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Remote work could be Covid-19’s lasting impact on wealth management

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Working remotely, which was generally viewed as an anomaly for special circumstances less than two years ago, has become such a normal part of business since the start of the pandemic, it is now seen as a major and permanent shift in the way work gets done.

“We have been mostly back in the office since May, and while we are not currently planning to hire any fully remote employees, we have revised our work-from-home policies to allow employees to work remotely on a temporary basis,” said DJ Hunt, senior financial adviser at Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo.

Hunt said his firm went fully remote during the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, and business did not miss a beat.

“Even older clients responded well to virtual meetings, and I onboarded three new client families that I have never met in person, something I had not done previously,” he added.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 46% of finance and insurance workers were working remotely as of May of this year, which is down from two-thirds working remotely a year earlier, but still a major shift from any historical norm.

Recent research by DeVoe & Co., which included a survey of 180 Wall Street firms showed that 39% of their workforce will remain remote through at least the end of September.

Among financial advisers, the DeVoe report found that more than half of firms are now embracing remote work on a long-term basis.

The outcomes might be different if the global pandemic had been resolved quickly, but at this point, the DeVoe research suggests it would be difficult to get back to normal. With that in mind, advisory firms are being warned against trying to revert too quickly back to the old in-office schedules.

“RIA leadership teams should not take the shift back to normalcy lightly,” the report states. “Understanding the evolving needs of staff is an important tactic to better anticipate and mitigate attrition. The lives of many workers were profoundly affected by an abrupt shift to remote work.”

Dennis Nolte, vice president at Seacoast Investment Services, said his firm is maintaining basic safety policies for those in the office, but that he has been working from home a couple days a week.

“My client base is OK with video versus in-person meetings,” he said. “I can see our office actually returning to a work-from-home stance if we continue to see Covid cases increasing.”

While bosses that favor a micromanaging style might never be comfortable with employees working remotely, the DeVoe research found that across financial services, remote work has little impact on productivity.

Of the RIA firm leaders surveyed, 60% saw no change in productivity among employees working from home, while 25% of respondents said productivity increased during remote work, and just 15% just productivity decreased.

It is possible that productivity was kept in check by the increased level of communication with workers during the pandemic.

The DeVoe research shows that the frequency of communication from bosses to subordinates was unchanged for 27% of managers and decreased for 12% of managers, 39% said communication with employees increased somewhat, and 23% said it increased significantly.

Rob DeHollander, founder of DeHollander Financial Group, said his firm has embraced software and hardware changes to accommodate the need for remote work and flexibility.

“We have tried to be in the office as much as possible, but we are rotating staff in and out,” he said.

It is a similar situation for Mike Casey, owner of American Executive Advisors, a firm that has been “100% virtual since the pandemic started.”

“We have embraced remote work and virtual appointments, and I believe this trend will continue,” he said. “There’s a big push from employers to get back to the office, but I think this works better for everyone. I think there’s a lot of value when sitting down face to face because you can really communicate, but people also value their time, and they don’t like sitting in hour-long commutes. There’s just a lot more freedom and you’re able to get the same amount of work done without going into the office.”