After several weeks of physical isolation, economic upheaval, and a very real threat to our physical health, I would be surprised if we didn’t feel a collective yearning to go back to “normal.” The financial services industry entered 2020 after a whirlwind year of growth and change, but finds itself now in uncharted territory, forced to adapt every aspect of our work to a global pandemic with no end in sight.
A lot of us dream of the day when we can hug our families, return to our offices and get back to the way things were. Before we do, though, we should take the chance to reimagine what our “usual” work could mean, both for our team members and our clients.
I am not suggesting there is a “bright side” to the largest health care crisis in living memory. You would be hard-pressed to find someone whose life has not been touched by tragedy or economic hardship. But our forced isolation has created a rare chance for us to take a hard look at changes we could make when the crisis abates.
New ways to grow
Whether you work in a second story office on Main Street or in a sprawling, climate-controlled campus, I guarantee you’re thinking about how much it costs you every month to pay rent and maintenance for property you can’t use right now. Once it’s physically safe to return, we should rethink our appetite for physical working space. Instead of more expansions and satellite offices, could we experiment with more portable, virtual workstations?
The “A/B” model some firms used in the early stages of social distancing, in which half the staff comes into the office two or three days a week, and the other half works in the office the other days, could see more traction as a way to accommodate a growing workforce without growing your office footprint.
And why stop there? The mass embrace of remote work has opened the floodgates for our industry to draw on a wider pool of talent than what we could find in region-locked talent hubs. While there may be more state tax obligations to consider, we should weigh that against the benefits of drawing in a more diverse workforce. Despite recent progress, the “old normal” shut out far too many workers with disabilities, women forced to choose between their careers and their children, and other underrepresented groups.
But here’s the thing: this was always possible. The collaborative technology that allows us to maintain our work culture, productivity and standards of service is not new. So why has it taken a global crisis to open our eyes to new ways of doing our work?
Old fears, forgotten
It’s no secret our industry is not always quick to embrace innovation. That is evident from the number of advice firms still using physically installed software. But I think this is more than an “if it ain’t broke” mentality. To be frank, I think many of us hesitated to embrace remote work because we were afraid it would create the perception that we weren’t committed to our jobs. This is the same fear that keeps businesses chained to outdated policies.
But the pandemic forced our industry to confront those old fears head-on. I’ve seen my team at Orion adapt to the extraordinary demands of this new environment while juggling their responsibilities as parents (and teachers, as the disruption of our school system drags on). And you know what? The work is getting done. Even in the worst circumstances,we’ve maintained our bonds with each other and the clients we serve.
I don’t believe we can unring this bell. Fear of lost productivity has given way to empathy, understanding and flexibility. Even after today’s crisis turns into tomorrow’s history lesson, we’ll carry with us new approaches to work that are not only possible, but proven.
Eric Clarke is founder and CEO of. Follow him at.