Hybrid working is gathering pace. Research consistently shows it is the arrangement most employees prefer, and increasingly employers are responding by introducing models that combine in-office and remote work. Even leading investment banks, including Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas and Barclays, are committing to more flexible working.
However, some of the more traditional family offices are resisting the move to hybrid. Arguably, they have built their success on proximity, so why should they change the office-based business model that has served them well over the years? However, when the world around them is changing, what risks do they face if they hold back?
“For family offices, it’s a case of balancing the risks of not attracting or retaining talent versus the new risks of introducing a hybrid model.”
For some family offices, working from home is counter-intuitive. As one family office CFO puts it, “We hate the idea of hybrid working. We can get things done so much quicker if we are all in the office. We don’t need to arrange zoom calls, we can just ask a question and it is answered.”
Admittedly, for some tasks, there is no substitute for people collaborating face-to-face.
However, external factors may push family offices towards hybrid working – especially if they operate in a jurisdiction with a shortfall of talent.
Countless studies show that candidates and employees prize the flexibility of hybrid working. Often the first question even the most senior candidates ask is whether a prospective employer supports hybrid working – the job description and compensation package are almost an afterthought.
Tiger Recruitment’s latest research into worker preferences backs this up. It found that the perks that might once have attracted candidates to a family office role, such as location and culture, have slipped down the priority list. Now work/life balance, just behind salary and closely followed by benefits, takes their place.
Hybrid working plays an equally important role in talent retention, with more than half of employees saying flexible hybrid work policies affect their decision to stay at their organisation.
Currently, when the number of job opportunities outstrips the availability of quality candidates in many markets, family offices that ignore workers’ demands for hybrid are likely to find themselves at a disadvantage. Attracting the fresh talent they need to grow may prove difficult and existing staff could walk out the door, taking their knowledge with them.
Compounding the issue, many of the employers that family offices are competing with for skills – financial institutions, professional services firms, and boutique investment houses – have already embraced more flexible ways of working.
However, as much as a refusal to adapt to hybrid could compromise a family office’s appeal as an employer, making the transition is not challenge-free.
Brendan Kelly, principal and managing director of 888 Advisory Associates (888), who works with wealth managers and family offices, says, “We have moved to an era of hybrid working and evolution is necessary. However, for family offices, there are challenges associated with making the transition. It’s a case of balancing the risks of not attracting or retaining talent versus the new risks of introducing a hybrid model.”
For example, allowing employees to share their time between the office and home may make them happier and more committed, but only if the arrangement is well-defined. Without a clear position on how hybrid will operate in practice, people in different teams and departments could end up doing their own thing, leading to disharmony and disorder.
The most common set-up Tiger has observed in investment and wealth management, and the most popular among candidates and employees is three days in the office and two days at home. However, family offices should carefully consider the arrangement that will work best for their business and agree, document, and share a policy that outlines it.
The risks that arise when people work away from the office should also be thought through. With family offices becoming more frequent victims of cyberattacks, a robust technology platform and a clear policy on cybersecurity are vital to hybrid success. It is one thing for an employee to access a confidential file in a secure office environment, quite another if they are logging on via public Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop.
Ensuring teams stay connected, to each other and to the business,is also important. Without the proper attention, team cohesion and trust can suffer when employees work in different locations. Setting clear guidelines around when and how often people will meet in person helps maintain employee engagement and supports relationship-building.
Balancing tradition and changing how things are done can be difficult. However, if the role of the family office is to grow, preserve, and transfer the family wealth and pass on its values to the next generation, adapting to market developments is a natural part of the family and business lifecycle.
“Hybrid working is simply another arc on this journey of change,” says 888’s Brendan Kelly.
“Successful family offices continuously adapt to their environment. Whether through asset allocation decisions or the family business changing, their evolution remains a constant. And there will always be something that necessitates evolution and change,” he adds.
The world of work is changing and will continue to do so. Can family offices afford to stand still?