By Jayson Forrest - Managing Editor - IMAP Perspectives
Adele Martin CFP
Useful tips for financial advisers on working from a "virtual office"
The COVID-19 pandemic is redefining the workplace, as more Aussies are forced to work from home.
Adele Martin CFP® has been working from her virtual office for nearly 5 years. She shares her remote working tips with Jayson Forrest.
Work from home.’ Those three words might sound like manna from heaven for many but for others, the prospect of working from home can be terrifying.
Yet it today’s new world of social distancing and self-isolation, for many millions of people - both in Australia and around the globe - working remotely is their new workplace reality. But pyjama jokes aside, employees working from virtual offices are some of the most productive people in the workplace, with a U.S. study finding that remote employees work longer than the standard 40-hour week.
So, what is a virtual office? Simply, it’s a non-traditional service that enables employees and business owners to work remotely by providing a range of business functions that are accessible through the internet. It also enables businesses, like a financial planning practice, to create and maintain a presence in a specific location without the need to pay rent for a physical office space.
Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the number of businesses actively embracing the ‘work from anywhere’ movement, while others are still coming to grips about how to best implement a virtual office strategy for their staff
Name: Adele Martin CFP® Position: Managing Director and Senior Wealth Adviser Practice: Firefly Wealth Licensee: RI Advice Group Years as a financial planner: 15 years
Understanding the fundamentals
However, while ‘work from home’ convenience and increased work productivity may sound utopian, it’s not for everyone.
Take Adele Martin CFP® - the managing director and senior wealth adviser at Firefly Wealth.
Adele has been working remotely from her virtual office in Newcastle for nearly five years. For the mum with a 12-month old son, it’s a work style that particularly suits the Novocastrian and her clients. However, for Adele, part of adapting to this work lifestyle has been about learning to take greater accountability for major life habits, like eating well, exercising and staying connected with her clients and colleagues.
But beyond these fundamentals, Adele admits that although working remotely does provide you with the opportunity to craft your own work environment, without the wasted time stuck in traffic on the daily commute, it’s still not a style of working that is ideal for everyone.
Firstly, there is the danger of social isolation to contend with, which can lead to depression, and then there is the discipline and self-motivation required of actually working remotely and not being sidetracked by everyday household distractions.
“While most service-based professions are suited for virtual offices, experience has taught me that not every person is suited to working remotely,” Adele says. “It comes down to a person’s discipline, their organisation and self-motivation.”
But discipline, organisation and self-motivation is something Adele has in spades and five years on from first dipping her toe in the virtual workspace, it’s a work environment she is thriving in.
“I began working remotely when I was searching for a new office to work from, but quickly realised, I didn’t need a traditional business office at all.”
For Adele, the benefits of working and running her business from home have been many, including the money saved on office rent, not having to fight the daily grind of traffic, having an online footprint in every suburb, town and city across the country, and being able to employ talented team members nationwide.
“This has significantly opened up my talent pool. It means I just don’t have to employ people from where I am physically located,” she says. “A virtual offering has enabled me to expand the reach of my marketing, allowing the business to service clients nationwide.
“There are just so many benefits by running a virtual office that I can’t ever see myself going back to a bricks and mortar office.”
Setting up a virtual office and then successfully operating one is quite straightforward. If you’re working from home, try and organise a separate room to work from. That means when you’re finished for the day, you can close the door and switch off from work. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself working longer hours.”
Setting up a virtual office
Working remotely from home - or from a beach at Noosa - is relatively straightforward. You need a secure computer, appropriate online tools and technology, and internet access. That’s essentially it.
However, for many practitioners who have been working in a physical office over the course of their professional life, to suddenly transition into a remote workplace environment can be daunting. But Adele believes it’s an opportunity they should embrace.
“Setting up a virtual office and then successfully operating one is quite straightforward,” she says. “If you’re working from home, try and organise a separate room to work from. That means when you’re finished for the day, you can close the door and switch off from work. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself working longer hours.”
