Working from home has become the new normal during the coronavirus lockdown, and the First Financial team has truly embraced the digital conditions to make sure our clients continue to receive our high level of service.
Financial Adviser Stefanie Costa and Operations Manager Ilana Donde talk about what it’s been like to transition to the home office environment.
The move to working from home
At the end of March, the decision was made for all First Financial staff to start working from home. The timing of this was earlier than the Victorian State Government’s restrictions, but as so much of our work involves close-contact meetings, we wanted to guarantee the health and safety of our staff and clients.
“In the week leading up to the transition, I think there was a bit of anxiety and nervousness around how it was going to work. It is a huge change to our normal business operations. But within a week or so, everyone really got into the rhythm and realised that we actually can operate efficiently outside the office.
Of course, it’s tough to break old habits… that can be the hardest part. It’s so routine to go into the office and you know once you arrive that it’s work time… whereas sitting at home, there’s a bit of apprehension about being on your own… it’s so different… not having everyone next to you to bounce ideas off and just have general chit-chat.
We have such a strong team dynamic at First Financial. Our culture is really important and not seeing everyone every day does have an impact. Normally, in the office at lunchtime, we all sit together and we’ll do a quiz or something like that… it gives you a chance to touch base with everyone and get your mind off work… so we miss those little social aspects of being around the team.”
Moving to home-based operations has been a relatively smooth process for the First Financial team. We have adapted the majority of our work to digital platforms.
“Everyone has internet access and most have a little workstation at home… even though I have a designated study, I’ve been using my dining-room area because it’s more open and has nice daylight. The most important thing for all of us was to make sure our systems at home were compatible. We needed to have appropriate accessibility to servers and all our software… once that was up and running, everything worked just as well as in the office. When you log in, the system looks exactly like you are sitting at your work desk. I’ve even set up multiple screens at home which is great… I don’t think I’d still be sane if I only had one!
From a communication standpoint, working from home has created new habits. I’m part of a small POD team and we have morning and afternoon catch-ups. These are done via video call and they are not just about work… we check in on how everyone is feeling – ‘Did you have a good night?’ and ‘What’s on for the day?’ It’s the interaction that we’d normally have if we were in the office.
In fact because we are at home, I think we are more inclined to do it… in the office it’s easy to get carried away with your day and think, ‘I’ll speak to them later’…
But at home you look forward to the times we have our chats… we are more in tune with what each other is doing and being a sounding board. The frequency of our meeting might seem like overkill, but we all appreciate having that constant contact just as we would in the office.”
The use of technology has certainly supported our working from home. For our internal meetings, we utilise Microsoft Teams and for our meetings with clients or external partners we are using Zoom. Ilana comments that the regular First Financial Investment Committee meetings have moved to the Zoom platform while restrictions have been in place,
“We have had two monthly meetings now and they have both been highly successful. Our team has cohesively transitioned to digital meetings, and while they aren’t quite the same as being face to face, they are still extremely productive.
When things go back to normal, we can definitely see the potential for future use of video meetings, especially if members of our team are unable to attend in person… rather than missing the meeting, they can Zoom in and we can continue as planned.”
Clients upping their tech skills
One of the surprising benefits that has come from this situation is that many of our clients are seizing the opportunity to increase their tech skills.
“With Zoom, if you’d asked some of our clients a few months ago, they might never have even heard of some of this technology… now when we call them to check if they are happy to do a video meeting, a lot of them have already been using Zoom with their grandkids, so they are very comfortable getting it up and running. They’ve become really good at switching on.
We know it’s not the same as our normal face-to-face meetings, but it’s a step up from a phone call… the video brings another human level to it. Interestingly, during this time it feels like we are all getting closer. Everything we do is built on the relationships we have with our clients, and right now, even through the cameras… we are adding another level to our relationships, bringing comfort and reiterating that we are all in this together.
For many of our clients, they enjoy coming into the office and making a day of going to the city. Initially, a video wouldn’t have been their preferred choice. But now they’ve experienced it and seen what it’s like… that we achieve just as much through a Zoom meeting as we can in person, I think we will see a bit of a change. Some clients will adapt and prefer it. Especially if commuting normally takes an hour or two! They can sit in the comfort of their own home… wherever they are based, they can have their cup of tea while we meet… I do think we will see a shift in that space.”
What we are enjoying the most
Finally, we have to note some of the extra positives we are enjoying about working from home. For instance, it is wonderful not to battle the traffic on a daily basis. Stefanie regularly carpooled with her sister Nicole, but when Nicole went on maternity leave in February Stefanie started travelling by public transport again. She says,
“It’s great for me… not having to do the commute! I think everyone is really appreciating a bit more time at home. For me, I’m substituting my travel time with exercise time.”
Plus, while we are all experiencing the same challenges of being away from family and friends, our daily interaction has given us some special happy moments. Stefanie laughs,
“In our video meetings, my little dog pops up every so often and James’ kids sometimes run through the background… I’ve loved that. We are having competitions with our cute pet videos or our little helpers join in… our social club is now the ‘social distancing club’ and we play games instead of having Friday-night drinks. It’s all helping to keep the mood a bit light-hearted during this time.”