woman working from home

While working from home (WFH) is expected to continue over the longer term, hybrid work options may be the best solution — assuming maximum productivity is the goal.

Research from Nicholas Bloom, the William Eberle professor of economics at Stanford University in California, has found that WFH results in greater productivity gains when workers have a choice about being at home or in the office.

Specifically, Bloom’s research found a 13% increase in productivity when workers were randomly assigned to WFH — a figure that rose to 22% when workers chose whether they worked at home or the office.

The productivity increases were attributed to working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and making more calls (workers in the study were employed by a Nasdaq-listed travel agency).

When given the choice, most people want to work from home one to three days a week, Bloom found.

You may be able to relate.

As the economy begins to reopen, some financial advisors and their staff are splitting their time between the office and home, says Anthony Messina, president and CEO of Worldsource Securities Inc. and Worldsource Financial Management Inc. in Markham, Ont.

“They’ve realized they can do a lot of their work electronically,” Messina says. WFH, he adds, also provides personal and professional flexibility, so advisors can be more productive as they choose what to focus on and how to accomplish it.

Messina says he anticipates the general shift to WFH will persist. “People are more interested,” he says, “in what will the work from home policy be” than when their offices are reopening.

The WFH trend also may result in a surge in independent advisors. With advisors freed from a traditional office, some may think, “Maybe I can do this on my own and have this flexibility I’m really enjoying,” Messina says.

As long as the pandemic remains a threat, the home office is likely to supersede the traditional one.

Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank announced in July that most of their staff will work from home until at least 2021. Bank of Nova Scotia’s head office employees also will continue to work remotely for the rest of this year. (All three banks are based in Toronto.)

Such decisions align with public health guidelines for businesses to allow WFH if possible as the economy reopens.

Messina is in no rush to return to the status quo, especially when WFH is so effective. “We are not going to be the first up the elevator — that’s for sure,” he says.

At the end of July, Worldsource’s head offices were to be at no more than 25% capacity. Before going back to the office, Messina says, advisors must ensure their staff are comfortable in returning and consider potential vulnerabilities to Covid-19, such as age or pre-existing medical conditions.

A July poll from Toronto-based KPMG LLP found that more than 54% of Canadians are afraid to return to the workplace given the contagiousness of Covid-19.

At Worldsource, resuming in-person client/advisor meetings depends on client comfort, Messina says. If clients are comfortable meeting in person, advisors can conduct half-hour meetings in office boardrooms or at their clients’ homes. Otherwise, they can continue with video chats or phone calls.

Other firms also are taking a cautious approach.

Peter Kahnert, senior vice president of corporate communications and marketing at Toronto-based Raymond James Ltd., says advisors’ “productivity [and] efficiency have been very high” when working from home.

For in-office work, however, issues such as physical distancing in elevators and on public transit, as well as concerns about childcare, present challenges. Therefore, as provinces reopen, returning to the office remains voluntary at Raymond James.

“Our focus as a firm is on the health and safety of our people, and also of our clients,” Kahnert says. “We want to make sure everyone is comfortable.”

As with most provinces’ strategies, the reopening plan at Raymond James is phased, beginning with 15%–25% of branch employees returning to the office if they choose. For those returning, offices have protocols for pedestrian flow and physical distancing based on guidelines from health authorities. Staff meetings may have to continue online even when people are in the office, for example. When Kahnert was interviewed in early August, Raymond James was recommending advisors avoid in-person meetings when possible.

David Gunn, country leader for Mississauga, Ont.-based Edward Jones Canada, says that firm is surveying branches about their comfort level with reopening and confirming that they’re stocked with protective equipment. (Head office sent a kit to each branch with guidelines and supplies, such as signs and hand sanitizer.)

While most branches have been comfortable opening as they’ve been allowed to do so, “some of our branch team members may have underlying health conditions or just may not be comfortable,” Gunn says.

Where Edward Jones offices have reopened, many clients tend to feel comfortable coming in. With offices typically consisting of one advisor and one assistant, “it’s already a fairly controlled environment,” Gunn says.

Edward Jones meetings are by appointment only, so clients don’t encounter much foot traffic when arriving at a branch. (If no appointments are scheduled, walk-ins are permitted.) Advisors heading into branch offices complete an online health-screening questionnaire each day before arriving at work.

Edward Jones recommends advisors schedule 30 minutes between in-person meetings to allow for physical distancing and disinfecting high-touch areas. Because some documents, such as powers of attorney, must be signed in person, lobbies and offices have been rearranged to allow physical distancing, Gunn says.

Supervision hasn’t changed much at Edward Jones because the firm’s branch managers weren’t in-office before Covid-19. “We’ve always remotely supervised from our home offices,” Gunn says.

With the pandemic impeding on-site supervisory visits, however, Edward Jones has implemented virtual audits and supervisory visits. “[That] helps us ensure our supervision program remains strong and effective,” Gunn says.

Office overhaul

With firms expanding their digital offerings in response to the pandemic, financial advisors and clients have greater choice in how they connect — virtually, in person or both.

This change in the client/advi-sor relationship is “driving where we’re investing our resources and time,” says David Gunn, country leader for Mississauga, Ont.-based Edward Jones Canada.

Firms also are considering how much real estate they require, and how to best reconfigure offices — from furniture setup to communal spaces. “We’re thinking about [that] already,” says Anthony Messina, president and CEO of Markham, Ont.-based Worldsource Securities Inc. and Worldsource Financial Management Inc.

Pandemic planning

Financial advisory firms have established teams to follow and respond to the latest developments regarding the Covid-19 pandemic by keeping in contact with different levels of government and public health authorities.

“We’re actively monitoring case trends and provincial guidelines,” says David Gunn, country leader for Mississauga, Ont.-based Edward Jones Canada. “If different government restrictions happen, which they are, they’re all taken into consideration when determining when we open.”

Markham, Ont.-based Worldsource Financial Management/Securities Inc.’s financial advisors receive two communications weekly informing them of what steps head office is taking.

“We create awareness [of] what the rules are,” so advisors can act accordingly, says Anthony Messina, president and CEO of Worldsource.

With reopening occurring in stages, the ongoing isolation of employees remains a concern, says Peter Kahnert, senior vice president of corporate communications and marketing at Toronto-based Raymond James Ltd.

“People are yearning for that feeling of connectedness,” Kahnert says.

Raymond James offers employees information on health and wellness, content with kids’ activities, fitness classes led by volunteers within the firm and a two-day online conference.