The coronavirus pandemic prompted a sudden and widespread shift to a remote workforce, and groups that traditionally conducted all business in person had to quickly adjust to a new virtual environment. Financial advisors rose to the occasion and maintained normal business practices amid the changes.
As the pandemic took hold in the spring, Arizent, the parent company of financial services publications like Financial Planning, surveyed 300 financial services professionals about the shift to digital, and many reported greater use of technology. Two-thirds of respondents were increasing use of video conferencing tools to communicate with clients and nearly 75% indicated their firms were investing more in technology to support the remote team.
While advisors were generally able to adjust to the digital workspace, many are eager to return to the office and resume in-person meetings with clients and colleagues, and many firms are well underway in creating plans to bring staff back. A May 2020 CNBC survey of its Global CFO Council found the vast majority (75%) of its North American members were working remotely at the time but expected a shift back to offices by September. Thirty-four percent of respondents noted less than a quarter of the workforce would be remote come fall.
However, as threats of the coronavirus still loom, returning to the office is a complicated — and potentially costly — task, with expectations of cleanliness and safety higher than ever before. There are steps you can take to protect your team — whether you lead a group of three or 30 — and safely bring them back to the office. Here are some tips:
- Assess your current office setup. Before bringing any staff into the building, it’s important to assess the current facilities and equipment and identify potential hazards. The open office setup that previously facilitated collaboration and team bonding now presents a health risk, and the shared coffee pot where you discussed the latest Wall Street news has likely become a bygone of the pre-coronavirus era. Consider adding plexiglass dividers and removing previously shared kitchen items to make the office safer.
- Determine who will come back and when. It’s not feasible or safe to bring your entire staff back at one time. Who returns and when will be unique to your firm and your team’s specific circumstances. In many cases, testing protocols with firm leadership is a smart place to start. A mid-April Deloitte survey of financial services institutions found that return-to-work plans would largely be based on job functions (64%) and/or geography (60%) or a combination of these two factors.
- Establish new office rules and be clear in relaying them to your team. Follow CDC and local guidelines when designing your office regulations, particularly when it comes to mask wearing, hand washing, temperature checks (including frequency and temperature thresholds) and other sanitation measures. There should also be strict requirements related to how team members report possible exposures and self-quarantine periods. Establishing these rules and ensuring everyone is on the same page will allow for much easier enforcement. The CDC has dedicated an entire section of its site to recommendations, tips and guidelines for businesses that can help guide your plan.
- Designate one room for meetings and clean it often. Frequent and thorough cleanings will be essential to keeping your team safe, especially in high-traffic areas. Designating a single space — ideally one of your larger conference rooms — for collaboration will make this process a bit easier.
- Provide cleaning supplies, sanitizer and personal protective equipment. Be sure to have masks on hand for yourself, your team members and any office visitors. These, as well as plenty of hand sanitizer and surface-sanitizing wipes and sprays, should be placed in prominent locations and vigilantly used by all personnel.
Bringing your team into the office is an important first step toward eventually welcoming clients back to the office. While in-home meetings are discouraged at present, there are some clients who will be eager to meet face-to-face with their team, and these in-person meetings will be necessary in some cases. There are several special considerations when bringing outside visitors into the office:
- Ensure client appointments are scheduled in advance and limited to a set amount of time. Clients must be discouraged from stopping in unannounced. When they are scheduled to come in, meetings should have a set duration to mitigate overall risk. Further, clients should not bring anyone else with them.
- Encourage social distancing. Whenever possible, work to maintain social distancing standards by meeting in a larger space — or better yet, outside. Encourage all visitors to wear masks during the meeting.
- Alert other office mates of visitors. Whenever someone is on the premises, it’s important to alert all other team members at the office — especially if you are in a shared space.
- Inform your client of office protocols in advance of the meeting. Share the firmwide rules and regulations and be clear on your expectations for their cooperation. Greet clients outside and bring them directly to the meeting space to begin promptly.
- Clean up immediately. Following the meeting, ensure the meeting space is thoroughly cleaned, with all hard surfaces, door knobs and chairs wiped down with a CDC-approved disinfectant.
For most financial advisors, operating in an entirely remote scenario isn’t feasible over the long term. As businesses adjust to the new normal, establishing rules and following protocols are essential to maintaining a safe environment for all.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial.