When lockdown was announced, many people packed up their desks and set up shop at home. Offices provide a bustling atmosphere where employees can chat and collaborate, naturally creating a thriving culture.
When the office is removed from the equation, it can create a sense of disconnect. This isn’t just about technological infrastructure: companies need to re-create a community aspect of offices from individuals’ homes. As lockdown eases, there is a wide variety in how different organisations and even different teams are approaching returns to office life. For many, remote working will still be a dominant part of how firms will continue to operate.
It is vital to adapt to the changing work environment as without a sense of togetherness and the necessary safeguards, staff morale can be drastically impacted and new compliance risks can emerge.
Each individual will be dealing with lockdown and remote-working differently. Some may see it as a pleasant change from lengthy commutes and constant travel whilst others may be climbing the walls, yearning to be back in the office.
Many companies have spent years building the right internal culture, which is incredibly important for wealth management firms as the internal culture is reflected in how clients expect to be dealt with. Whether it is a highly regimented or a more free-flowing atmosphere, employees know what is expected of them when they enter the office, who they can expect to see and where they fit within the company. When that aspect is removed, it can be difficult for employees to maintain purpose and motivation.
On the other hand, managers and supervisors run the risk of flying blind. As the FCA highlights, take away the office environment where they can get a direct feel for what is going on around them and they are often left with just cold hard stats like sales figures to base judgements on. This runs the risk of limited decision making as deeper, more nuanced factors will not be taken into account.
The compliance risks from remote working
There are ways a home-working environment can potentially help contribute to compliance issues such as unsuitable advice, missing information in audit trails and in extreme cases even misconduct. As well as the potential lack of robust IT infrastructure compared to what is present in an office environment, remote working can create a sense of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, which can lead to some employees losing a sense of accountability.
Many business leaders have considered ways to try and replicate the culture of the office for employees working remotely in order to maintain their regular levels of performance and conduct. Successful as this has been in many cases, it often ignores some of the longer term challenges firms were dealing with before lockdown. There is a strong argument that leaders should be ambitious and seek to do more than just maintain the status quo remotely.
Before lockdown, many supervisors already spent less time with staff than they would like, making it harder to offer the level of support they ideally wanted. Having to travel long distances to attend meetings not only took up too many hours each week, but simply being in the room when a meeting took place meant they didn’t get a true reflection of the meeting: their presence would have an impact on the adviser’s behaviour, for instance putting them on edge or making them follow the book more than they would normally.
Advisers struggled too: training was limited as it was difficult to see real-life examples of what perfect client care looked like. Time with managers was often too little and too infrequent. They also had the nagging worry that in the event of any disputes, incomplete records would leave them unable to evidence that they had consistently followed procedure.
Thinking long term
Forward-thinking firms were investigating ways that a strong technological infrastructure can help maintain performance, conduct and culture long before the pandemic hit. Leaders now have access to many FinTech and RegTech solutions designed to reduce risk in highly regulated sectors, many of which are as compatible with remote-working as they are with the office environment. Firms need to embrace digital hybrid solutions that can adapt to both face-to-face and remote ways of working.
Take for example our auto-transcription tool, Capture. This sophisticated form of automation can now record all customer interactions for a complete audit trail, transcribe conversations and document them for review, either by the advisers themselves as a form of self-review or by managers to ensure procedures are being met. Team leaders can also manage performance and cohesiveness throughout the team without interrupting the rhythm in the meeting room. They can use client conversations as a form of ‘best practice’ example to demonstrate to employees what good looks like.
Setting up a robust and scalable recording solution should be a priority for homeworkers. This is a measure that many firms have not yet adopted after making the shift from face-to-face meetings to video: not only does it help improve culture but it protects advisers and firms from remediation risks while offering a new level of transparency to clients. Savvy firms are also looking into how they can then use this information as a springboard for more sophisticated means, be it smart risk management, driving efficiencies or unearthing commercially valuable client insights.
Remote-working and hybrid models are here to stay. Without the reliance on bustling offices and the constant interaction between employees to build a lively culture and ensure compliance, companies need to implement strategic changes. While it is natural to look for ways to mimic setups which were in place before the pandemic, the fact is that many organisations weren’t taking advantage of all the tools at their disposal before lockdown. Industry solutions which can support performance, conduct and culture will typically be just as well suited to remote workers as they are to the office environment. Leaders should not just be looking for short-term quick fixes, but to long-term modifications to the very way companies operate.
If you would like to find out more about how our solutions can drive culture and compliance in a remote-based environment, then get in touch.