You can see it coming. It’s not even really on the horizon; it’s here. We have to create and support a new work environment – a new normal.
Some of you are already experiencing conflict with team members over the idea of coming back to the office, part time or full time. Team members have gotten used to working from home. Many of them love it. They have more flexibility to tailor their work and personal demands for everyone’s benefit. They can take a lunch break and get in a workout, because they know they don’t need to be fully clean and suited up in the afternoon. They can help with homework, then get back to their own work.
On the other hand, it’s important to acknowledge that some people miss the work/life separation that comes from having a place to go to work. (A basement office does not count). They miss the camaraderie of having someone to chat with while doing relatively mindless administrative work. The question they are asking about the new normal is: “Will I have the flexibility to optimize my work situation?”
The issue is that some advisors are resistant to the idea of team members continuing to work from home. The advisors have seen throughout COVID-19 times that the work is getting done, but it makes them uncomfortable that they can’t walk out of their office and see the work getting done. So, the problem isn’t really the team members who are working from home – it’s the advisors who often want to control everything.
For you resistant advisors, here is why you should consider the possibility of long-term work-from-home flexibility. Studies conducted during the COVID-19 shutdown have found that people were more productive than when they were in the office. Even before COVID-19 hit, people who were offered work flexibility were found to be more productive.
Two of the biggest reasons people are more productive working from home: some commuting time becomes work time, and people can integrate – rather than separate – work and life. The ability to integrate life into work makes team members willing to work more, with less stress.
Some firms have so embraced the “opportunity” afforded by the COVID crisis that they have transitioned to entirely remote firms, with both remote client acquisition and service and support of permanently remote teams. Firms that have embraced the fully remote model have already gone – or are currently going – through the biggest changes to their new normal.
If you’ve decided that you don’t want a fully remote team, what are you going to do about it? Many advisors seem to be employing the “head in the sand” technique, hoping the situation is going to work itself out. Unfortunately, that technique results in a much longer adjustment to the new normal, usually accompanied by temporary (but unnecessary) downturns in productivity and morale.
It’s time to create a plan for the logistics of your firm’s future. Here is one way to develop the plan for your new normal:
- Decide what you would ideally like to see in your office. Would you like everybody in the office all the time, some work-from-home flexibility opportunities with some roles full-time in the office (such as the front desk administrator), or everyone fully remote?
- Present the plan during a weekly team meeting, indicating that there will be a discussion that could result in altering the ideal plan.
- Gather preferences from team members. It’s important to have them present why their preferences are what they are. (The “why” is critically important to you adjusting your ideal plan. If a team member wants to work at home so he can wear shorts instead of a suit, the “why” is weak. If a team member wants to work at home three days a week to limit one-hour drives in each direction, that is a strong “why.”)
- Adjust your ideal plan and present it in another team meeting.
- Implement the adjusted plan when it is possible to be back in the office.
- Pay attention to what is working and what isn’t, and adjust as necessary.
There are some tips to be aware of when working through this process. It is important to understand that the work-from-home issue is likely to be very emotional for some team members, so present the idea that the ideal plan will be up for discussion before presenting the plan itself. Presenting the ideal plan and then telling team members you would like to know their opinions will put them on their heels. You will likely end up with a much more contentious discussion than necessary.
Alternately, don’t just ask them their preferences without presenting your ideal plan, as their ideal situation will create an anchor in their minds that can be difficult to dislodge. As team members are presenting their preferences and their “why,” don’t interrupt with rationale for your ideal plan. This will discourage the team members from honestly and openly sharing, which is an important part of the process.
One area of discussion will have to be handled delicately: if you allow some people to work at least part time from home, but expect others to work full time in the office, such as a front desk person to greet prospects and clients. This is where you will have to explain your “why.” Be ready for team members to suggest that they rotate being in the office because it’s “fairer.” Clearly, this isn’t ideal, because not having a team member cover the front desk could be disruptive to the productivity of other team members.
When you have gathered all team member preferences and regrouped to modify your initial ideal plan, remember not to have a “my way or the highway” attitude. The goal is to create a work environment that results in an excellent client experience, while also supporting the desired flexibility of team members who are key to the experience.
Be ready to have difficult conversations and to make difficult staffing decisions if a team member is unhappy with the outcome, especially if that person becomes disruptive to the overall morale and work output of the team.
A Carson Coaching member had a situation with a long-time team member because of how angry she was due to a desk location change. Her anger at being moved from a private office, which she felt she had earned, to a desk in the common area (for legitimate logistical considerations) resulted in her being miserable to work with and disruptive to other team members. The coaching member tried to smooth it out with her for several months before eventually having to let her go.
The key to making whatever plan you come up with work is continued communications during team meetings and individual check-ins. Leaders who pay attention to the attitudes of team members through change are more likely to be able to address the issues that come up than “hope for the best” leaders.