With Coronavirus having caused a sudden global switch to remote working, IQ-EQ’s Nancy Vailakis took the opportunity to sit down (virtually!) with Boston-based investor, adviser, author and speaker Diane Mulcahy. Diane has been a professional investor for 15 years and manages the global private equity portfolio for the Kauffman Foundation. Not only does Diane write and speak regularly about private investing, she is also an expert on the gig economy and the future of work. She has authored a best-selling book on the subject and created the first Gig Economy MBA course in the US, heralded by Forbes as one of the top 10 most innovative business school courses in the country.
Here, Nancy and Diane discuss the impact of this pandemic-driven shift in how we work, particularly in relation to the private equity sector.
Diane, you’ve been a proponent of remote work for a while now, as author of the book The Gig Economy and a prolific speaker on the subject. Now that so many people worldwide have been thrust into a regime of remote work, with a long list of firms mandating that all workers stay home, how are companies adjusting?
They’re adjusting to the new normal. It’s been an abrupt shift to rapidly transition to working from home, for both companies and employees. Working from home by decree with a full household isn’t the same as working remotely by choice in a professional or dedicated space. It’s not the ideal way for remote work to scale. But, the benefit is that everyone is experimenting with remote work and gathering real information about what works, and what doesn’t. After working remotely for weeks, or even months, it will be hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Employees will have a taste of the flexibility and control of remote work, and companies will already have the processes and tools in place – and hopefully some positive performance results as well.
Private equity in particular, along with vast swaths of the financial services industry, have maintained a ‘face-time’ regime to date, regardless of tech innovations enabling more flexibility. As Director of Private Equity at the Kauffman Foundation, a $2 billion foundation here in the US, what are you seeing as the most fundamental shifts, semi-permanent or permanent?
Video conferencing is the most fundamental shift. In the past month I’ve attended Advisory Board and annual meetings by video, which has not even been an option in the past. I also see GPs and LPs regularly meeting by video for introductory calls, due diligence and regular updates.
Face-to-face meetings and events won’t go away in PE – the relationships are too long and the capital invested is too large. But I do think that the forced switch to remote working means that video conferencing feels more comfortable and familiar, and will be a viable substitute for at least some travel and in-person meetings going forward.
What advice would you give IQ-EQ’s private fund clients as they navigate the waters of remote working en masse?
One of the biggest challenges of transitioning to remote work is how to structure and manage your time outside the constraints of a typical day at the office. This is particularly true in the current pandemic because the transition was so rapid and so many of us are quarantining with other members of our household.
When we work in an office all day every day, we get used to organizing ourselves around an existing structure – of normal start and end times, regular meetings, commutes, etc. On our own from home, it’s up to us to take much more control of structuring the day to optimize our work. If you’re a morning person, maybe your best work hours are now 5-7am. Those early hours combined with no commute might mean you can wrap up earlier, or take a longer break mid-day.
It takes some time to experiment with different structures and figure out what works best. Expect to iterate and try several different structures before finding a rhythm and approach that works best for you. To start, I offer two frameworks to try:
- Maker vs Manager calendar: This concept was first introduced by Paul Graham. In a Manager’s Schedule, workdays are typically chopped into hour-long meetings and calls. The Maker’s Schedule is organized around blocks of focused time to think and complete tasks and projects. Remote workers need both in their calendars – blocks of times set aside with quiet, uninterrupted time for reading, analysis or generating thoughtful output or deliverables, as well as time for meetings, calls, and collaboration.
- Time Blocking: A more comprehensive option, time blocking divides your entire day into specific tasks, ensuring there is time allocated and set aside for work, as well as personal items such as exercise, meals and a morning routine. If you have a job (or life) that is less predictable, you can block off “white space” or “troubleshooting” time each day, with a backup task if things go unexpectedly smoothly.
Please provide some guidance for individuals who may miss the social (and other) aspects of working in an office.
It’s natural to feel isolated when we’re not only working from home, but are also restricted from pursuing our usual social, athletic and community activities. The best option in these circumstances is to allocate connection and social time each day to reach out to colleagues and friends by video, phone or text, and consider scheduling virtual coffees, afternoon tea or happy hours.
Outside the office, I’ve started to see professional associations offering online workshops, discussions and webinars, and gyms, yoga studios and trainers leading livestream classes.
We agree with Diane that face-to-face meetings and in-person events won’t go away in private equity. We also expect long-term impact on the industry’s meeting, event and due diligence habits as people discover more flexibility through available technology and experiment with different ways to structure their work days.
To learn more about Diane’s work, or read more about her views on remote work, visit www.dianemulcahy.com or follow her @dianemulcahy.
Nancy Vailakis is Business Development Director, Funds at IQ-EQ in New York, focused on the promotion of private fund administration, compliance outsourcing, investor solutions and other related services.