AG: Prior to the covid-19 restrictions, did you already telecommute and, if so, how often?
MvdB: Before the crisis I travelled quite regularly around Europe, to meet with clients and colleagues. As I’m lucky to live just 10 minutes from the office, I only worked from home occasionally, for instance when my children were ill. Capital Group activated work from home plans globally on 9 March, and had previously taken similar precautions earlier in our Asian offices, so we have been telecommuting for some time now.
What was your telecommuting workspace previously? Or was it always your “home office”?
My telecommuting workspace has always been at home, mainly in the living room where I have installed my working equipment: my laptop, my ipad and my printer.
What do you like about your telecommuting workspace?
I like that I can see my family and drink my own coffee, but only if it is good coffee! I also like that I can walk into my garden, step outside between client calls, and freshen up my mind.
How do you make telecommuting work for you?
My wife and I have been working together from home for four weeks now. We’ve kept a clear yet flexible schedule for both our work and the home schooling of our daughters Sophie (12) and Hélène (10). In the morning I usually have calls with clients, so my wife takes over the schooling of the children then. I take over in the afternoon.
Have you developed any new habits or routines?
Besides a daily walk with my wife and children, I have virtual drinks with colleagues every Friday afternoon at 5pm. I pour myself a drink, sit down at my laptop and listen to how everyone’s week has been.
Welcome to Marnix van den Berge’s home office. Photo provided by Marnix van den Berge
Now that you’ve been working from home for a while, what has surprised you most about teleworking?
To be honest, the first few days it felt quite strange to work at home every day, but that quickly became the new normal. It’s the same with clients and colleagues. We are seeing that clients are really receptive to communicating and receiving information [virtually] and we are pleased to be able to support them through this time. I didn't expect that we would get used to this new normal so fast. A second thing that strikes me is how focused you can be when you work from home. In five or six hours you accomplish what might have taken a whole day in the office.
How have you been spending your free time?
Every day around 4pm we take a walk in the neighbourhood with the children. One of the many nice things about Luxembourg is that it’s so green. Usually we do about five kilometres, but we always take a different route so it doesn’t get boring. Besides that, I try to jog or cycle four to five times a week. I’m getting fitter every day!
Have you started (or restarted) any new hobbies?
Since the lockdown I've been working a lot in the garden again. Last weekend, for example, I enjoyed raking the lawn to remove dead grass and moss. While I was doing that, and this is probably me being a bit obsessed with my profession, I have to admit, it struck me that gardening is like long-term investing: you work at it every day, without expecting quick profits. But after a few years you have a nice result.
Have you finally read a book that you wanted to start for a long time, but never did, like “War and Peace”?
Last September saw the publication of “It’s war but nobody sees it” by Dutch journalist Huib Modderkolk. That book has been on my nightstand for some months now, but I just didn't get around to reading it until now. It gives fascinating insight into the ‘back rooms’ of the digital world and makes clear that we are not aware of the dark side of 5G and artificial intelligence.
After the covid-19 restrictions are lifted, do you plan to keep telecommuting sometimes?
Maybe after the crisis I’ll work an extra day at home when it’s super busy and I have to work with great concentration for a few hours. Capital Group’s investment group are often described as ‘road warriors’ as they so often travel to see companies that we invest in on behalf of clients. So as an organisation we are often working remotely but when we are in the office in Luxembourg, it’s pleasant to see each other in person.