As we move into hybrid work models, private equity houses are reporting high levels of fatigue across their teams. What is causing this and what can be done to alleviate it, as well as keep employees motivated?
“As we return to work, I’ve certainly noticed a change in energy,” says Sonia D’Emilio, partner, human capital at Astorg. “While some people are super eager to be back in the office, others are less so because it requires changing your daily habits. Humans are creatures of habit. Going from pre-pandemic office life to fully remote working - that severely disrupted our routines. To create some level of hybrid working - it’s another disruption.”
Who to call?
Given the newness of this issue, unlike other challenges faced in the corporate world where there are a plethora of advisors willing to help, there are few to turn to in this instance. “We don’t have enough data over time to be able to draw robust conclusions,” D’Emilio says. “At the moment, there are no definite answers on what is the right approach.”
D’Emilio has been asking peers across and outside the industry to find out what other businesses are doing and if they’ve had any successes. “It’s given us new ideas, but ultimately it’s about understanding who we are as an organisation and what will work within our culture,” she says. “We’re currently experimenting with models, but we might not get it right first time.”
Despite having no current tried and tested solutions, lessons learned through remote working showed that empathy, compassion and human contact are still relevant when it comes to hybrid working.
We know what we want
In a bid to keep teams motivated, Hamilton Lane has encouraged empathy and compassion throughout the business. “The post-pandemic world has presented us with an opportunity and a challenge for companies to get creative in how they engage employees,” says Kristin Williamson, head of marketing & communications at Hamilton Lane. “A lot of what worked when we were all in the office full time, no longer works. We’ve chosen to do less talking and more listening, to respond in kind to our employees, and show them they are appreciated.”
Williamson says the best employee engagement ideas have come from the employees themselves. One idea carried through and built upon since the pandemic is various Slack channels created by employees. They aim to fulfil that lost face-to-face human connection when working remotely. “One channel called Pupdates encourages employees to share photos and videos of their dogs,” she explains. “We’ve also got others for various hobbies, such as bee keeping and meat smoking. For us this has been the first real example of blurring the lines between the personal and professional lives of our employees. From our feedback, they genuinely appreciate that human compassion.”
To keep energy levels high between teams working in the office and remotely, one employee created HL Mixtapes. Colleagues submit their top four songs to become part of a wider playlist that is shared on digital screens throughout the firm’s new headquarters in Conshohocken, just outside Philadelphia, as well as available online. “Music is such a big part of our culture here,” Williamson explains. “It’s a great way to get to know more about colleagues, especially newer ones. It’s also an easy way to create another human connection through similar or differing tastes.”
Understanding that continual disruptions to routine as well as additional personal challenges contribute to much of this feeling among employees, Jasi Halai, group financial officer & operating officer at 3i explains her firm has taken an ‘official’ approach to overcoming fatigue. The business has focused on training a number of staff as mental health first aiders. “It provides our colleagues with a confidential, safe space where they can discuss any challenges they are currently facing, enabling them to offload some of the metaphorical weight.”
To keep spirits up for those attending the London office, the publicly-listed firm has reinstated one-to-one fitness and wellness advice, as well as twice-weekly fitness classes. “It’s a way to encourage people to continue these good habits when they attend the office environment,” she adds.
Adapting to the hybrid model, Halai says a group of 3i colleagues set up a ‘Business as Usual’ intranet site. It acts as a go-to hub for practical advice on remote working, signposted staff and relevant external resources depending on the issue at hand, enabling the team to focus their energy on their roles. “It’s been a helpful tool for colleagues from top to bottom. The content includes activities to keep children busy when colleagues work at home, yoga class recordings to relax, as well as children’s bedtime stories read by various employees in the business.”
Focusing on re-energising employees with human connection, D’Emilio explains spending too much time alone, working from home can generate fatigue. “From our own learnings, remote working is great for driving efficiencies,” she says. “Fatigue exists from lack of human contact. We found face-to-face informal interactions are important to renew energy as well as fuel learning and creativity.”
While no one is expected to attend the office five days a week, Astorg is aiming to increase its number of social events. “Getting together more frequently helps to increase engagement and sense of belonging,” explains D’Emilio. “Humans need social contact and good relationships, and private equity’s biggest asset is its people. Sure, you can keep in touch via digital means, but nothing replicates the in person experience.”
Overall, incorporating empathy, compassion and human contact are proving to be good first steps to keeping teams motivated. “Hopefully we can navigate this period and continue applying the good lessons learned from lockdowns, while getting rid of old habits that no longer work,” says D’Emilio.
That said, what still isn’t clear, is what is considered the right balance for hybrid models, and whether it should be up to the firm to provide frameworks, the employees to decide what’s right for them, or somewhere in between. “Reducing fatigue and reinvigorating teams is about finding the right hybrid model,” D’Emilio adds. “No one knows the consequences of any model yet, because no one has lived through it and come out the other side. We’re all muddling through this at the same time.”
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Looking beyond private equity
What other industries are doing when it comes to hybrid
- Work remotely: up to 50% of the time
- Building privacy-backed listening systems to capture digital signals with various tools, to let managers/leaders check in on staff wellbeing
- Work remotely: two days a week
- Team leaders can decide what works best for their unit
- Outside the hybrid model: employees can work remotely or any other location up to four weeks per year
- Equal split: remote, hybrid and office working
- Data centre roles and bank branch: in office full-time
- Other workers: work remotely for a full week
- Global rule across business: no virtual meetings on Fridays
- Most of firm: one to four days per week in office/at client site for collaboration and project work
- Rest of week: from home or wherever is needed