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Edition 8 - Human insights

Lessons in running a global listed real estate business from home

A long-running team strategy for the global listed real estate function at AMP Capital is facing its biggest test yet, and it’s proving a winner.

James Maydew is on the phone from his home in Sydney, where he like many has been holed up since early March.

AMP Capital’s head of global listed real estate leads a team of 14 investors from around the globe who have the job of investing A$6.5 billion worth of clients’ money into listed real estate stocks.

He put himself in a voluntary two-week isolation after returning to Australia from the United States in early March – and his team has been working remotely since early March in London, Chicago and Sydney and as far back as January in Hong Kong. These moves were well ahead of government shutdowns aimed at combatting the spread of COVID-19.

“One of the benefits of having a global team is we have a team in Hong Kong who provided early insight to what was going on the ground in China and across Asia and what was required to contain this health crisis.”

“As a result, we were very early making the decision that governments globally may not be sufficiently quick enough to prevent this from becoming a huge issue.”

It’s a situation common across countries, cultures and workplaces as the global pandemic reaches a crescendo. Managers worldwide are scrambling to maintain business as usual amid a rapidly-changing environment, working with remote teams of professionals who are being forced to work from home, sometimes for the first time in their careers.

Many workplaces have embraced flexibility in recent years, but the new normal of all staff working from home all the time is novel for almost all large corporations.

It comes at a cost – the fleeting interactions and corridor conversations that make up knowledge sharing in a normal office environment quickly balloon to long email chains and repeated, extended video calls when everyone is remote.

Maydew has one quick tip for keeping things sane: “You have to be really careful not to just fill the diary with noise,” he says. “There’s so much volatility that you could easily fill every waking hour with a conversation about intraday market moves or COVID-19 speculation. But that’s not helpful.”

Instead, he prefers to maintain the work practices that made a team successful before the crisis unfolded.

Maydew practices a management discipline called decentralised command, adapted from the Navy SEALS, the elite sea, air and land forces of the US military.

The SEALs often operate in small groups that have the autonomy to adapt their mission to changing conditions. While their objective remains constant, the teams are authorised to react and change tactics as needed.

 

Maydew’s team has long run a similar model.

“The team know what their objective is. But they are the specialist on the ground, and they are best positioned to make decisions in real time within their region,” he says.

The centrepiece for his team is a weekly global call with the entire team – in Sydney, Hong Kong, Tokyo, London and Chicago.

This has been going on long before the crisis and will remain long after it ends.

“Everything in the portfolio has to come through me as a central decision point, but we are able to make real-time decisions very quickly on the ground across the world and then feed them immediately into client outcomes,” he says.

Maydew stresses the importance of maintaining the balance between work and life, especially when there’s no longer any physical separation between the two.

He reminds his team to remain healthy, eat well, exercise and take breaks regularly. “Above all, spend some time with family and loved ones,” he says.

“Try to create some boundaries in the day and in the week, so when the opportunity presents itself to switch off, you can spend some quality time with the family and try to get some downtime.”

The presence of family itself – and especially children who are being forced into home schooling across the world – is making it even trickier for professionals to work from home.

Maydew recognises that it works differently for everyone, but an environment where physical areas are marked for work can help.

Our U.S. team did a virtual happy a couple of Fridays ago... to celebrate the end of the week. Just to catch up. I thought that was awesome."

“Perhaps you see your kids in the morning, and then say goodbye and go into whatever room you need to do your day job, but coming out for regular breaks to see them,” he says.

This maintenance of normality even extends to Friday afternoon drinks.

“Our US team did a virtual happy hour a couple of Fridays ago,” he says.

“One of the most manic weeks ever in markets but they still found the time to think it through, put it in the diary and then honour that by getting together virtually and having a drink to celebrate the end of the week. Just to catch up. I thought that was awesome.”

Maydew acknowledges he and his team are in a somewhat privileged position with the capability to work remotely without affecting the work they do.

“That’s the beauty of what we do. You don’t need to be in an office. We have access to technology, market pricing… it’s very manageable.”

Given Maydew and his team were early to see the coming crisis, they are also hoping to be early to see the signs that signal the world and markets return to normality.

“Hopefully, the containment of people’s movements continues to slow the growth of the virus,” he says.

“We then need to see the transmissibility drop for this to get under control in the near term, but finding a vaccine is the solution”.

“When we start seeing lower transmissibility translate into the numbers, then that’s when we’re going to have greater confidence, but we are very aware of risks of further waves of infection and the economic consequences, so remain cautious.”

Important Notes

While every care has been taken in the preparation of these articles, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in them including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Performance goals are merely goals. There is no guarantee that the strategy will achieve that level of performance. The information in this document contains statements that are the author’s beliefs and/or opinions. Any beliefs and/or opinions shared are as at the date shown and are subject to change without notice. These articles have been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. They should not be construed as investment advice or investment recommendations. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this document, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This document is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided and must not be provided to any other person or entity without the express written consent of AMP Capital.

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