For Adele, the hardest part setting up her virtual office was finding the right phone solution to use. She eventually settled on Australian-based MaxoTel, which provides easy phone access to the various arms of her business.
I use Zoom because it was not only easy for me to use but it was also easy for my clients to use. The technology we use in our virtual office not only has to be good for us to use, but it has to be easy and effective for the client to use, as well.”
Verification of services
Top of Adele’s list for any business or planner considering setting up a virtual office is online security and compliance.
“One of the big concern’s for any licensee is client identification. So, if you’re working remotely from home, you need to work out how you ID clients and conduct your anti-money laundering checks. And then there are signatures. Some fund managers will accept a virtual signature, while other’s will require a hard copy,” she says.
“However, COVID-19 has seen a changing of some of these compliance sticky points. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing fund managers and licensees to address some of these issues from a compliance perspective.”
While planners still need to check with their licensee, there are ‘verification of services’ software available in the marketplace, including , and . Another tip Adele uses for conducting online ID checks and verification, is to ask clients to hold up their driver’s licence near their face and then taking a screen shot.
Adele says businesses need to do their homework and find the right technology and online tools that will enable staff to work effectively from home, including using video conferencing software. She advises that where possible, try not to run a meeting over the phone. Instead, use video conferencing software - like , , Skype or - that allows the client to see you and your screen, and you to see the client.
“This is important for building connections and keeping the client’s attention,” Adele says. “I use Zoom because it was not only easy for me to use but it was also easy for my clients to use. The technology we use in our virtual office not only has to be good for us to use, but it has to be easy and effective for the client to use, as well.”
She also adds that when working remotely, there is a tendency to send more emails when asking questions, which can get overwhelming. Instead, Adele communicates with her team by using , and .
“Effective communication - both with clients and colleagues - is absolutely essential when working from a virtual office,” says Adele. “So, I address this with my team by having regular daily team huddles, either over the phone or via video conferencing.
“But equally, it’s just as important for the team leader to schedule in one-on-one time with team members, which allows for mentoring and checking in on the mental wellbeing of individuals.”
However, Adele does concede the biggest challenge in managing a team remotely is knowing how to support individuals, when the team is not altogether. She manages this by ensuring that her team comes together physically at least once a year, such as for the annual business planning day.
“But there are other things you can do to keep your team connected socially. Many businesses have successfully implemented virtual weekly drinks or coffee mornings, where the team collectively down tools and share a drink or coffee together via video conferencing,” Adele says.
“I’ve also heard of businesses doing yoga and mediation as a team, or celebrating birthdays by using video conferencing software. So, all these virtual activities are possible to help you build and maintain your workplace connectivity.”
Effective communication - both with clients and colleagues - is absolutely essential when working from a virtual office,” says Adele. “So, I address this with my team by having regular daily team huddles, either over the phone or via video conferencing.
Mistakes, I’ve made a few
Adele concedes that since working remotely five years ago, she has made a few mistakes with her virtual business. The biggest mistake she made was how she actually managed her team.
“My first mistake was not properly understanding the importance of having a regular connection with my team. For example, I had an amazing team member who felt very isolated by working remotely and she wanted to go back to a traditional office environment. This was before I implemented our regular team huddles and social inclusion activities to keep my team connected.
“My second mistake was that I learnt that not everybody is self-motivated and disciplined enough to be able to work from home. That’s why it’s important that managers stay on top of the work and ensure it’s getting done. Again, that’s where regular communication is absolutely essential.”
We need to understand how we are positioning remote working to ourselves and how we are positioning it to our clients, because working remotely is actually better for them
Articulate the benefits
For any practitioners or businesses looking to set up a remote working environment or improve their existing virtual office setup, Adele believes it’s essential that you articulate the benefits of working remotely to clients.
“I often hear from other planners that clients need to see you in person, in order to trust you. As a profession, this is something we have always told ourselves but the reality is, it’s just not true. It’s a myth. It has never been my case and I want to make sure planners are not telling themselves that they need to make physical face-to-face contact with clients.
“We need to understand how we are positioning remote working to ourselves and how we are positioning it to our clients, because working remotely is actually better for them,” Adele says.
