The quarantines associated with the coronavirus pandemic – strictly enforced travel bans, limitations on time in public, even sealed-off neighborhoods – have forced many companies to rely on remote working practices.
The idea has long been floated – has the digital revolution made the traditional office obsolete? The COVID-19 crisis seems to be giving the idea its first global tryout.
The financial advisory industry has been a leader in this field. Backoffice processes can be fulfilled online, while staff meetings are easily conducted via video conferencing. Our practice regularly meets with partners and clients globally, limited only by time zone issues. Perhaps the physical office is becoming a thing of the past.
The virus crisis has certainly solidified this issue in people’s minds. But will it really come to pass, at least in a sweeping, perhaps revolutionary form as predicted by some commentators? High-level managers are now pondering the potential savings that could accrue from limiting physical floor space. The bottom-line benefits are easy to see – but how is it all playing out today?
Summit Financial is physically headquartered in New Jersey, but CEO Stan Gregor has been riding out the crisis from his residence in North Carolina. He’s seen no disruption in operations, and indeed, he says “there’s nothing different today than when we were sitting in the office.”
The company’s technical processes, which include components of Addepar, HiddenLevers and similar systems, are keeping a steady eye on client portfolios, says Gregor. Summit operates its own rebalancing program, and it’s been working smoothly during the crisis. Summit employs 65 advisory teams and no difficulties in accessing the company’s tech tools have been reported during the crisis, he says.
Summit’s case suggests that advisories can function smoothly without a central office. Despite the positive experiences to date, Gregor begs to differ. A company still needs an office to call its home, “a nucleus of corporate resources” located in a physical location. The advisors may be mobile, but the support staff – the IT boffins, accounting, marketing, HR and all the rest – require a few floors in an office tower in order to effectively support the advisory team, Gregor believes.
The coronavirus disruptions are often compared to what was experienced following the September 11, 2001 terror attack. While comparatively localized, the earlier disaster taught global lessons, including the importance of dispersing data storage and creating procedures to support a quick return to business after a catastrophic disruption. The latter is a pretty tough act to improvise, a lesson that’s likely been forced home by the viral crisis.
Gregor’s experience, which includes the 9/11 events, suggests that companies can spread their operations across a very broad area – not simply within a single city, but nationwide. Consider today’s case: some states are in complete lockdown, while others have escaped the worst of the outbreak and may soon be open for business. Companies may find that operations can be dispersed, not piecemeal, but rather by specialty, across the country.
Even is one group was shut down by a calamity, the others could continue uninterrupted, allowing management to focus on its crisis alleviation plan for the affected areas. Once the coronavirus threat has abated, companies may wonder if it’s wise to keep all of their eggs in one glass-walled basket.
There’s one final issue. Some remote workers are finding that they miss human contact – even those who thought they’d work better without annoying ‘human meddling’. The camaraderie effect cannot be discounted and for some, it may eventually trump the otherwise clear benefits of remote office work.
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Are There Limits to Remote Working? | Wealth Management