It is nearly impossible to feel good about practice management unless you feel good about your staff. When a bear market strikes and the usual noise about economic issues like job losses turns into the amplified blaring of a death metal band, it is easy to have staff members become worried for their jobs. Newer employees can be especially concerned. Worried people are not as focused, productive or clearheaded.

One of the first things we did at our firm as markets got wild was reassure our staff that we were committed to them. We believe we have only “A” players on our team and thought they needed to hear that from us. We reinforced that message by going over our firm’s finances with them and looking at the game plan in case conditions got worse. We made it clear that we owners were committed to lowering our own incomes to protect theirs. This seemed to help as the market dropped further toward its low.

What made me the happiest was when I saw team members helping one another cope with the inconveniences of working from home. Our office buildings shut down in March (operating only for specified activities). When the buildings reopened, we made coming to the office completely voluntary.

Some have come in every day. Some came in for a time, then stayed home. A couple of people have scarcely been seen in the office at all. (One person’s spouse had a co-worker who tested positive for Covid-19, others have small kids.)

Still, there are some people who just don’t like working from home. Thus far, the team members have done an impressive job of working with one another despite differing circumstances.

It’s a cliché these days to say you want to develop and nurture a good “company culture,” but like many things that can induce eye rolls, there is great truth in the idea. I shudder to think about how a staff that wasn’t loaded with team players would have performed in the current crisis. First, it is likely some things would have fallen through the proverbial cracks, upsetting clients at exactly the time they needed to stay calm. We would have had to deal with the added stress from those failures.

It is not all sunshine and roses, of course. It’s stressful to have spouses working where the infection has appeared. It’s also stressful to have kids at home as the school year nears. But it is clear we can get the work done regardless of where we’re working. We knew that before the pandemic because almost everyone on our staff has worked from home at some point.

The situation has forced me to ponder a few questions. In the past, it has been easy to think someone who works from home isn’t really “working.” In the post-Covid era, will these arrangements keep their old stigma or will accommodating work from home become part of our culture?

Yes, some people can handle their duties remotely, but many client-facing duties are better performed in person. (That is why we call them “client facing” roles.) I once met with a client whose husband had passed away from cancer. There is no way we could have had a meaningful conversation over Zoom. There are many things about being in the presence of other humans that is lost over the internet. Body language, the look in one’s eyes, and what a person does with their hands are all things that can be missed when they are not physically present. This also goes for more routine tasks that facilitate communication with clients and help you maintain your relationships with them.

So how much is working from home appropriate for our lead advisors and client service managers? How can our up-and-coming advisors learn to communicate effectively if they are not exposed to interactions with the team and clients as often? Everyone is getting proficient with remote interactions, even comfortable, but does that truly mean it is preferred by staff and clients?

Does AUM Mean We’re In This Together?
Our clients do not wish us ill, but I noticed that some who are charged based on assets were comforted knowing that lower asset values meant they were also paying lower fees to us. One told me in the middle of the chaos that it was “awesome” he didn’t have to bring up the idea of a discount—because it was automatic.

“Awesome” is not the word I would use to describe the reduction in fees, but it made me smile when I heard it, nonetheless. We eat our own cooking around here. My personal assets are invested using the same philosophy and techniques I use for clients. So when they say things like this, clearly they know we are committed to our methods.

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