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Open by Labor Day? Investment Firms Mulling Return-to-Work Plans


A new survey by Callan of 88 investment managers reveals that most are targeting the June-August timeframe to return to the office—other than firms in the Northeast, that is.

Overall, slightly more than half (52%) of respondents were uncertain about the timing, while 48% had a specific reopening target date. More specifically: 

  • 22% of respondents expect to reopen in June, July or August;
  • 44% of small firms (under $15 billion in AUM) estimate a reopening date in July 2021; and 
  • 35% of respondents in the Northeast estimate a reopening date in September 2021. 

With respect to policies employed in those offices that are currently open or opening soon:

  • 61% of respondents said they planned a staggered or rotating schedule; and 
  • 71% of large respondents have made physical office modifications, such as installing screens, reorganizing floor plans, and adding floor stickers. 

Callan also found that only 3% said that vaccination would be a requirement for employees returning to the office, with respondents citing the need for more time and information before setting such a policy. 

As for whether visitors are permitted, most (88%) continue to ban outside visitors, while 75% report a “date unknown” when asked when they anticipate office visitors will be permitted. Of those respondents who cited a specific target date for allowing visitors, 42% expect this to take place in the fourth quarter of 2021 or in 2022. 

Similarly, 74% of respondents could not provide an anticipated date for resumption of travel. Still, 24% of firms allowed business travel in the March survey, which Callan notes was more than double from the 10% reported in August. 

Offices Openings, Meetings and Travel

Offices remain closed for 82% of respondents, which Callan notes is approximately the same as the last edition of the survey (the second iteration) conducted in August (81%) and down slightly from 84% in the first survey published in June. In addition, 48% of respondents said they have a specified reopening date, down from 56% in August.

Managers whose primary office is in the Northeast had the highest percentage of offices currently open at 21%, up from 12% in August. In contrast, their Southeast counterparts had the lowest percentage of offices open (8%), down from 38% in August. 

Eighty-six percent of respondents said the number of meetings they have had either increased or stayed the same compared to 12 months before, up from 74% in August. In addition, 74% of firms conducted at least 80% of their interactions via video conference call versus 58% in August. Zoom (51%) was the most widely used platform, outpacing Microsoft Teams (28%) and WebEx (16%). 

Benefits and Communications Changes

About (49%) of respondents did not make any changes to their employee benefits packages in response to the pandemic, while about a third (34%) reported that they did.  

While the survey results don’t specify the overall percentage breakdown of benefit offerings, the survey notes that the following additions have been made to packages: 

  • “COVID days” (a certain number of extra vacation days to be taken during the work-from-home period); 
  • enhanced back-up caregiving benefits; 
  • employee stipends to purchase home office equipment; 
  • enhanced telehealth and virtual counseling; and 
  • enhanced wellness offerings, such as virtual yoga and firm-sponsored access to

Regarding steps taken to enhance employee engagement, 81% of respondents increased the number of communications from senior management to enhance employee engagement while offices are closed.

Similarly, 82% of larger firms (over $300 billion in AUM) instituted wellness initiatives, more than twice the percentage of their smaller counterparts (32%). 

Survey responses are as of March 1, 2021, with 30% of respondents categorized as “medium-sized” with $50 billion to $300 billion in AUM, while 19% of respondents have more than $300 billion in AUM, with the remaining having under $50 billion.