In the third installment of JLN’s Unsung Heroes series, Brenda Hoffman, Nasdaq SVP and Head of Global Technology U.S. Markets Systems and Global Information Services, talks about the tools she and her colleagues at Nasdaq use to communicate during the time of the coronavirus and how the technology teams have kept things running smoothly amid high volatility and volumes.
SR: What is different about the environment you are working in now, in this time of self-quarantine? Who is working from home and who is coming into the office?
BH: Our teams all started working from home in mid-March. We have 53 offices globally and each location has a specific, unique approach to reopening and allowing employees to return to the office. This process of re-opening is very carefully and thoughtfully being managed in conjunction with giving the local environment full consideration. In the US, we have begun the reopening process starting this month with our Denver, Colorado office.
SR: Have your daily tasks become more difficult since the advent of the coronavirus?
BH: I would say that our daily tasks have not changed, and that our teams adapted to working remotely almost immediately. The technology teams for years have been fully versed and practiced with working from home, primarily because the technology teams are responsible for systems that run 24×7, which means these teams have full capability to work remotely and do so on a very regular basis. We have also been utilizing visualization meeting and collaboration tools for years. I think what is different during the pandemic is that the prolonged period of working remotely has caused us all to be on-line virtually for longer periods of time during the day. For example, prior to COVID-19, we did work remotely regularly, however, we would typically be focusing on a piece of work that required long periods of uninterrupted and focused attention; and now we are working remotely on all aspects of our daily efforts keeping our markets running smoothly. Which means you spend a lot of time virtually on camera in meetings with your teams. Of course, this has not made our work efforts more difficult, it is just different.
SR: How has communication with the back office changed?
BH: There is really no change in the communication of our teams. If anything, the communication has become stronger because all of our teams and people are remote and must stay connected throughout the day, whereas in the past only a subset of the people may have been working remotely. Now, with everyone being remote, it puts everyone on the same communication level, meaning no advantage to being physically in the office sitting in a meeting room with the team versus being remote at home on video conference connected with the team in a meeting room. Everyone is communicating from a remote location, putting everyone at the same level.
SR: How has the climate of high market volatility affected operations at Nasdaq?
BH: Our technology teams have always had the resilience of our markets as our number one goal and focus. This is a deliberate and mandatory part of our DNA at Nasdaq. During chaotic and volatile times our focus is simply dialed up a notch, and our monitoring and communications globally are all heightened, around the clock.
SR: What have the exchange’s trading volumes been like since COVID-19 began and how have high volumes affected operations?
BH: That’s an interesting question. Immediately preceding the COVID-19 crisis in Europe and the US, say around mid-February and early March, our Nasdaq US, Canadian and European Markets experienced unprecedented consecutive days of historical peak message and trade volumes over a 4-week period. During this four week period we also experienced four Market Wide Circuit Breakers (MWCB) in the US, which is also historically significant as we have not had MWCB in several years and to have four within a two-week period is unprecedented. At Nasdaq, we refer to this period of time as the 2020 Q1 market storm, where we had all of our staff adjusting to working from home, historical peak volumes in our markets, and four MWCBs with all occurring at the same period of time. Our Operations team, in particular, was faced with many long days and nights to ensure we were prepared and poised for the next trading day – and they managed this flawlessly.
SR: How do you keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on? Do you use Zoom, Slack, any other programs to connect to staff?
BH: At Nasdaq we use many virtual tools within our teams. We use Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and many other collaboration tools. With Teams Chat we are able to log our chats and conversations so that many people can follow the flow and sequence of events of meetings and for alert/incident management and service resumption.
SR: How do your colleagues respond to your leadership when working from home?
BH: Again, prior to COVID-19, our teams were already required to work remotely to cover off-hours and weekend work, so thankfully the transition to working from home 100% of the time was not difficult. Our executive leadership is also fully engaged and connected with all our employees globally via virtual tools, and, of course, we still use our mobile phones to reach out directly to our colleagues. Nasdaq is a highly communicative organization and the executives are always part of collaboration and team work.
SR: Have there been any upsides to the new working-from-home climate?
BH: Our colleagues who work in metropolitan areas that traditionally had lengthy commuting times have found the elimination of the commuting hours an advantage. For a lot of our staff, they are getting a lot more time to spend at their homes with their families and they have adjusted very quickly to the full time working from home environment. What most of my staff have said is that they have converted their commute time into being able to get started with their days a lot easier and calmer while working at home, so this is also an upside. As you can imagine, the commute is a lot shorter when it is from the kitchen to their home office space, and there is the freedom of dress code, with shorts, t-shirts and flip flops during the summer months. I certainly miss being around my colleagues, but given the circumstances, we are absolutely making this unique situation a success.