Remote Working in Private Equity 

In a new report, Russell Reynolds Associates surveyed private equity firms across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to better understand how remote work was playing out. Although opinions varied on most topics, respondents agreed that when the pandemic was over the workplace will be forever changed.

May 17, 2022 – The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed working life. In-person attendance from Monday to Friday, set working hours, and a fixed workplace in the office appear to be in large part a thing of the past. Flexible arrangements now rule most workplace environments. To understand the new work norms in a post COVID-era in private equity, Russell Reynolds Associates conducted a survey across PE in the DACH region.

Prior to the pandemic, about half of the survey participants already had the opportunity to work partially remotely. One third, however, said that they had only been able to work remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to most of the participants, an average of 25 percent of the teams in PE are currently working remotely. Almost 50 percent of respondents said that they would like to work remotely for one to two days. Less than 20 percent said that between three to four days or even five days would be desirable.

The Russell Reynolds report also said that about one-third of the PE specialists said that they would not like to see an increase in remote working after the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the “new normal” may be dependent on the individual opinion of employees and cannot be generalized for every company.

All respondents agreed that the fund they now work for will have a new way of working after the pandemic. In the majority of cases, they said, the change will involve a hybrid model of on-site office and remote work. Almost half of the PE specialists said that the fund they work for even has a “work from anywhere” policy allowing employees to work flexibly from wherever they want.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Working From Home

The benefits of remote working can be defined by two core tenets: Work life balance and less travel time, according to the Russell Reynolds report. The survey respondents often mentioned the time they had gained with their families and especially their children as an extremely positive aspect. In addition, private matters, they said, can often be dealt with more flexibly. Adaptability of working hours and the location of work was also cited, as well as the possibility of being able to work in a highly concentrated manner in certain situations.

Related: Talent Challenges Facing Mid-Market Private Equity Backed Companies

The travel time savings came in both the morning commute to the office and the time spent travelling to external appointments. The commute can be avoided with remote work and appointments with external parties can now be held online. Unnecessary time and cost wastage can be curbed, and the added stress of constant travel has also been eliminated.

Although the increased work-life balance was mentioned as a positive aspect, about 50 percent of the respondents said that a clear separation of work and private life was no longer possible due to remote working during the pandemic.

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Respondents said that the negative aspects of working remotely mainly involved less interpersonal interaction with one’s own team as well as the loss of individual coffee breaks to share private as well as professional experiences, according to the Russell Reynolds report. “Team communication and interaction suffers and maintaining the team spirit becomes increasingly difficult,” the study said. “Furthermore, one PE professional mentioned that brainstorming face to face would be more productive because one could not do other things virtually on the laptop at the same time.”

Competitive Advantage: Creating a Desirable Working Environment as a Fund 

“In order to stand out in the market and remain competitive, funds should dedicate more time on building team spirit, so that this can be maintained even when working remotely,” the Russell Reynolds report said. Many of the respondents said that efficiency is higher with remote work, and that they often concentrate better when working from home.

Nevertheless, a certain amount of time in the office on-site is appreciated and also felt to be important in order to revive the team spirit and collaboration, respondents said. “Another aspect of improving the team spirit are team events that were cancelled due to the pandemic, and they should be revived,” Russell Reynolds said. “Home office, flexible working hours, as well as the possibility to go to a centrally located office are perceived as important. Of equal importance is the investment in technology to support remote working. All in all, flexibility as a holistic construct of the new way of working is perceived by the PE professionals as attractive.”

“As always, there is no one size fits all solution,” the Russell Reynolds report said. “Going forward, funds will likely run hybrid models with an emphasis on the office vs. work from home time. While we have all seen the benefits of more flexibility, we have also seen the downsides of not having personal interaction.”

Related: Leadership Dilemma Unfolding at Private Equity Firms

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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