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A hybrid model could offer the best of both worlds, one consultant says. An easy way to split tasks is to devote in-person time to creative thinking and brainstorming while leaving administrative duties for home.

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As vaccinations across the country rise and provinces continue on the path to an economic reopening, financial advisors are planning ahead for a partial return to in-person work and figuring out what the workplace is going to look like for their teams.

The chance to rethink a “new normal” in office work is a blank slate for many. But for some, the process comes with its friction points: From building new schedules to allocating workspaces, planning social gatherings, and doing it all with everyone’s health and safety in mind. In turn, advisors are getting creative to work through some of these challenges.

As an early adopter of the hybrid work model, Stefanie Keller, chief executive officer and certified financial planner at Stellar Wealth & Tax Solutions in Winnipeg, has had plenty of time to navigate the ups and downs of split work schedules.

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When much of the world was still at home in May 2020, Ms. Kellar and her team were donning masks, gloves, and face shields to trek into the office and meet clients who were otherwise struggling to navigate remote life.

A year later, her team has mastered the art of the physically distanced client meeting. But Ms. Kellar says hiccups come in accounting for staff absences.

She points to a recent experience, just before the end of tax season, in which COVID-19 related precautions rendered two of her employees unable to enter the office. At a crucial time, she had to pivot to pick up the extra slack.

As eager as employees may be to return to some semblance of normalcy, hybrid work models must account for contingencies – absences are still inevitable, even as COVID-19 restrictions lift. So, Ms. Kellar says that for the sake of her sanity and that of her staff, she’s learned the importance of a backup plan.

“Those logistical issues are going to continue,” she says. “We aren’t ever going to go back to the way it was. We’ve seen permanent changes happening here.”

It didn’t help the situation that Ms. Kellar’s clients were sending her tax forms left, right, and centre through a range of different platforms – some even via text message. Splitting time between home and the office will only make keeping track of paperwork more difficult in the future, she says, and that can lead to unnecessary confusion between staff. Next year, she is striving to streamline this process.

“I think more virtual signing, like DocuSign, is going to be key,” Kellar says. “There’s still a lot more that needs to be done to facilitate the ease of transferring information electronically.”

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Tina Tehranchian, senior wealth advisor at Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Richmond Hill, Ont., says “weaning herself off” paper has made the transition to working from home exponentially easier, and it’s a habit she hopes she and her staff can hold onto as long as they can.

Furthermore, keeping roles clear and workflows precise will be essential to mitigating friction in the process of returning to work, Ms. Tehranchian says.

Stephanie Douglas, partner and portfolio manager at Toronto-based Harris Douglas Asset Management Inc., says she and her business partner, Paul Harris, will be onboarding staff for the first time in the coming months, embracing a hybrid model.

“I can’t actually imagine us going back to more of a traditional office setting, to be honest,” Ms. Douglas says.

As a newer, smaller firm, the pair are used to having to embrace flexibility and, as a duo, have become a well-oiled machine. But while they prepare to expand their team, Ms. Douglas says staying organized will be critical to reducing growing pains. She plans to start by setting specific days of the week for in-person and remote shifts, limiting last-minute mixups wherever possible.

“We want things to be a little bit more scheduled. So, if I’m working from home, it’s not just, ‘I woke up today I feel like staying home,’” Ms. Douglas says. “It becomes much more difficult for us to plan our week if we don’t know where we’re going to be.”

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However, she acknowledges that COVID-19 has offered much of the Canadian workforce a chance to reassess their values and productivity habits. Ms. Douglas plans to honour that as much as she can.

George Hartman, president and CEO of advisor-focused consultancy Market Logics Inc. in Toronto, says other advisors should do the same given recent research around productivity levels in work-from-home models.

According to Statistics Canada’s most recent labour force survey, 90 per cent of new teleworkers reported being as productive, if not more so, when working from home during the pandemic. That’s a shift worth embracing, Mr. Hartman says, but it does come with its drawbacks, including the dearth of opportunities for staff to socialize.

A hybrid model could offer the best of both worlds. As such, he says staff should be given the opportunity to provide input in writing up schedules and reallocating roles.

“Survey the staff and determine if there’s a match between what’s required and what’s desired, and what might present a conflict,” Mr. Hartman says.

An easy way to split tasks, he says, is to devote in-person time to creative thinking and brainstorming, while leaving administrative duties at home.

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Either way, planning for a hybrid work model is a chance to revisit company-wide goals, practices, and pain points – one that advisors shouldn’t miss out on.

“Every once in a while, advisors need to step back and reimagine what their business could look like if it was as perfect as they wanted it to be,” Mr. Hartman says. “This is a good opportunity to do just that.”

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