8 Steps For Returning to the Office During Covid‑19

Sep 28, 2020 / By Debra Taylor, CPA/PFS, JD, CDFA
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From liability insurance to dress codes, from new technology to new signage and protocols…it is not the old office anymore. Here’s a comprehensive look at how one advisor’s team is returning safely to their workplace even as the pandemic continues.

Covid-19 presented an extraordinary situation for businesses across the world. How do you maintain your work ethic, company culture and efficiency while at the same time making sure your team and clients remain safe and healthy?

In March 2020, we completely shut down our in-person operations and transitioned to a fully virtual workforce. This was the only way we believed we could maintain the integrity of our business and keep everyone involved as safe as possible. Seven months later, we have developed a plan to begin in-person operations once again and we have safely returned to the office (at least so far).

Our primary focus is on the well-being of our team and our clients. To help reduce the potential risk of exposure and maintain safety of all team members, we have developed the following procedures to facilitate a safe and happy work environment.

1. Maintain open communication

When Covid-19 shut down our office, we started daily 30-minute morning huddles for our team. It was a time to reflect on the work from home situation and speak openly about any issues. We also spoke about our tasks for the day and made sure everyone was communicating their work and needs effectively.

After a few months passed, we added an agenda item to discuss what a return to the office could look like. We had open conversations with our entire team to garner feedback from them. We sent out a brief survey about back-to-office readiness (see Figure 1 below) and also had our office manager speak with every team member individually. We were able to take the pulse of the team this way and develop procedures and processes that were not only safe but also worked best for them.

Figure 1: Our Back-to-Office Readiness Survey

Source: Taylor Financial

2. We purchased an employment practices liability policy

The insurance covers our firm for any Covid-19 related employment disagreements and lawsuits. This was a necessary step to take to protect our firm. Arthur J. Gallagher brokered the policy through AmTrust North America for us. The annual fee for this policy is $2,323. This type of policy helps protect the company against claims made by employees alleging discrimination, harassment, invasion of privacy and wrongful termination, among many other employment-related issues. Without the policy, I didn’t feel comfortable bringing everyone back into the office, given the potential liability.

3. We instituted a 3-2-2 work week

The ‘3’ stands for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The first ‘2’ stands for Thursday and Friday and the second ‘2’ stands for Saturday and Sunday. After working remotely for seven months, we saw the benefits first hand (no commute, time to go for a walk on your lunch break and the convenience of working from home). However, we also felt our team members needed opportunities for informal training and growth, which were missing in a 100% remote work environment.

We also needed to alleviate the additional burden of trying to manage six team members remotely. We decided that we would best thrive with a mixture of in-office days and virtual days. The 3-2-2 work week provides a pleasant work/life balance, with three days working in an office, two days working from home, and two days attending to family and friend responsibilities. The team was very receptive to this hybrid approach, as it provides the best of both worlds.

4. We purchased technology for our team

In order to make the transition seamless between in-office working and working from home, we purchased state-of-the-art computers that are compact and easy for our team to bring back and forth from home to office. We also purchased separate keyboards and monitors for the office and for each team member’s home, so they would not have to bring those items back and forth. We deemed this a crucial step in making sure the office runs efficiently with our new 3-2-2 schedule.

5. We added signage in our office

A lot of new policies had to be put in place in order for us to return successfully to the office. Indeed, because of all the new rules and additional compliance, we hired an HR consultant to advise us during the process (and afterwards). She has been providing much-needed counsel and perspective informed by her experience at larger firms.

For example, she let us know she did not recommend updating our handbook because the FMLA Emergency will expire at the end of December. She did, however, advise us to hang up in the office a DOL poster on employee rights related to coronavirus (download here). Although hiring a consultant is an added expense, it provides peace of mind and it shows the team that we are trying to follow best practices for them, which I know they appreciate.

6. We created procedures and guidelines for returning to work

You can take a look at our documentation related to these new practices by clicking through the links below. Please note: By providing these documents and resources Debra Taylor is not acting as an attorney or giving legal advice and all materials should be reviewed by an attorney before utilizing for a firm’s employees.

7. We updated our dress code to reflect the new 3‑2‑2 schedule

We are currently limiting in-office appointments for clients, so we updated our dress code to reflect that. For the in-office days of Monday through Wednesday, formal dress code will be required, because that is when in-office client appointments would normally take place. On our work-at-home (office optional) days of Thursday and Friday, we ask that a corporate casual dress code be followed.

Dress code will be as follows:

  • Formal dress code Monday through Wednesday. Men wear suits but dress sneakers are acceptable. Women can wear suits, formal business dresses or a blouse and dress pants with a blazer.
  • Thursday and Friday will be corporate casual; no suits will be required. Men can wear button down shirts, polos, and khakis, dress pants and dress shoes. Women can wear dress pants and a blouse, casual dress or a skirt.
  • Dress for the day on Thursday and Friday (whether at home or in the office). A suit must always be available for in-office meetings or video meetings with clients or prospects.

8. We sent a welcome-back letter

On their first official day back in the office, we sent our staff this welcome-back letter:

Figure 2: Our Welcome-Back Letter

Source: Taylor Financial

Reflecting on our new situation

The past seven months have been difficult, but we endured. We were able to manage our employees remotely and grow our business even in these adverse conditions. While we have gone back to in-office work, we are still going to continue scheduling virtual meetings wherever possible.

It is still a bit strange walking around the office with masks on, but this is our new normal now and if a business doesn’t adapt to the current environment it won’t survive. The guidelines and procedures we have put in place for our triumphant return to an in-person office setting—as well as involving our team in creating them—will help us with our continued goal of creating a safe, happy and successful workplace for everyone.

All of the protocols discussed above were months in the making. This is a new world which requires a re-imagination of everything. However, we are optimistic that we have a good framework in place to move forward.

Debra Taylor, CPA/PFS, JD, CDFA, is the principal and founder of Taylor Financial Group, LLC, a wealth management firm in Franklin Lakes, N.J. Debra has won many industry honors and is the author of My Journey to $1 Million: The Systems and Processes to Get You There, a book about industry best practices. She is also a co-creator of the Savvy Tax Planning program.

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