The Highs and Lows of 2021
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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We are a very cohesive team and enjoy working together. We often get lunch and brainstorm ideas in our conference room. Because of Covid we all went home in 2020, but we worked hard to get back to in-person and as much normalcy as we could in 2021.
We experienced what most people and firms experienced, which was nothing short of a very choppy year trying to figure out the best way to be together yet keep our team members safe. We wound up with about 50% of our team being in the office all the time, and 50% choosing to work from home. We also had about 20% contract COVID, and a couple get very sick as a result. For about two weeks, one of our female advisors, “Leslie,” was so sick she struggled to walk from her bedroom to her kitchen where she worked.
This brings me to January of 2022. We have to renew our lease at our existing location. We have about 6,000 square feet of built-out office space in a very nice suburban office park. Clients often comment on how pleasing it is to come to our office. However, when we brought up the renewal at the last meeting, several team members balked at the idea of returning to the office anytime soon. I think Leslie’s illness (she is a young, extremely healthy person) gave people cause for pause.
I don’t know if we should downsize and move into a smaller space, give people the option to WFH and then lose the great camaraderie that has always made us so great. Last year was by far our best revenue and profitability ever. It isn’t like our business is suffering. I think we might as team members suffer. What are other firms doing right now?
Given the collaborative nature of your team, it might be worth putting it to a vote and having an open discussion about the pros and cons of the decision. Have you tried this yet, or do you have concerns about opening this up and having a disagreement?
There are changes happening. I had a call with a client this week who had a very nice space for their team of almost 30 people. They were in a nice neighborhood but had an industrial, well-outfitted building. The team enjoys one another and prior to COVID I would go once per year to do teambuilding in their very nice conference room. The president told me they decided to sell the building and grab about one quarter of the office space in a nearby downtown area. He said they had a handful of people who wanted to be in the office (about five) and a couple that needed to be there when clients come. But overall the response was to allow people to work from home. It’s a 180-degree cultural shift for this firm. But even his partner had finally made a move he had been wanting to make to another state, so he is a plane ride away.
I share this story because when I say this team is tight, I mean tight. No one leaves; they all enjoy and support one another, and they are all fans of the firm and the clients. If they can make a move to largely virtual, even the most cohesive team can do so and manage to stay solidified.
There are also other factors to consider – while firms have done better than ever financially last year in our profession, there has been tremendous stress. Your example of Leslie is a good one and I’ve talked to team members who struggle with parenting, getting back to a commute lifestyle, and who became overly distracted being back in the office. By contrast, I talk to team members who hate working from their bedroom and miss the opportunity to sit down and chat with a colleague about things.
If 2021 was anything, it was a year of highs and lows. We went from hoping the virus was gone, to learning it had variations that could hit even the most conservative people who followed all the rules. The best year financially for many HNW individuals and the firms that serve them, along with the stresses of the economy, looming tax changes, the fear of what a new administration could bring and the optimism of getting back to see family, friends, clients and prospects in person combined with the devastation of finding out you had been infected or someone you were with had been. If we were to create a stress chart for last year, most every box would get checked! And yet, many great things happened too.
All of this leads me to a common response I have when advisors ask me what they should do, or what other advisors are doing – it depends on your culture, the stress that would be caused by either not having a location for everyone or insisting everyone goes to your location, the financial implications of the lease and continuing where you are, the ability to keep the team organized and collaborative if distance comes into play and the upside and outcomes achieved when everyone is working together.
We have no idea what 2022 is going to bring. Make a pro and con list. Ask your team members for input to this list, but don’t go for a “vote.” Develop your criteria list of what’s most important to you and your firm and then see where you are leaning. There almost always is not one “right” answer. Figure out the one that is best fit for you by putting yourself and your team through a concerted process of decision-making.
How do we best capitalize on being back in the office? We’ve finally had everyone return. We are all vaccinated, boosted and keeping our safe distances. I’m the founder and while I don’t normally get involved with planning events for the team, I believe it is important to acknowledge the work everyone put in living through the virtual experience and now coming back together. It’s change. I realize change is stressful. How do I help celebrate this change? I, for one, am very excited to see everyone walking our halls again.
I love a leader who looks for ways to celebrate something other than just numbers and who is happy to have their entire team assembled back together again. Your enthusiasm comes through in your question. What can you do? I’ll give you some ideas. But they come from your pocketbook, not mine:
1. Buy everyone lunch every day for a week. Have it delivered to your conference room and let people know they still need to social distance but you want to offer a way to have them interact and mingle.
2. Implement a “catching people doing things right” approach. Have folks email you about one of their colleagues who helped or went above and beyond. Every week, at the end of the week, call people together in a general open area and read off the emails you have received and thank them all in person.
3. Do some planning. I had a team this morning who is together for the first time in one and a half years. They were all in their conference room (I was virtual) and the eight of them were finding so many opportunities to identify things they want to focus on and plan. If you can’t fit everyone, establish some breakout groups to work together and identify a goal or overcome an obstacle and work together to implement it.
4. Walk around! Tell everyone to their face, by name, what specifically you like about working with them and why you are happy they are back in the office. People like acknowledgment and the more personal the better.
5. Commit to once a month (or more often) taking everyone out to lunch or dinner. I’m not sure of the size of your team so this may be unwieldy but consider doing something fun where everyone is away from work and able to talk personally with each other.
6. Bring in a specialist to run a yoga session, mindfulness, healthy eating or other wellness activity. Hold in a group space so anyone who wants can participate.
Choose one, any or all of these and do it. There have been so many setbacks in 2021, it would be nice to start 2022 offering your team some sort of celebratory experiences!
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.