As most financial advisers have been working from home for a couple of weeks now, everyone is starting to get a sense of how viable it is as an alternative way of working.
While everyone’s experiences are different, from my conversations with advisers I’m finding three cohorts emerging,
- The “never again” crew: There are some advisers finding remote working very challenging! Often this is down to factors such as the lack of availability of space in the home or young children being a distraction. Other advisers are simply not enjoying the isolation and miss the banter and sociability of the office. Others are struggling to work effectively with staff at a distance.
- The “new alternative” gang: These people have experienced working from home for a sustained period quite refreshing, but with challenges. They will quickly revert back to the regular office routine, but have recognised that remote working offers benefits too, and they are much more open to the idea of using it in the future, both for themselves and for their staff. This is probably the largest group of the three.
- The “never looking back” bunch: These are people who have loved the flexibility of working at home and while they will maintain an office going forwards, remote working will continue to be embraced and really used, maybe more so by themselves than by their staff.
So what are some of the key determinants of whether working from home seems to work for financial advisers or not?
- Your work space: Trying to work at the kitchen table simply doesn’t hack it. While it might be fine for an hour here or there, it doesn’t work over a sustained period. After all, there’s a certain amount of “stuff” you need around you, aside from your laptop. If you are to replicate the office environment as much as possible, you need easy access to a printer and client files etc. Of course you also need access to excellent broadband. Nothing replaces a dedicated office in the house or better still, out in the garden.
- The age of children: Young kids seeking attention from mum or dad is an inevitable distraction! I’m definitely finding that advisers with young families are finding it a little more challenging. However when the Covid-19 crisis recedes a bit and kids are back in school or a creche, working from home may be a good alternative for some of these advisers again.
- Your technical capability: Some advisers are completely stuck when the printer stops working and are quite daunted by the technical side of running a Zoom meeting themselves. Without the “go-to” techie person in the office available to them, they really struggle. This causes frustration and longing to be back in the office.
- Your personality: Some advisers have lapped up the flexibility, avoiding commuting and seeming to have more time available to them. Some say they struggle to stop working and find themselves still at the desk at 8pm. Others have really missed the sociability of the office, having your staff in your eyeline and working closely together as a team. This latter group have struggled to work effectively themselves and aren’t confident that their staff are as effective as usual. There’s certainly no “one size fits all” here…
So working from home is definitely not for everyone and for some advisers, their own situation simply doesn’t lend itself to remote working. But what are some of the big (and sometimes surprising) benefits that have emerged?
- Clients are learning too: As you are working from home, so are many of your clients. They are going through the exact same trials and tribulations. However many of them have embraced it too. They recognise that it’s why/how/what you do that matters, and not where you do it. While face to face meetings will likely always have a central role in your client relationships, the last few weeks have shown that clients are open to alternatives too. And these alternatives offer you opportunities to optimise your time and other scarce resources.
- Remote meetings can work: Following the above point, I’ve heard many success stories in the last few weeks. New clients have been signed up remotely by advisers who admit that they felt this would be 100% impossible! Advisers have held thousands of remote meetings, putting clients’ minds at ease during the market turbulence. One adviser I’m working with is marvelling at the number of clients he is now “seeing” every day, significantly increasing his productivity. A number of firms are currently reworking their Client Value Propositions, making remote meetings an actual feature of it for some clients.
- Staff can work remotely too: It’s not enough to send staff off home with a laptop. What’s their working environment like at home? If this is ok, maybe you can offer them a bit more flexibility in the future. However in doing so, give them some structure and clarity of your expectations around the hours they will work, their delivery goals, their interaction with clients (a quiet, professional backdrop) etc. Tease out your expectations with them and work through challenges they might face. If remote working can work for both your staff and you, this may significantly increase their loyalty and engagement.
So the answer to the question is yes, working from home is a viable alternative. But only given the right circumstances and also recognising that some people simply prefer a busy office as the place of work.
The choice is yours. But as someone who works in the back garden, I wouldn’t change it for the world! Now I just need to go and cut the grass….