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Back to Work Considerations for Advisory Firms

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As states begin to slowly lift restrictions surrounding COVID-19, advisory firms are faced with a daunting question – what does the return to work look like? Now that we’ve mastered the art of working from home, how do we approach the next major hurdle of going back? While the future remains uncertain, it’s important to begin these discussions and start putting an office resiliency plan in place.

Though the strategy for every firm and office will be unique, there are several high-level questions leaders should be asking themselves to ensure a smooth transition. To help us explore the myriad of variables that firms should be thinking about, FlexShares spoke with Kelli Cruz, the principal and founder of Cruz Consulting Group, on our Flexible Advisor podcast. Kelli is an expert on advisory firm strategic planning and organizational design. While there’s no shortage of items on the return-to-work checklist, below we offer advisors a starting point for what to consider before opening their doors.

1. Assess your capacity

The best place to start is to assess your physical workspace. Go back to basics and think about your floor plan and set up. Do you have private offices or cubicles? Do you have an open trading desk? You may need to move workspaces around to align with social distancing guidelines. As such, the number of employees you’re able to accommodate may be much different than you think.

Naturally, advisory firms will also need to consider capacity to accommodate in-person meetings with clients. However, it’s important to think about employees first and what you need to do to maintain a safe and healthy work environment for them before getting to the next phase.

2. Consider the common areas

Beyond the individual workspaces, the next consideration to think about is your common areas – the kitchen, the break room, the bathroom, etc. How big are those spaces and how can individuals realistically be kept apart? Does your firm have sole control over these spaces or are they shared with other companies on the same floor? Though it may seem strange, some may consider scheduling break times or marking the floor for distancing purposes. Again, this will look different for everyone, but must be figured out before employees come back.

3. Implement office safety measures

To help maintain cleanliness and safety throughout your office, think about what supplies and cleaning practices you might need. Do you have masks to give out? Do you have enough hand sanitizer? Supplies have to all be worked through. From there, how often will you clean the office? Beyond guidelines from the CDC and state government, consider local policies as well as those of the building’s management.

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4. Revisit your office policies

With business hardly operating “as usual,” we need to take another look at our office culture and policies. Sick leave policies and attitudes should be first among them. In our society, it hasn’t necessarily been the culture to encourage people to stay home when they're not feeling well. But now, it’s more important than ever that they feel empowered to do so. 

Separately, most employees are likely not currently engaging in any travel, however we’ll need to prepare for when that starts to ramp back up. To a greater degree, firms will need to know where people are going, no matter whether it's personal or business travel, and make decisions about whether a 14-day quarantine period is necessary.

5. Discuss employees in “phase one”

Once you’ve thought through the physical capacity and safety measures for the office, it’s time to consider which employees will return to work in the first wave.

To start, think about the positions most necessary to be there in person. Are there positions that, even though it worked well enough remotely, you feel have to be in the office? Are they the trader positions? Are they the client service associates who are making sure all the money movement is happening and the paperwork's getting done?

From there, ask people, communicate and get input. Depending on the size of your office, individually talk to each person. How do they feel about going back to the office? Do they have school-aged children? How do they generally get to the office? Employees who take public transportation and commute into the office, or who have childcare obligations at home, should likely not be part of “phase one.”

While the roadmap for each office will look different depending on its circumstances, the above considerations may serve as an overarching guide. As the process rolls out, the key will be remaining flexible and communicative. Gather and collaborate with a team to think through the next steps, and then start outlining a strategy. Considering input from those around you may make the entire process more manageable.

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