and increasing video conferencing to reduce transportation, energy consumption and environmental impacts; instilling a higher awareness of cyber threats; or maintaining precautionary health routines to safeguard people.

Katja Baur, Montana Capital Partners

I think it certainly raised awareness for flexible working models and that these work really well also in the PE industry.

Ruth Tompkins, EQT Partners

  • It will definitely lead to a faster digital transformation and new ways of working for the industry, as well as for portfolio companies.
  • It has also made us all think more about our carbon footprint.
  • It has made all of us think more about our work life balance and what we value in life.

Watch out for our next instalment of our culture series which discusses recruitment and diversity & inclusion.

Categories: AnalysisHuman CapitalHR / talent managementWellbeing

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