Moving past the pandemic

It looks like in-person conferences are on track to restart sometime this fall, which is good news for those of us running low on pens, hats, and all manner of branded tchotchkes.

If you’re like me and haven’t had an in-person work-related meeting in more than a year, the idea of industry conferences and other such gatherings probably seems oddly new again. And it will be new because even if the early events are hosted by mega-financial-services organizations and are flush with all the gaudy sponsored glitz, there will surely be masks and social distancing, buckets of hand sanitizer at every turn and those awkwardly unsatisfying elbow-bump greetings.

But, hey, it’s better than sitting at home in your pajamas pretending to look like a grownup on a Zoom call while hoping your pets don’t barge in demanding a treat or housemates wander into the frame searching for their socks.

I feel comfortable speaking for everyone when I say we’re all ready to get beyond this bizarre state of pandemic living. But there is no way we’re ever going all the way back to the way it was.

The utter tragedy in terms of the death toll and lasting side effects from the Covid-19 virus will forever be a dark cloud over what has unfolded since the start of 2020, but the resulting global lockdowns and business shutdowns did force us to think beyond mountains of deeply rooted status quo.

I’m referring mostly to the kind of technology and innovation that enabled many industries and most commerce to continue operating, which is uniquely obvious across financial services where most people have been able to do their jobs from anywhere with a WiFi connection.

That alone was an eye-opener for a lot of firms, even if it always seemed obvious.

In the 21 years I’ve worked at InvestmentNews, I lived in Massachusetts, Michigan and now North Carolina, yet almost everyone I meet for the first time assumes I’m based in Manhattan.

I know there are examples of companies like Fidelity Investments, Charles Schwab Corp., and Wells Fargo & Co. that are pressing the vaccine efforts to try and get tens of thousands of workers back to their respective desks. But I also know most financial services companies barely missed a beat through it all while adapting to remote-work policies.

Over the past year I’ve talked with a lot of financial professionals about the pros and cons of working remotely and the reviews are predictably mixed.

Some folks don’t have the space or desire to work from home, while others view it as a perk that was a long time coming and forced into action by simple necessity.

For example, Allison Masoero, a wealth adviser at Marshall Financial Group in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, said she had been pushing her firm for five years to allow her to work from home in nearby Philadelphia.

Now, after more than a year of not commuting into the office, Masoero said her firm is open to her working remotely on a permanent basis.

As someone who has worked from home since 2003, I was fortunate in that I had almost no adjustment to my daily routine when InvestmentNews announced in March of 2020 plans to close our offices for at least a month due to the pandemic.

With that month having been pushed out beyond a year it now seems normal to join the full slate of daily and weekly staff meetings over video conferencing.

I know some of my colleagues are eager to get back into the newsroom for all the camaraderie, noise and clutter that keeps them motivated, but I also know the remote-work experience has permanently altered the way we do a lot of things.

For instance, it was only a few years ago, under different leadership here at IN, that those of us outside the New York main office met resistance with ideas for video and podcasting. But being forced to adapt and invest in some basic video and audio equipment means we’re all now doing everything as if we were sitting in the same office.

Of course, we’re all still learning. For instance, even though most folks rarely wear formal business attire during video interviews, it’s still not a good idea to show up wearing a bathing suit.

And always remember the golden rule that being on mute while making an important point during a conference call is better than not being on mute during that same call while placing your order at the McDonald’s drive-thru.

I have a lot more tips for being a productive remote worker and could probably write a book on the subject, but my boss said I need to stick to writing about financial services or else he’ll make me relocate to New York and attend all meetings in person.

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