COVID-19 and changing work practices

COVID-19 has forced a mass and rapid adoption of remote working practices and we are now facing a critical moment in history with the unique opportunity to re-shape our work practices for decades to come. This powerful change could help reverse the gender imbalance within the private capital industry as flexible working is a key enabler for a more diverse and inclusive firm.

The Australian Investment Council has devoted considerable focus over the last five years towards leading the domestic industry through the change necessary in the diversity and inclusion area. Significant progress has been achieved through the introduction of various initiatives including the first-ever Champions of Change Program to help accelerate the pace and breadth of change across the sector. While still in its early stages and despite the lockdowns in some States and broad adoption of working from home, the program has been demonstrating its potential to deliver meaningful long-term change through peer-to-peer engagement with other leaders across the industry.

Insights drawn from the Australian Investment Council’s Champions of Change leaders interviewed for this three-part series clearly indicate their willingness to adopt new flexible working practice that they say are here to stay.

The Champions of Change shared their “lightbulb moments” with Chris Nave, founding partner and managing director of Brandon Capital. saying “The real revelation for us is how productive it has been. This has shown the world that teams can remain connected and be really effective working from home.”

Face-to-face interactions have always been viewed as critical in the private capital industry and while the champions note that you can not replace the need to have that interaction from time to time, they no longer view it as critical. Chester Moynihan, founding partner of Allegro Funds. say “We still have 8am meetings, but pre-COVID it was expected you would be in the office. Now, if you are there, that’s OK. But you can dial-in too. That has become the norm, and that change will stick.”

However, remote working has not been without its challenges. Rob Koczkar, managing director of Adamantem Capital, says that home schooling exposed issues within families about working from home. “Strong patterns emerged around sharing responsibilities in households. Women, even those who are working, tend to take more responsibility for traditional activities around the home.”

Another issue commonly mentioned was the pressure on younger employees who live in small apartments or share houses. They may be limited to sleeping in one room or working in a lounge room, which also may be shared with their housemates.

The Champions highlighted how these challenges on top of social isolation can have a significant impact on people’s wellbeing. Anne-Marie Birkill, co-founder and venture partner at OneVentures states that “Our most valuable asset is our team. This is something we have worked hard on right from the outset, as a holistic process. But we wanted to create an environment where they could be productive, feel assured and keep themselves well. We are very conscious that physical wellbeing is important, but isolation can have a significant impact on people’s mental health.”

Some Champions of Change appointed health and welfare officers who were responsible for connecting people for social reasons. The introduction of online drinks, quizzes, random virtual coffee meetings and work buddies meant people could discuss issues important to them outside of work. They also encouraged their staff to buy whatever gear they required to function property – fast wi-fi, computers and office furniture included.

Additionally, the Champions acknowledged that some staff members are keen to come into the office to help them balance work and home life and are now open to offering that flexibility to their staff. Justin Ryan, managing partner at Quadrant Growth Funds says “When we started, people were happy to work from home. But, from where I sit, now people would be happy to get out of home and come into the office for a couple of days a week. If they have more flexibility to find the right balance between the two, that can be a great outcome. There is going to be more open-mindedness about that.”

There has also been a change in hiring new staff and attitudes towards technology. Allegro has hired two people during COVID. Chester Moynihan, founding partner of Allegro Funds says “We had to think about the interview, how we onboard. That meant we needed to systematise and embrace technology more. We had to be more structured. You forget there is a lot of communication that happens by pulling someone into a meeting.”

Professional development, particularly for young staff is another priority for Birkill. “People are concerned that their careers will stagnate. My counsel has been to undertake professional development and be involved in events so they are visible. Looking after employees from a career development point of view is really important. Regular meetings between line managers and their employees to discuss performance and career development must be prioritised.”

It is clear that working from home does not come without its challenges but the Champions of Change believe that they can be mitigated through effective management and the benefits for staff and the business are worth it. Their commitment to offering flexible work practices to their staff post COVID will help propel the Australian Investment Council’s work in building an inclusive and thriving industry. To learn more about the Australian Investment Council’s diversity work visit

You can read the second instalment of this three-part series here.

You can read the third instalment of this three-part series here.