Challenges of and Working in the COVID-19 Environment
- Sep 2, 2020
Fortress Investment Group is an investment advisor based in New York City with approximately $41.7 billion of assets under management and over 850 employees globally. EisnerAmper sat down with Jim Herrigel, Managing Director; David Sims, Director; and Ken Park, Senior Vice President, who discussed the challenges and impact that the current work environment has had on them, their teams and their workings due to the global pandemic.
Can you describe how being remote has impacted you, your team and the working relationship with EisnerAmper?
Jim Herrigel: I think I was more impacted by not having the team nearby so it took more coordination to understand what everyone was doing, tracking vacation time and so forth. With EisnerAmper, we continued to have our weekly status meetings but instead of in person it was over the phone and that worked very well. I did not see much difference at all.
David Sims: We were forced to adapt to work from home (WFH) by increasing our lines of communication with each other as we could not walk down the hallway anymore so coordination and time needed to be managed differently. With EisnerAmper, while much of the pre-COVID-19 field work was handled in face-to-face meetings reviewing physical copies of documents, much of the follow-up items had to be handled through email and phone calls.
Ken Park: The technology teams have always been on call so WFH is not new nor has it been an issue for us. As part of the firm’s COVID-19 response team and the business continuity plan (BCP) team, I have been working longer with multiple responsibilities. As far as working with EisnerAmper goes, we’ve transitioned seamlessly to remote working and haven’t felt any impact.
In 2017 it was reported that 43% of employees were working occasionally from home. Today, almost everyone is. Do you see opportunities to expand WFH going forward for Fortress and how do you see that working with third parties such as EisnerAmper?
Jim Herrigel: We are almost as efficient as we were when in the office which does give us an opportunity to expand upon this and that holds true for our working with third parties.
David Sims: I suspect we may see more WFH opportunities going forward given the factors involved, but not at the current levels where everyone is working remotely. Even though you read articles that the WFH “experiment” is working in the sense that productivity has not been impacted and has actually increased, once the pandemic ends and people are back in the office one wonders whether WFH will fall away as quickly as it came. It’s too early to answer that.
What were your biggest challenges from WFH?
Jim Herrigel: One of the hardest things was not having people right there next to me or even on another floor, which has made it harder to manage people and keep them motivated as there is no face-to-face time. We are on call even more so than when we were in the office as our schedules have had to change to accommodate people’s lives (childcare as an example) as well as the business.
Ken Park: For the normal day-to-day work, I have not had any real challenges or issues to speak of. From the COVID-19 response team’s perspective, our challenge was training our users to work remotely but even this has not been a huge issue for us as most users knew the process and technology already.
What has been your biggest surprise?
Jim Herrigel: I was truly amazed as to how seamless the transition was and how adaptable everyone has been in this environment. The effort and initiatives taken around technology and BCP over the last few years have worked great for the entire organization.
David Sims: The surprise was that there were no surprises. We have a team of professionals dedicated to Fortress and our clients and from what I have seen, the transition and adjustment to the pandemic has been remarkable. We are extremely busy as a firm and notwithstanding the added stresses involved in managing home life and work life, the team has not missed a beat.
What new systems/applications did the firm put in place either prior to or during the current pandemic to ensure success?
Ken Park: None, we did not need to add anything new which was a goal of our BCP.
Has there been extra time needed to manage your teams effectively in the remote environment?
David Sims: Not necessarily more time but more communication – regularly scheduled calls, whether weekly or daily, just to make sure that everyone knows what is going on both within our team and across the firm.
While many thought that not commuting would give them time back, most have found that not to be the case, what has your experience been?
Jim Herrigel: I have been using that time better (i.e., exercising). I do think we have all put in extra time at various points in the day and at strange hours.
David Sims: I suspect everyone has been working longer hours for a variety of reasons. The days, weeks and weekends started to blur together early in the pandemic and it hasn’t really slowed down.
Ken Park: We have been working longer hours but at different times; it’s not 9-5 anymore.
Will you be returning to the offices (RTO) or will you continue to work remotely?
Jim Herrigel: No timetable for RTO has been set as far as I know. One concern that many of us do have is getting in and out of the city as there are risks in mass transit.
Ken Park: This pandemic has been an interesting exercise for everyone. It is not a one or two day power outage or snow storm. This has been four months and counting. The fact that we, Fortress, invested in technology which initially appeared to be expensive has paid off for us. The return on investment (ROI) has been very good as we are operating seamlessly with minimal impact to the business.
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Michael Rosenberg is a Director in the firm's Risk and Compliance Services (RCS) Group, and co-leads the CFIUS Advisory Services.
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