More than two thirds of boutique firms (69.7%) have already returned to the office in some capacity, with a further 18% intending to do so during the summer, and 10% by autumn, according to a survey by the Independent Investment Management Initiative (IIMI), the boutique asset management think tank (formerly New City Initiative).
The survey, which was conducted among IIMI's members, also revealed that 77% of firms said they planned to adopt a flexible working approach, with only 11.6% confirming they would not do so.
Of the firms which said they would adopt flexible working, just over half (51.3%) plan to let their employees work from home one to two days per week. A further 32.4% said they would allow staff to work from home two to three days a week, while 16.2% of members are open to letting employees work from home four to five days per week.
Of the firms who are reticent about introducing flexible working, 28% cited productivity concerns as the primary reason for being sceptical, whereas a further 28% warned it could have an adverse impact on training. There is growing concern among senior leadership that staff training and the ability to innovate are not as successful when performed online or through intermittent attendance in the office.
Nick Mottram, chairman of the IIMI, said: "After 18 months of stop-start lockdown restrictions, financial institutions - including asset managers - are busy assessing the logistics of bringing their staff back into the office once again. Boutique firms appear to be leading the charge here, with 70% of our members saying they have already returned in some capacity.
"What is clear is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution: the process of bringing employees back into the office will not be straightforward, and a number of ethical issues remain unanswered, such as treating vaccinated and unvaccinated staff differently. We will be speaking with our member firms about their post-Covid-19 working practices in the next few weeks, and look forward to communicating our findings in due course."
As staff return to the office, some organisations are demanding that only employees who have been fully vaccinated come back to their work stations. This is the policy for Morgan Stanley and BlackRock employees, for example.
Goldman Sachs said staff must confirm their vaccination status, although the investment bank added that unvaccinated staff could still come into the office but they must socially distance and wear masks.
The survey showed that 55.8% of IIMI members said they would not make it mandatory for staff to be either tested and/or vaccinated. 20.3% of respondents said staff must be regularly tested but not necessarily vaccinated. 6.98% of IIMI members will insist that employees be regularly tested and fully vaccinated, while 16.2% said they are unsure.
Of those firms which will not require staff to be fully vaccinated or regularly tested, 27.2% said indirect discrimination risk was an issue, while 22.7% said such a policy would pose serious ethical concerns.
"We are a small team where we expect everyone to take collective responsibility. We provide the ability for all staff to undertake testing regularly and encourage it, but we do not mandate it," said one member.