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When a Team Member Doesn’t Want to Come Back to the Office

Many advisory firm leaders are anxious to get back to the office, but some team members may want to work from home permanently.

As reopenings were announced by some state and city officials recently, I heard financial advisors everywhere breathe a collective sigh of relief. Although most teams adjusted well in quarantine and even found their groove in recent weeks, the idea of being back in the office together was exactly what many advisors needed to hear. The level of activity on their teams had started to readjust to a more realistic (lower) state, leaving leaders feeling anxious about this new normal.

Advisors were quickly hit with a fresh dose of anxiety, however, when they learned that not everyone wants to go back to the office.

In fact, some team members want to work from home permanently.

You may be hearing, “We’re clearly just as productive working from home. Why do we need to come back?” Or, “It doesn’t make sense to commute three hours a day roundtrip anymore,” or “I actually work more hours when I can stay home.”

The challenge for you, right now, is twofold. 

First of all, you no longer have anecdotal evidence that people aren’t productive when they work from home. The “but they-will-watch-TV-and-run-errands-all-day” theory has been disproven. Second, you’ve worked hard to build a welcoming team culture, one where everyone’s thoughts and opinions are valid. And suddenly you are hearing opinions that you don’t like and don’t want to listen to.

Before you tell your team members, “because I said so,” here are five tips to help you properly address this issue, preserve team culture and keep your sanity:

1. Do not make an immediate decision. Treat this conversation seriously.

Deciding to let everyone work from home permanently would represent a fundamental change in the practice’s structure and client experience and could ultimately shift the vision of the business. This decision needs to be discussed as a group in a formal setting.

Hold an all-team meeting as soon as possible, virtual if need be, and get all the issues out on the table. Use the meeting as an opportunity to review three things: 

  • What you’ve learned as a result of working in quarantine;
  • What processes, systems or activities you want to change or refine as a result of your learnings;
  • And whether the long-term vision for the practice needs to be revisited and/or refined.

2. Listen carefully for what’s underpinning your team member’s comments.

A team member’s desire to work from home may stem from something deeper than just not wanting a long commute. Is there fear around unintentionally infecting a high-risk parent or child? Is there anxiety around more change after finally adjusting? Is there worry around not being able to afford child care because of a spouse’s work circumstances?

Talk one on one with each team member and show compassion and empathy. Practice intentionally removing any biases or preconceived notions you have before entering the conversation.

3. Be realistic about the remainder of this year.

The truth is nothing is back to normal and won’t be for a long time. Nothing bad is going to happen to your practice or client relationships if you give yourself and your team a grace period through the end of the year and let everyone work in the way they feel most comfortable.

Commit to reassessing at the end of each quarter and making a more permanent decision toward the end of the year.

4. When in doubt, ask your clients what they want.

Are clients enjoying engaging with you and your team virtually? Have they felt a disruption in the service you provide? What would be an ideal client experience for them in 2021?

Every decision you make about the practice has to align with what is best for the clients you serve today and tomorrow. Consider surveying your clients or conducting over-the-phone interviews about their experience the past few months and their expectations moving forward. Use that information to help determine what you implement or don’t implement.

5. Use your vision, mission and value proposition statements as a guide.

If your office is located in a small town and your vision is that clients will always have a physical place to visit and meet, work on reestablishing buy-in from your team members around that narrative. Co-create a short-term plan for working from home but establish mutual commitments around what the long-term plan is and why.

If you don’t technically need an office but simply don’t want to run a virtual business or team, communicate with your team about what you envision. Allow them to share the scenarios that they are imagining and, together, develop a pros and cons list for each. Find overlap in the various scenarios, and compromise. Perhaps you implement an agreed-upon staggered work-from-home schedule, or maybe you agree that client-facing team members have to be in the office on days when there are client meetings.

In the end, it’s OK if it takes time to figure this out. Being honest and vulnerable with your team is the best approach. Be prepared to listen, have difficult conversations and potentially manage turnover. Remember to go easy on your team and yourself as you work to come to an understanding about how to powerfully and safely move forward.

Penny Phillips is the founder and CEO of Thrivos Consulting, a practice management and business consulting firm for advisors and broker/dealers.


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