With the COVID-19 vaccine distribution underway, financial professionals may soon have the option to safely return to in-person work. Unlike the immediate shift to remote work in the early stages of the pandemic, financial professionals now have the benefit of carefully planning their return to the office to ensure a seamless transition for both their teams and clients. The past year has demonstrated the importance of maintaining flexibility, and these lessons can help us plan for the future.
One year. That is how long many of us have worked remotely. Although in the scheme of life, one year may not seem life-changing, I think we all can agree that it was fairly life-altering for most. Now, just as we have settled into new routines, finally had our new home office desk arrive, have our webcams straight and perched at the right height, our lighting adjusted to perfection, and our noise-canceling headphones working seamlessly, the thought of returning to the office sounds overwhelming. Can’t I just appreciate what I have created in my home workspace for a bit longer? How will my family or pets deal with my sudden departure?
While the return to the office may not occur tomorrow, it is imperative to begin the planning process now to anticipate the challenges (physical, emotional and mental) and prepare accordingly. Ask your team about their excitement about the future of work. Conversely, even more crucial, ask them about their concerns. Understand what aspects of returning to work will bring new stresses or burdens to them or their loved ones. Remember that even if you are personally excited to return to your sense of normalcy and in-person office work, this excitement may not permeate throughout your entire team. Understanding each person’s perspective and challenges will help equip you to work through and process those hurdles over the coming days, weeks and months.
Talk to your team now; don’t wait until a return to office mandate is announced. Discuss and strategize today to create a smoother transition tomorrow.
Revisiting the Plan
One week. That is the typical answer I receive when I ask a financial professional how much time they had to prepare to take their practice, and their team, to remote work. We can all recall that time a year ago—I know that I kept saying, “this too shall pass … in a couple of weeks, we’ll be right back to normal.” And then the weeks started to pass, we learned new lessons about how to work in a new structure, and did our best to ensure that nothing slipped through the cracks.
Chances are, we all learned how to use multiple video platforms, discovered the best practices on how to mute yourself, how to share a document, or how to turn video on or off. Never did we think we would be navigating so many pieces of software in a day, and bouncing between them interchangeably. Just as there was a video platform learning curve, there will be significant learning to building a business plan that is structured, yet flexible. What used to be an “annual business plan” may turn into a monthly or quarterly plan that takes into significant account the current work structure of the team. Historically, plans had contingencies for market corrections, major business changes or new firm requirements. Now plans must address the work structure wild card, in addition to the other moving parts like the mental and emotional readiness of each team member.
Taking a periodic vs. annual approach to planning, and regularly evaluating plans, enables financial professionals to adjust and pivot as needed. Structured, yet flexible, business planning, at more frequent intervals, will be a new best practice going forward.
One day. It may feel like the remote-working world is our new and permanent reality, but we will get back to seeing our teams in person again. However, it is important to understand that going back to how things were could cause major pain points personally, professionally and potentially even financially for some team members. They may realize that they prefer working remotely and hope to do so more often moving forward. They may want to return to the office as quickly as possible, only to find that the office is nothing like it was pre-pandemic. As the workforce becomes more hybrid, there will be processes to implement that are crucial to a seamless team functionality.
Committing to technology implementation for the entire team and establishing what role technology will play going forward is absolutely crucial in order to maintain balance and productivity in the practice. Think about what permanent adjustments will need to be made to the team’s communication standards, and the process to utilize when some members of the team are in the office and others are working remotely. Now is a good time to dust off the team’s roles and responsibilities and determine if there are adjustments that should be made to achieve the highest level of efficiency possible. Check in with your team members to ensure that they are working in the areas aligned with their natural passions and strengths. For example, if there is a team member who is extremely comfortable with technology and likes to teach others, can that person lead the technology implementation for the team going forward?
Reassess each person’s role to ensure that you are maximizing their impact, creating efficiencies for the practice and delivering even more to clients.
Be sure to give yourself the latitude to course correct, even if initial plans or visions don’t unfold exactly as you had envisioned. There is not a script written for how to return to the office after a yearlong global pandemic. The process may be emotional and disruptive, and will create the need for very honest dialogue among your team (and your family). Be patient with yourself and with others. Adjust the plan and vision as you know more information, and as you hear what your team is thinking and feeling.
Julie Genjac is managing director, Applied Insights at Hartford Funds.