Can Telecommuting Work on the Buy Side?

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Anthony Malakian, US Editor, WatersTechnology

Advancements in technology have made it easier than ever for employees to work from home─or at a bar or beach. Capital markets firms are now having to decide how much freedom to let their workers have.

As many capital markets firms learned during Hurricane Sandy, business can continue relatively uninterrupted even if the company's headquarters are not operable.

Virtual desktops on distributed laptops and constant advancements in tapping the power of iPads has made the need for actual desk space less of a necessity. Add to that lofty price tags for office space and it's no wonder some firms are becoming more comfortable with the idea of employees working remotely, returning to the office only when necessary.

At this year's North American Trading Architecture Summit (NATAS), panelists debated the merits of incorporating a telecommuting strategy for IT. Richard Huddleston, executive director at Morgan Stanley, says that his firm has found that a hybrid telecommuting strategy has added to productivity.

Huddleston says that as the firm is developing a new project, regional staff get together for "intense" face-to-face meetings to decide the next steps. After that, employees disburse and work remotely. He says that this helps to ease the burden of real estate and it also allows them "to work without interruption and make progress on the next steps that have been decided upon," he says. "After a week to two, even three weeks, we would then come back together.

"We find that this makes for very effective development," he adds.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Vlad Shpilsky, global head of equity linked IT, says that some employees telecommute 85 percent of the time, while others only do it 15 percent of the time, if that.

And Alan Eddie, global head of regulatory risk and operational risk IT at RBS, says that telecommuting is not encouraged in his group.

"We don't typically encourage people to work from home," he says. "We have people in very different regions and I think having people working from home would make it very difficult on us."

Maybe it's because I'm a bit younger and my profession doesn't require that I work at a desk, but telecommuting makes complete sense if your job mainly requires a phone and internet connection. One of the greatest concerns is that productivity will wane if employees have to balance the distractions of home with work. My solution: fire the laggards and replace them with people who can get the job done.

Risk and security are also major sticking points. But there are numerous vendor solutions that are flooding the market to help address these issues. The initial cost up front can be made up in the long term as a result of decreased dependence on internal resources and space.

I'm not for a work environment where everyone works remotely and teleconferences in from time to time. I like Huddleston's elastic strategy best, where the workplace expands and contracts; come together for sessions and then let everyone go back to their own domains.

But it's worth noting that the firms that answered the telecommuting question at NATAS were sell-side firms. The two buy-side representatives chose to take a pass; it did not seem like it was something they've explored.

I'm not so sure that telecommuting will be as desired on the buy side, where IT units tend to be comprised of skeleton crews, if not one or two guys sitting next to the portfolio managers. But I'd be interested to know how much desire is currently out there.

Are you at a buy-side firm that has incorporated a telecommuting strategy for IT? Or will it never happen? Let me know. Shoot me an email ([email protected]) or give me a call (646-490-3973).

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