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Editor’s Column: A small but important step forward

This week I did something rather different. I put on a pair of black work shoes, a decent work shirt and a pair of trousers. I then went to my annual business meeting at our accountants.

In normal times this would not warrant the slightest attention but it was the first time in a year I’ve had a face to face business meeting or indeed put on my work clothes (mightily impressed they still fitted despite the lockdown lard).

It was, you might say, one small step for man, one giant step back towards normality. You may have done something similar.

I have to confess it felt good for the first time in 12 months to be getting dressed up for a business meeting. It was slightly unexpected as I planned the meeting to be a virtual one but the accountant said do you want to come to the office? I didn’t take much persuading. I was even offered a cup of tea, which I politely turned down.

Like money of you, I’ve found this week a small but significant step back towards normality. The conversation this week was less of “have you had your jab yet” and more of “have you been to the pub yet.”

I’ve also noticed on social media tentative signs of planners going back to meeting clients in person and a very modest return to some office working. I was on a Zoom seminar this week and most of the dozen participants were wearing sweatshirts and sitting in their home offices or spare bedrooms but one chap was wearing a shirt and tie and clearly sitting in a city centre office. A hero! 

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I know many planners have been doing some work from the office but the vast majority have not. That’s beginning to change.

It’s been a very long wait for better times so let’s keep our fingers’ crossed the improvements continue. We have to accept, though, that many things have probably changed for good.

I’ve had many phone conversations this week and I’ve asked several people what their home vs office plans are. The prevailing view seems to be that a mix of home and office working is likely to be around for at least the medium term if not forever.

I think much will come down eventually to what is best for the business. If the business can survive and prosper with 100% home working then the office is an unnecessary overhead. If some form of regular meeting in an office for training and just brainstorming and social contact works best for productivity then that’s the way ahead for others. No single solution is likely to work for all financial firms.

Ultimately the business will choose, not the individual. Individuals will have a choice of where to work, or not work in some cases, but the business needs will dictate the best form of working in the future. We can expect, though, that firms will be less rigid and more flexible in future and that’s a major benefit to be grasped.

Kevin O’Donnell is editor of Financial Planning Today and a financial journalist with 30 years experience. This topical comment on the Financial Planning news appears most weeks. Follow @FPT_Kevin 

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