Advisers and clients collectively rose to the challenge of remote working last year and that has continued into 2021. While nothing can replace face-to-face meetings with clients, technology has made it easier to operate remotely in a way that would have been impossible only a few years ago.
It’s clear that things will never be the same again for the advice profession post-Covid, but I remain a great advocate of the office environment as it has some big advantages over working remotely.
Nonetheless, we have also seen some positives come from home working, which has afforded us a better work-life balance and allowed some business owners to trim costs by ditching expensive office space.
Below we outline the benefits of both approaches, some pitfalls to watch out for, and offer some views on what the future of advice might look like in this new normal.
The pros of the return
First and foremost, many clients like face-to-face advice. The whole advice model is built on trust and understanding, and that comes across best when you can look someone in the eye as you help them map out their future.
It’s also important for employees. Not only is it healthy to interact face-to-face with colleagues, but it is also vital for newcomers to the advice industry.
Having Zoom calls cannot replicate the knowledge and understanding trainees can pick up by working in an office with experienced colleagues, and training staff remotely poses its own challenges.
Many people – both clients and staff – have missed the social side of the industry, which is one of its main positives. Not being able to meet clients for lunch, take colleagues for a coffee to discuss things, or have a team night out has been tough on morale for many industries, advice among them. Getting back to the office and socialising is, therefore, a huge benefit of returning to the office a few days a week.
Finally, it is also far easier to maintain a business culture and ethos when everyone is in the office together. It is easier to 'feel' part of a business when you are sitting inside its office, with all its familiar sights and sounds, than it is to feel connected when you are communicating predominantly via email, Slack or the phone.
The advantages of home working
Home working has been forced upon all of us, but a lot of good has come from it.
Firstly, the huge amount of travel that advisers were doing to meet clients has been replaced by Zoom calls and the like, freeing up thousands of hours that can be used to provide an even better service.
It has meant there is no excuse not to keep in touch with clients, and indeed it has provided businesses with an opportunity to have multiple touchpoints with clients because different people in a business – be it an administrator, adviser or paraplanner, to name a few – can all have some communication directly with clients.
While it is very hard to replicate the office environment, it has also been great to see so many adviser businesses run social, mental and physical wellbeing programs during and throughout the Covid lockdowns.
From fitness sessions on Zoom to masterclasses, adviser businesses up and down the country have done their best to engage with clients and staff and help them cope throughout the pandemic.
Now we are more used to doing these things remotely, it is something that businesses can continue to do.
The advice world switched fairly seamlessly to remote working, but there are some lessons all businesses can learn.
Firstly, more and more employees will want to work from home going forward, or even from abroad.
It is great to be able to facilitate this, but what is equally important is to make sure that contracts with staff are clear about their roles and responsibilities.
Working from home is, for most of us, a privilege rather than a guarantee and it should be treated as such.
It is therefore vital to make sure that contracts reflect this, and if they don’t, they need reviewing.
Hybrid working to become the norm
The world has moved on from the idea that presentism is a perfect working model and we believe the future will look different to the past in this regard.
There is frankly no reason for many staff to attend the office if they are working fine from home, and it will now be down to business heads and staff to decide what the future looks like.
(For inspiration on where to start with this, take a look at Kirsty Lynagh's piece on what Nucleus are doing.)
Personally, I foresee a world where staff predominantly work from home, but where they come into the office regularly for team meetings and discussions.
This feels as if it could be the best of both 'new' worlds.