Remote working is likely to persist even once a Covid-19 vaccine is found, as companies shift their priorities in order to “find the best talent wherever it exists”, according to Polar Capital’s Ben Rogoff, who said he is “a believer in the new normal”.
Rogoff, who manages the £3bn Polar Capital Technology Trust (PCT), said remote working, a practice many firms have adopted during the pandemic-induced worldwide lockdowns, "must persist" in the absence of a vaccine.
He noted, though, that with the need of "a critical mass of people to return to the workplace for collaboration to happen", this period of home-working is likely to continue for longer. "My sense is that there is no going back to that old world," he said, noting that a recent survey from Gartner showed 48% of companies think more than 10% of the workforce will remain remote workers.
Rogoff told Investment Week: "You do have to worry about the role of cities, mass transportation systems; people's behaviours are likely to be forever altered by this period, and why should that be different for companies?
"Why do we all locate to very expensive areas and expect to put people under the same roof? We are not going to a world where nobody goes to an office ever again, but in the absence of a vaccine I think that this new normal must persist.
"After a vaccine is found then I suspect we will have permanent amounts of work being done remotely and that will allow companies to find the best talent wherever it exists. It might be the most democratising thing of all time. People are living in poorer continents or remotely can access the same potential job as people that live in London.
"In the end, behaviours change because the new way of doing things is better than the old way."
Significant portfolio shift
Speaking after the publication of PCT's annual results, during which time the trust returned 31% in share price total return terms, Rogoff said his team had changed the portfolio "quite significantly" in February and March, as the severity of the coronavirus became evident.
The manager said he reduced the trust's macro sensitivity by selling firms such as PROS, a software provider to the travel industry, and Dolby, a long-term holding that has high exposure to cinemas.
He also reduced exposure to any firm with "a slightly less-strong balance sheet", like semiconductor maker Analog Devices and process manufacturer Aspen Technology.
While the team clearly got a lot right, Rogoff admitted that "not all of what we did was right". "I am not aware that anybody had a pandemic playbook."
One such example was the sale of online dating behemoth Match.com, which Rogoff thought would suffer. "We just assumed that if people were going out less, dating would suffer, and actually the platform has been a real beneficiary of people being locked down."