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Working from home or office: what’s working best?

Rebecca Tomes speaks to a variety of financial and investment professionals about their experience working through the Covid-19 pandemic and asks which work model they will be adopting going forward – home, office, or hybrid?

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused much disruption to the world of work. The typical nine-to-five office job has had to be reimagined with many employees now tackling their workloads from the sofa or a kitchen table serving as an interim office desk. As a predominantly office-based industry before Covid, financial services has experienced this first-hand. During the depths of the pandemic, all companies were working from home (where possible) and only now are we starting to see professionals slowly re-inhabit their offices.

But as many workers warily return to their company’s base, it raises the question of which model of work is proving most popular. Are financial professionals flocking back to the office or are they in favour of staying put? A difficult decision – there are certainly pros and cons to both options. On the one hand, many have found that they can work just as effectively from the comfort of their own home and that way, can also cut the daily commute. On the other hand, the human element, that comes with in-person communication, does not fully translate over the likes of Zoom or Teams.

IFA Magazine columnist and marketing expert, Faith Liversedge kicks off the debate, arguing that many were feeling the effects of “Zoom fatigue” – a shared tiredness of video calls and “being ‘always on’” – one unintended consequence of “being able to work anywhere, with any client” at any time.

However, Faith then goes on to say, “more recently, we have realised there’s a decision to be made about what our new normal might look like, and how this might inform and change our business models, and the industry, forever.” Financial professionals are now having to think about whether they will continue to work from their sofa or welcome a proper desk and change of scene and return to the office.

Faith comments,Clients have of course experienced this remote-first world alongside us. They also value the personal elements an adviser brings that can’t be replicated by technology. The key for advisers then is to look at their business as a whole and think deeply about what else – other than video calls – can be done cheaply and automatically, through technology, and what it so valuable it must remain in person, then make more of that.”

Faith contends that a ‘hybrid’ approach – utilising the benefits of working the office and from home – is perhaps the solution. This model providesa perfect opportunity for firms to emphasise their client-centricity. Suddenly they can easily demonstrate they’re modern, up-to-date and that they put clients’ best interests at heart because they’ve thought about what’s best for them, in light of the past 18 months. In addition, they’ve also made themselves as a firm hugely desirable to work for: potential candidates are far more likely to want to join a firm that offers them that flexibility and choice”.

Andrew Pike, NS&I Head of Intermediary Relationships, shares his thoughts, coming down heavily on the side of the fence that promotes face-to-face engagement. Andrew says, “Working from home for such a long time has certainly been a challenge for me personally. My role, as the main interface between NS&I and the advice industry, had previously required a lot of face-to-face engagement with financial advice firms via presentations, exhibitions or at their offices. During the last eighteen months this has obviously switched to a digital world, for example webinars instead of physical presentations. Going forwards I very much look forward to a return to face-to-face engagement again. My strong view is that despite the advantages that digital solutions provide, meeting people in person leads to far better relationship building and achievement of everyone’s goals.”

Andrew anticipates a slight disconnect between “advice firms who appreciate the time and cost savings of digital events, and the product providers who will most likely prefer face-to-face engagement”. If this is indeed the case, Andrew corroborates Faith’s assertion that a hybrid model might be “the best way forward” for financial and investment professionals.

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