Can I Force My Team to All Work at Home?
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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The issue of returning to work is obviously a big one for many advisory teams. We are a team of 11 people who all get along pretty well and are also doing fine virtually. Recently we polled our team and asked if everyone would prefer to work virtually over the long term. We had nine, “yes, absolutely!” responses and two “no, would not prefer at all.” The two people who do not want to work virtually have their reasons. One has a very difficult home situation and has been very stressed having to work at home. The other lost his spouse a year ago and the loneliness is tough on him. His entire social life is at work.
As the owner of the practice, I’m hoping our real estate could shrink considerably. With 11 people, we occupy a nice downtown space in a major city. If my team all wanted to work virtually, I could essentially eliminate the space. We could rent a conference room to meet with clients, but that would be rare. Our model is to go to the client or conduct the meetings virtually. We were doing this long before COVID-19 because of the location of our clients.
Is there a way for me to get the two holdouts onboard with virtual? Should I be abandoning the idea of allowing everyone to work virtually if it is so disruptive to two of my best advisors? I am starting to wish I didn’t solicit their input, but it seemed prudent to think about best next steps from a cost and employee satisfaction perspective.
If the end goal is a combination of cost and employee satisfaction, you got the response you were likely expecting and maybe hoping for – more than 80% of your team was an emphatic, “yes” to working from home, and you apparently don’t need or use the space you are paying for now. However, the problem with a survey is that if everyone isn’t in agreement, then you have the minority that you still need to address.
Are you concerned if you say everything is virtual that these advisors will leave? I understand your care and concern about their situation, and they didn’t sign up for virtual home-based work when they joined, but things are changing all of the time. If you are worried they will leave, consider a smaller location for the two of them and meet with clients on those rare occasions when that happens.
Many people have told me that while they enjoy virtual home-based work, it can also be isolating and stressful. If you have a good infrastructure with working technology, a physical setup away from the family and a supportive family environment where you don’t mind being home all day, it works great. But many people need the separation of work from home life. They enjoy the decompression time of commuting and they like interacting with others in the office. It would not be the same for these two people, of course. They might be the only people there, whereas they had a number of colleagues before. But at least they would each have a place to go and could work together.
You mentioned these two people were “holdouts.” Do you have some animosity toward them for not agreeing that virtual is the best approach? I understand the cost savings and the desire to downsize. But be careful and don’t approach either of these advisors as “holdouts.” You asked what people would prefer, and they answered honestly about what is best for each of them. Over time, even the other nine saying virtual is better might find they miss the office environment and crave some interaction with team members.
Consider whether there is an option C. Rather than full agreement with everyone coming back to work, or full agreement with everyone staying home, create a smaller footprint where there are options for people to work in the office. Someone would have to manage this perhaps with a signup sheet or other coordination.
And you would have to be clear about the rules. I’ve had several clients mention the cost involved with having employees go in to the office whenever they want. Many buildings require a thorough cleaning and it can be expensive to have employees show up unexpectedly.
Depending on your obligation in your current location, start exploring alternatives that might suit everyone’s needs.
I am frustrated with our marketing associate. He started with us as an intern and did a nice job of getting us established on LinkedIn, writing letters to clients on a variety of topics and helping us with a couple of client events. We promoted him to a full-time associate in January when he graduated his bachelor’s program.
He is now rewriting our website. We agreed this made sense for him to focus on, but he keeps telling me “Stop using the ‘we’ language and move to ‘you’ language in everything you write.” I get it. Focus on the client and their needs. Don’t talk so much about our firm and what we do.
He is taking it to the extreme. There is no, “Who We Are,” or anything about our philosophy. It is all about what the client will get. My colleague with whom I share ideas tells me the term is “brochureware” – a nice colorful brochure on our website.
I don’t want to dissuade this young man or tell him how off base he is. But he is off base in my opinion.
What do you want to have happen? I understand you have given this person a full-time role and that he has done good things for you in the past. But he is still a newbie and a junior person! You can’t create a situation where, because you may be cautious about pushing back on him or sharing an alternative view, you agree to everything he says and does! It is your firm and you have a right to have a final say – and even an interim say – in what goes on your website!
And you are not wrong. You want to have a lead-in on the site that is, what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) focused for a prospect or client who comes to visit. But, you also have to share something about who you are, what do you, how you do it and why someone would want to spend time learning more about you. If you stay completely “you” focused, how would the person know there is something you can share they might need?
Because he is a recent graduate, he may be parroting some things he learned in many of his classes. And again, at a high level, his insights are correct; it’s just that he hasn’t had enough business experience to be able to apply those insights in the workplace. You could be a great mentor and coach here to help him navigate this.
Instead of thinking of this as adversarial where you give feedback and crush him, consider it a teaching moment where the two of you can share ideas. You could also suggest reviewing other websites in the industry. He will find everyone has the standard sections and prospects and clients actually expect these, and come looking for them.
Kudos to you for wanting to support and encourage someone new to the role. But if you don’t acknowledge your frustration, you will begin to lose confidence in him and that won’t be good for his career path with you!
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.