Work from home: a bright future

BlackRock sees a bright future for office workers everywhere

About 53 minutes into BlackRock’s (BLKearnings conference call, things got interesting.‌

In response to an analyst’s question about “operational lessons learned from the COVID environment,” CFO Gary Shedlin indicated that the pandemic was accelerating secular trends.‌

“I think the biggest lesson learned obviously was that we were able to very quickly migrate from 16,000 people in 60 offices to 16,000 people and 16,000 offices,” Sheldin said. “I think that as it relates to the broader pandemic, I mean, I think that we have seen frankly an acceleration in almost every single strategic trend that we were guiding the business towards pre-pandemic, post-pandemic.”‌

CEO Larry Fink took what Shedlin said further and highlighted the fact that working from home wasn’t materially disruptive to their operations at all. And from there, Fink offered a vision of a better world where companies with a lot of office workers continue to embrace this new reality in the post-COVID world.
Larry Fink, Chief Executive Officer of BlackRock, takes part in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit in New York, U.S., February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Below is Fink’s entire discussion with a few sub-headlines added by us.‌

We can work remotely and still be efficient

“I would just add, more of a social way, there are many blessings that we’re learning from the horrificness of the pandemic and the health concerns. I don’t think any of us thought we could operate as efficiently remotely. As Gary said, now we’re operating in 16,000 offices. I think that was one of the great fears that could we actually accomplish that and can we have the operational efficiencies working remotely. And by and large, many large companies including BlackRock, have learned, yes, we can work remotely without much in terms of degradation of operational efficiencies.”‌

Office culture will remain a thing, but not full time

“We still have some of the cultural issues that I’m particularly worried about. But let’s be clear, I don’t believe we will have 100% back in office even when we have 100% solutions related to the virus. I believe this will become a blessing. I believe this is going to be considered a benefit.”‌

Traffic will clear up and the skies will get bluer

“If we could have rotate 30%, 40% of our workforce so they can work remotely at periods of time during the year, can you imagine how each city will have reduced congestion? Think about what that would do in the environment. Think about it, if the average employee commutes on average an hour each way, that we free up for a portion of the year two hours of their day.”‌

Employees could get healthier, their families will be stronger, and society will be better

“They spend that two hours to do more work. They could spend two hours improving their health by exercising. They could spend two hours more in building a deeper, stronger, more resilient family. And so there are many blessings through this, and I think we’re all going to be adapting and doing this. And I do believe society will be better off through these processes.”‌

It’s another dynamism for all our economies

“And so this is what we are talking about related to BlackRock. We have to stay in front of our clients’ needs. We have to adapt. And I think one of the great adaptations that we’re going to learn from the horrificness of COVID is working remotely and having — but having still some core part of your enterprise working in office. And I think this is going to be a real positive lesson. And it will create another dynamism for all our economies. And so I look at this as a great learning experience. We’re benefiting from this, and our clients can benefit from this also.”‌

That’s a pretty rosy outlook. But investors in the stock market tend to reward optimists. And sure, that kind of scenario means lots of disruptions for many folks ranging from commercial real estate investors to office cleaning crews to business district restaurant workers and so on.‌
But if Shedlin is right that this just accelerated known trends, then all the good and bad that comes from this new reality for work was going to come sooner or later.