Schroders chief executive Peter Harrison recently wrote an article on how the investment management firm managed to handle a black swan situation – an unpredictable event with potentially severe consequences – like the coronavirus pandemic.
Harrison noticed that many forward-looking companies have been battling over how to offer the best working environment such as a state-of-the-art gym or an access to an on-site doctor, or maybe even a dentist. However, for a situation which has a dramatic societal and economic impact, it is becoming clear that the COVID-19 is a test of whether a company's system is prepared to care for its staff – and the interests of clients and customers under extreme stress.
Soon after his appointment as chief executive of Schroders in 2016, Harrison and the management team recognised that technology would be the solution for establishing true cross-business collaboration and business resilience. So they turned their attention to flexible working.
Schroders began by rolling out a system that allows people to work anywhere from any location at any time using just one log-in. Employees get full access to the systems they would usually get in the office and also mix in with other teams in the new offices.
So when Schroders made a decision in early March to move to split-team working, it wasn’t daunting for Harrison since the decisions made several years ago – to offer staff true flexibility - had put the firm in a strong position to do so.
The first tactic – to divide more than 5000 people across 34 locations into two teams, which would alternative home and office working – begun in Asia earlier in the year and is now being rolled out globally.
In mid March, Schroders turned to 'minimum viable presence' – ensuring necessary cover in the office but with connectivity for most staff from home.
All the changes were made smoothly and efficiently. Portfolio managers, analysts and traders get exactly the same experience in a disaster recovery site, at home or in the office. Previously manual processes have been swept away by a risk and portfolio management tool. Collaboration tools, messaging and chat applications help the traders stay coordinated with fund managers and operations while Bloomberg IB Chat and Symphony also allow secure messaging with brokers and counterparties.
"Frankly, I think this is how all businesses should work. This is not just flexible working, it’s about the deepening of our social contract with employees, it’s about putting our trust in them at all times, crisis or no crisis," Harrison wrote.
"Nobody can know what the next black swan will be or when it will emerge, but that does not stop a company from being prepared for it. Empowering employees through constantly evolving technology is what makes this possible."
"More broadly, it should be remembered that two million people who work in the gig economy lack a social contract, and we must think deeply about the implications for them at a time of stress. They are the real losers from this pandemic," Harrison said.