“When I first started working remotely, I wrote an email to all my clients explaining why I was doing it and what the benefits were to them. So, when you position the concept of the virtual office to your clients, and clearly explain the benefits of it for them, then the transition is easy.”
Some of the benefits Adele explains to her clients include:
- Clients no longer need to worry about commuting in traffic, and then parking, in order to attend meetings;
- Clients can be in a place of their own convenience for meetings, obviating the need to rush home from work or miss an appointment;
- Clients can record the meeting and watch it again, enabling them to review the meeting at their leisure at a later date;
- A virtual office helps to keep the office rent costs down for the business, allowing a planner to provide advice more cost-effectively to clients;
- An advice business can employ the best talent available, regardless of where people live; and
- By working remotely, there is less chance of the whole team getting sick at the same time, and infecting others, as often happens in a traditional open-plan office.
The second myth that Adele is keen to quash is that older clients are not tech-savvy and don’t want to do virtual planning.
“Previously, when I was working with retirees, I had other planners tell me that people aged 60 and over don’t want to do virtual meetings. Initially, I thought that, too. However, I had some clients aged in their 70s, who were having trouble getting to the office for meetings. They asked me if I could conduct my meetings with them online. I quickly discovered that many of my older clients preferred the convenience of having virtual meetings.”
Adele adds: “The profession needs to understand that older Australians today are very tech-savvy and that’s something we often forget. Technology is not the sole domain of Millennials. In fact, most of your older clients would welcome the opportunity and convenience to conduct their meetings with you online.”
So, what are you waiting for? Isn’t it time you joined the virtual office revolution?
Five ways to stay balanced in the virtual office
- 1. Divide your day into blocks
By time locking your day by working in 90 minute or two hour blocks helps to streamline your work. This might mean using your morning work sessions to concentrate on the creative aspects of the business, like client strategies, and using the afternoon sessions for client appointments. It also ensures you enjoy a short break between each block, which helps to keep you productive and focused.
2. Vary your remote working environment
Instead of working every day from your home office, try to vary up your work environment by working in your local library for half a day or in your favourite cafe (post lockdown). This helps to reconnect you to the outside world and helps to break the monotony of working from home. Working from a different location can also help re-energise you.
3. Set a time limit on your work
A common trap or working remotely is that most people end up working longer hours. Setting a time limit on how long you work on a project or task will enable you to keep focused on your work. This means you can use the time you have saved on not having to commute or travel to meetings, on spending more time on your health and wellness.
4. Don’t become isolated
You may be speaking to plenty of people over the phone or via video conferencing, but don’t become isolated and a hermit within your own home. Make time each week to get out of the virtual office and away from work, and socialise with your friends and colleagues.
5. Get out and exercise
Put aside time each day to get out of the office and exercise. This could be going to the gym, walking the dog, or strolling around the neighbourhood. You could use your non-commute time in the morning to go for a walk outside and get some fresh air. Remember, regular, moderate exercise is directly correlated to an increase in productivity and an essential factor in helping you achieve a better work/life balance.
Tips for running a Zoom client meeting
Adele shares her thoughts on how to set up and run a professional looking Zoom meeting:
If you are going to record the meeting, check your compliance requirements. For example, is verbal confirmation okay from the client or do you need them to sign something?
Avoid using the one meeting link for all client meetings. Each client meeting should have its own personal link. If you use the one meeting link for every client and your meeting runs over, then your next client could pop into your meeting, breaching client privacy.
Email your clients an instruction video on how to use the meeting software. For example: ‘Using Zoom on your Ipad for first time, then watch this video’ or with older clients, get your admin team to take them through a practice run of the software before the meeting to make sure they are comfortable with using it.
Good lighting is essential. Have a window where possible for natural light. You can also use a desk lamp or if you want to get more techy, a light bar.
If you are working from home, be mindful of your background. You don’t want to have a pile of dirty dishes behind you. You can use some plants and inspirational posters to spruce up your background. You can also change your background image on Zoom.