This month we have a question from one of our subscribers:
“We have been virtual for 18 months and now my firm is requiring me to go back to the office. What should I do?”
This is a question we receive often. As we enter the final quarter of 2021, an increasing number of firms are beginning the process of requiring employees to return to the office. Some firms returned months ago, while others are planning to implement “hybrid” or “flex” policies that allow employees to work from anywhere for an allotted number of days each week. We’re also seeing firms remain 100% virtual or leave it entirely up to the employee.
So, how should our subscriber approach this decision? What are the options?
Technology has certainly made it easier to work virtually and most have found this to be more convenient since it eliminates a commute. However, some firms are finding it challenging to maintain the same high level of camaraderie, mentorship, and overall engagement through video conferencing solely. It might be hard to believe, but not everyone prefers a virtual environment; some newer professionals have even shared with us, they are eager to return to the office where they believe they’ll have more visibility and upward mobility. Many young professionals fear that working virtually might hinder their chances for future promotions, especially if they are competing against colleagues who have an in-office presence. Some have been lamenting that the ad hoc conversations, check ins, team lunches and other outings have caused them to feel somewhat isolated. Not having clear boundaries on when work stops and starts, taking a 5 min lunch at their desk, and working a lot more hours than pre-pandemic.
On the other hand, working virtually provides a host of lifestyle benefits. It’s often less expensive to work virtually due to the lack of commute and the generally more relaxed wardrobe requirements. This commute time may also be applied to a productive activity, such as studying for the CFP, a license, a graduate degree, learning a new skill or simply going above and beyond at work. Generally more flexibility with the flow of work, trying different things at different times to see where you can find your maximum productivity but not burnout equilibrium. Also, it can be less distracting if you had co-workers constantly popping into your office pre-pandemic. So make sure you optimize the additional time that you may now have to set up apart from colleagues and/or future applicants.
So, for those facing the decision between returning to the office or working virtually, what is the best option? Like many career questions the answer is “it depends!”. While there are exceptions, it might be tougher to grow into an equity-track lead advisor virtually, especially if you are competing against colleagues who are in the office meeting with clients and prospects face to face. A lot of this will also depend on your supervisor and their preferred management style. Conversely, those who are content with permanent associate or service advisor roles may not be inhibited by a virtual arrangement. Further, those working at firms that operate in an all virtual capacity will likely experience a career trajectory that is consistent with their performance.
The decision to return to the office or remain virtual is a personal choice, unless the labor market shifts substantially. Regardless of which direction you choose, be sure that you communicate your preferred work style with your manager to fully understand the implications of your decision. It might be wise to inquire about whether your decision will hinder your ability to develop professionally or be promoted into your desired role. As is the case with most challenges, clear, professional communication is key.