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Journey Strategic Wealth

Should Advisors Force Employees Back to the Office?

The decision is yours, but make sure to spell out the business case to clients and team members for why it makes sense either way.


Last week, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman told his 60,000 employees to come back to the office. "If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office. … If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York," Gorman said. "None of this 'I'm in Colorado...and getting paid like I'm sitting in New York City.' Sorry. That doesn't work."

Too harsh?

Or exactly what advisor-employers are thinking but not saying out loud?

I think a bit of both.

A year ago, I recorded a video on this same topic, urging advisors to lead with empathy and let their teams work from home for the remainder of the year. 

Today, I am telling advisors something slightly different.

Consider the “Why” Before Sharing Any Updates with Your Team  

Why do you want everyone back in an office immediately? For some advisors, there is a compelling answer. “Clients have expressed a desire to meet in the office.” “Our team is having serious issues with morale.” “We have a lease we can’t get out of.”

For other advisors … crickets. 

When pressed, they may say something like, “Well, because they need to” or “I think they’re taking advantage of the flexibility.” 

This may not be a popular point, but these are not valid reasons to force a team to come back to an office. Not anymore.

If you want your team to come back and stay at your firm—you need to make a business case for why it makes sense and get them to re-buy into the vision of the firm. Consider your growth trajectory, firm vision, value promise and client preferences. Does having a physical office specifically align with these? 

Recognize What You Need for the Outcome You Want to Achieve  

For the lifestyle practice advisor, a virtual practice may actually be the best structure. In fact, if over the last year, your firm has grown, your team is thriving and clients are thrilled, why not just lean into this new structure vs. race to get back to a physical location? If you can get into a rhythm of only having team meetings once or twice a week on video and spend the rest of your week meeting with clients, building plans and prospecting on social media, you will likely be very happy. 

For those focused on transitioning their practices into enterprises, it is not so simple. (For the purposes of this article, I define an enterprise as a practice that does not overly rely on any single person in order to run and is poised to thrive for more than one generation.) If you are actively building your business and focused on driving enterprise value, I believe it is important to cultivate relationships with your key stakeholders and core team, especially your operations staff, in person.  Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Imagine needing to schedule a Zoom every time you need to work through a strategic business challenge ... for the rest of your career? 

Prepping the next generation of advisor, negotiating acquisitions of books of business, working through ongoing improvements of your operations—all by Zoom? Is it possible? Yes. Will it hinder you? Yes, I believe it will. I do not believe everyone needs to be in the office at all times; but I do believe it is necessary to have a core team, in-person together, “steering the ship.”

Be Fully Prepared for the Consequences

Whether you are building a boutique practice or a large enterprise, ultimately the decision to return back to the office is yours to make as leader. If you are wise, you will make the decision only after having discussions with all key stakeholders (clients too!) and collecting and weighing their feedback. Either way, remember that you will not satisfy everyone.  Be prepared for the consequences including potentially losing team members.  Make a list of all of the possible outcomes for either decision and assess 1) the impact on clients and the business and 2) your appetite for managing the effects of each.

Penny Phillips is the co-founder and president of Journey Strategic Wealth.

TAGS: Careers
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