Sadly, the outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant put paid to this. However, with the UK’s vaccination programme moving forward at an astounding pace – 89% of the population above 16 has now had a first dose, and 80% the second dose – businesses seem to have once again adjusted to a seismic change in office life.
Most of my clients are now operating a hybrid model of fixed days in and out of the office. The days of having your own pedestal surrounded by family pictures and your personal coffee mug have now been replaced by docking stations, laptops and hot desking – which in all honesty a lot of companies were already moving to before COVID-19.
So what has changed for me since last September? The key has been to maintain a good work/life balance, protecting mental health and keeping productivity levels high. I have had client meetings in London, and it was nice to have an in-person coffee meeting in LGIM’s local Black Sheep, as opposed to the virtual coffee which had been my mainstay option for the past 19 months! An informal fund-manager presentation in Shepherd Market was also enjoyable.
The streets are still eerily quiet, though (see picture below), and it’s sad to see so many businesses shut down due to the pandemic.
The M25 and Dartford Tunnel have also seen a lot more of me, with some clients happy to meet in their local towns. The personal interaction is still vitally important, communicating and reconnecting face to face, even if the greeting is a fist bump rather than a firm handshake.
On the other hand, many clients are retaining much of the technology they adopted at the start of lockdown, confirming it will play a key role in the future having helped communication with clients during the pandemic, reduced travel, and improved time management. I have now become quite adept at using Microsoft Teams – working out how to use the background filters, sharing screens, muting, and for internal meetings bringing in some laughter by using wallpapers from the London Stadium to the Nags Head in Peckham!
LGIM also hosted our annual conference digitally earlier this year; the event was well attended, receiving a lot of positive feedback, while fund-manager presentations in the main have been via webinars and podcasts. The show must go on, and fund-manager roadshows have now returned, yet it is likely these will continue to be complemented by digital events.
It was encouraging to hear one of my colleagues, who recently presented at one of our sales meetings, say it was fun to see people in real life!
So what have I learnt? Mainly it is that what we do, rather than where we do it, that matters. Flexibility from employees, and being grateful that connecting can be done via so many different channels, are vital. Markets have been fairly resilient during the crisis, as has humanity.
My only remaining conundrum is whether dogs or cats are essential attendees for future meetings. They have given much joy to clients and myself through this period, and I’m not alone judging by the 3.2 million UK households that acquired a pet during lockdown. So if you see some new recruits in your office, don’t be surprised!
 Source: gov.uk as at 4 September 2021