Transformation is inevitable. We transformed from our business selves to our personal selves, with our children and pets interrupting during our most important meetings. That allowed us to bring our true selves to work, which is a core tenet to drive diversity and compassion in the workplace. It’s hard not to have empathy for others when you see your coworker’s husband in the background walking around in his pajamas.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Francesco Lagutaine, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at M&T Bank. He joined the company in July 2020 and brought more than 20 years of global marketing and financial services expertise, including posts in Hong Kong, London, Frankfurt, Singapore and New York City.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
For more than 20 years, I have been working at the intersection of where brand, marketing and customer experience meet. I’m passionate about ensuring that clients get an extraordinary experience that lives up to brand expectations in a meaningful way.
Through the course of my career, across F&B, technology, fast-moving consumer goods and financial services, I have worked with and managed multinational teams of talented people and aspiring innovators — always intending to drive competitive advantages and build lasting business success.
Now at M&T Bank, I work with the team to understand our customers and their needs and aspirations, so we can provide the support, guidance and financial solutions they need to achieve what’s most important to them. Taking care of customers, communities and employees, and investing in their experiences with M&T, is integral to who we are as a bank and one of the main reasons I joined the team.
What has been the biggest adjustment while working from home from your in-person workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
I think the biggest adjustment has been separating work and personal time. When you come to the office regularly, it’s almost a treat to spend a day at home. It’s convenient and allows you to do different things than you normally could during the workday. But, doing it day in and day out has transformed the home into the office, and, for me, setting those boundaries has been hard. You walk by your office every day, and that work time bleeds into your personal time. This may come as a surprise to some, but I learned that the dreaded commute also helped get myself into and out of work mode and into home and family mode. Without that, I have struggled with going from an intense workload to being in my kitchen, hanging out with my kids.
I have three boys between the ages of 8 and 14, so any strategy I try to implement tends to go out the window. But on the flip side, I have three boys who hold me accountable and demand a lot of “me” time. In general, I’ve tried to be disciplined with start time, end time and weekend work, which is a struggle for most people. I have team members who will say on Friday, “Can I get it to you on Monday?” like there is an expectation that they need to get it to you sooner. No! We have weekends and we have to take the time off. It’s absolutely essential to think creatively.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
I miss pretty much everything. I get my energy from people and my thinking is a lot sharper and more productive when I do it with others. I need that energy, that engagement and human connection. I also miss going out for a drink after work and the spontaneity of being able to walk into a restaurant without having to check the health regulations or just meeting up with people and not have to worry about social distancing.
The pandemic was a time for collective self-reflection. What do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response?
No question, the unexpected positive is building the connection with my family. While being home was hard in many ways, it also meant I was home and not traveling, which has allowed me to be much more present with my wife and kids. I think that has been an enormous positive, so I will always be grateful for that.
From a work perspective, we always talk about the importance of bringing your true self to the “office”, and the fact we all had meetings where we got a glimpse of each other’s homes was helpful in that regard. Some people were in the basement, and everybody had kids, dogs or something interrupting them. I had to get my head around having meetings in people’s bedrooms and people showing up in their casual clothes. I feel like we’ve interacted much more as real people than as bankers, doctors, lawyers and so forth. That is a massive positive I hope we take back into the workplace. We lived in a world where if you were in a meeting with a CEO and your phone rang because your wife was going into labor, you might put it on mute. Now, you can be talking to the CEO on a video call and have two naked kids run behind you on screen, which is okay, so I love that.
This pandemic has also leveled the playing field so that I can now have the same relationship with my teammates across the country. This has been a good opportunity for team empowerment for those organizations that were more dispersed before this.
What has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
I am blessed. Some people have and are experiencing terrible pain, but I am grateful myself and my family have been blessed.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The question should not be can we take this change on, but are we prepared to change? We came from a world where there were leaders already preaching the need for transformation, to adopt new ways of working, to connect with our customers digitally. Conversations with organizations, in general, were always, “How much can we take on?,” or, “What’s the right amount of change?” There was a sense that there was only a finite amount of change you can make before we break the system. Think about the change everyone, everywhere, went through in the space of a week — 100% of the workforce working from home! Before that, almost everyone said if you go fully remote, your system will crash. But, despite some tweaks and problems here and there for sure, everyone made it work. Over the space of a week, we were able to everything digital. I am not saying everything works ideally that way — customers and salespeople do want to come back and shake your hand. But what I found really interesting was that when we’re all committed to change and going to do so collectively, there is really no limit to the change we can make.
- It’s more important than ever to be yourself at work. People have just jumped in, stayed productive, and are more committed right now, even going through personal problems. There is a massive upside to being yourself at work and letting coworkers relate to your authentic self.
- Transformation is inevitable. We transformed from our business selves to our personal selves, with our children and pets interrupting during our most important meetings. That allowed us to bring our true selves to work, which is a core tenet to drive diversity and compassion in the workplace. It’s hard not to have empathy for others when you see your coworker’s husband in the background walking around in his pajamas.
- Human connection is essential. As I mentioned above, I love meeting my coworkers for happy hour. Whether we’re meeting to celebrate a good day or commiserate a crappy day, the spontaneity and energy are important to our growth as professionals.
- For creativity, you need separation from where you think and where you let your brain play. It’s essential to have a very defined place where you think about work and a place where you play, which helps to create that separation. One of the challenges of complete remote work is I fear it will stifle my teams’ creativity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
We get trapped in a hamster wheel and there is the sense of needing to go out for a meeting, I need to answer this email, my family will understand. What I realized is not that my family didn’t understand, but that I was missing out. My career will always be there, but I will never get that time with my kids back. That was my life lesson.
Before this, I got into a place where I was happy that my kids didn’t seem to mind when I was away and that it was good for them because they were used to daddy traveling. I realized how much it sucked for me. Now my kids at 5:30, say, “Why are you still working? We’re here.” While that may be tricky to negotiate sometimes with meetings or timely commitments, it’s precious for me. As the world starts up again, this is something I need to remind myself not to let go.
How can our readers follow you online?
On my LinkedIn: Francesco Lagutaine
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.