Our year working from home

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 12 months since our team moved to our working from home model.

The year has certainly seen significant changes in how we deliver our services, but we are proud to have maintained strong client relationships and found appropriate solutions to any challenges we faced.

Financial Adviser Adam Ezerins, Office Manager Katie Stevens and Client Services Manager Kavita Singh talk about the ups and downs of our year from home and consider what the future will look like for the First Financial team.

Initial challenges

Initial challenges

As Office Manager, Katie was instrumental in the initial stages of our team working from home. The logistics involved in setting up new systems for almost 55 team members were massive. She explains,

“We realised very quickly that we weren’t really very mobile. In fact, many of our service methods were pretty old school. We always had clients come into the office… it wasn’t that often advisers would go out to see people.

So, the first major project was getting everyone’s home office set up. This was quite a challenge because most people required a laptop. We had to race out and purchase a bunch for IT to set up and courier all over Melbourne as quickly as possible.

Coordinating all of that and making sure the IT side was working correctly was my biggest challenge… it was a bit stressful because we really needed to minimise the impact to staff and clients and we didn’t want clients to experience any service disruption.”

For Adam, there was the challenge of learning new software applications and also the addition of a new family member. In July, his daughter Mara was born and finding the balance between parenting and work took some time.

“I’m lucky that my office is a separate room – but with a seven month old at home, it can be a juggle if she’s having a tough morning or afternoon!

My clients know that my family is part of my working environment and it’s actually a really nice opportunity to give more of myself to them. There are often onesies hanging up in the background during a Zoom meeting which becomes a great conversation piece… my office has turned into a mixture of work and the drying room for Mara’s clothes!

Embracing the new normal

Embracing the new normal

Kavita joined the First Financial team as Client Services Manager during the pandemic and even though it was a harder onboarding process, she has become a pivotal member of our team.

“I had quite a bit of experience working remotely from previous roles, but being new to the organisation has meant I’ve built my relationships via the computer screen. It wasn’t quite as easy learning all the processes, but I feel like I’ve formed strong bonds with the team.

One of the really important things for me was being able to have a flexible working environment. I have a young family and I want to be here for them when they need me. Thankfully, the working from home structure with First Financial has meant I have the best of both worlds.”

Adam has also embraced the new normal and believes there are many benefits for both our team and our clients.

“Using Zoom as our platform for meetings has given us the ability to really engage clients with our presentations. We can walk them through our explanations… flow them through the pages and build the story.

Plus, being able to meet with people at times that are convenient for them… making appointments later in the day or even after normal business hours. Because I’m already at home, if I have a meeting at 5pm that doesn’t finish until 6.30pm, it’s much better than having to commute after it’s over. It means we can be a lot more flexible in our offering.

It’s also helpful for clients who are overseas or who are working and can’t meet in standard business hours… managing to speak with people when it suits them has been great!

Supporting our clients and the team

Supporting our clients and the team

Flexibility has been central to maintaining our high quality service. Adam continues,

“Now that we are starting to come back into the office a couple of days a week, I ask each client what they prefer and work out what works best for them.

I do think that service has actually improved for many of our clients who were used to having phone meetings… implementing video meetings has vastly enhanced their experience because they are seeing me, we can show them the material on screen… for them it’s almost as good as face to face but in the comfort of their own homes.”

One aspect of being at home that we wanted to avoid was feeling isolated… especially during some of the hard lockdowns we experienced in Melbourne.

To combat this, Katie started a number of initiatives that helped support the team on a daily basis,

“It was really important to stay in touch and make sure everyone felt connected so I regularly posted silly stuff on Teams… like ‘What are you doing right now?’, ‘What’s for lunch?’, or photos of the view out my window.

I also started ‘Two o’clock stop’ emails with a five minute yoga stretch video or a five minute dance class… just to keep the team motivated and think about their wellbeing. We didn’t get to have our normal lunch room chats, so I wanted to encourage people to take a break.

HR would also send messages about mental health… reminding people not to lose track of time and do lots of overtime, which is easy to do when you work from home. Everyone was very conscious of staying connected and checking in so people didn’t feel alone.

Individual teams started their own initiatives… my team learned how to make ciabatta bread during a Friday team meeting! Some people have even expressed an increased level of closeness because they were having more frequent meetings and were actively aware of staying in touch.”

Looking to the future

Looking to the future

As we slowly start to come back to the office, we are keen to retain the new technology and efficiencies we have created… a flexible structure will work better for our team and our clients well into the future. Kavita says,

“I’m enjoying coming into the office and finally meeting my colleagues in person, but I know how well we can all balance our work with our home life. And I think that this is definitely how many businesses will continue operating.”

Adam agrees and reflects on the positive side of the experience:

“This really is a great mix. There are always going to be scenarios where you want to be able to be in the office… working collaboratively with team members is often more successful face to face, so a day or two in the office makes a lot of sense.

But in a year that has been so difficult, I have to think… if COVID hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have been able to spend so much time with Mara, I would have been coming home in the evening and would have missed a lot of her fun moments during the day.” Read more First Financial articles.

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