The New COVID RIA Employment Rules: From Virus To Vaccine

Reopening the office will require frank discussion about exposure and immunity. Some may choose to stay virtual for the rest of their working lives.

The vaccinations have started. Most people who get the shot won’t be able to catch the virus. These are great things, especially if you’ve been eager for life to get back to normal.

Normalcy means unrestricted travel and fewer rules to slow COVID transmission. Offices can open up. Face-to-face meetings will once again be spontaneous, relatively casual events.

We just have to get there first. But for a lot of wealth managers, the new virtual world has its advantages.

Whatever you choose, the future is here. It’s time to figure out where you want to go and how to get there with a minimum of strain.

“Mandatory” Shots

First, not even California can make anyone get vaccinated but states can still lean on businesses that want to reopen.

Employers are obliged to keep the workplace healthy. Barring a theoretical liability waiver from Congress, you’re responsible if anyone gets infected on the job.

That means getting vaccination certificates from your staff and swallowing the risk from those who elect to avoid the shot because, for one reason or another, they don’t trust it or the process.

The last poll I saw said 15% of the population is going to refuse the vaccine outright, at least until they see what it does. When you look at healthcare professionals, the level of skepticism doubles.

Cut through all the controversy and the contagious need to stay home. You can’t give them access to clients, especially those who may be on the vulnerable side anyway.

The law favors the employer and the vaccine here. People who don’t want the shot and need to work on site can be fired at the boss’s discretion.

However, the practical ramifications of this are a little more complicated. Presumably all of your people have learned to work from home or in social distance environments in the past year.

The systems are in place to support WFH operations. I don’t see a lot of pressure on any office workers to come back in every day.

The Zoom appointment is not going away. Email isn’t going away. Secure network connections aren’t going away.

The only question is whether you and your people found the new systems liberating or constraining. Because if they never need to come into the office again, their viral loads don’t matter.

And we’re not even sure vaccinations won’t prevent COVID spread. Your people may be safe in the office but still present a risk to every unprotected person (client, prospect, vendor) they come in contact with.

“You’d Be Home By Now”

Even technocrats value proximity. In my family office days, we had to live within commuting range of New York because that’s where the family and the office were.

Moving was not negotiable, even though we had some of the most advanced networking tools on the planet on our side.

And that was a long time ago. We’ve talked about mobile computing for years as a way to unplug financial professionals from the desktop and take the data into the field.

Early adopters soon discovered they didn’t need an office after all. As long as you had a connection to a server somewhere in the cloud and a screen to see on, your office was everywhere.

Some people appreciated not having to pay rent and other overhead. When they needed physical space, it was available on an hourly basis along with all the amenities.

When you weren’t in that “office,” you were in the car, the home office, a hotel or even on the beach, one login away from business at all times. The files were virtual and available on demand.

In my experience, a lot of people kept up the office in the iPad era for three reasons. First, they wanted out of the house. Second, the team was too big to fit into anyone’s house.

And third, there’s a residual prestige factor to the right physical address. We inhabit a world of wealth where nuances matter. Tasteful furniture and a coffee table full of art books set the right mood.

But we haven’t been able to show off the wood paneling in nearly a year. One of my favorite planning offices in the Pacific Northwest has been shut down since February.

All the décor is irrelevant. There’s a very good chance they aren’t ever coming back at this point.

Why Go Back?

As long as the doors are locked, the space is an attractive nuisance. They’ve had to deal with break ins as well as weather damage.

Opening up again after that kind of prolonged shutdown has its own challenges. Vermin have taken over a lot of restaurants. Unused drinking fountains and sinks can harbor Legionnaire’s disease, mold and other non-COVID threats now.

Where’s the ROI in renewing the lease? Some will cheerfully keep the physical HQ in perpetuity. Others will let it go.

That’s the kind of world that renders vaccination decisions irrelevant. As long as your people are healthy, they’ve proved they can do their job anywhere.

Whether they’re contagious behind the screen doesn’t matter. You just want to make sure they don’t get sick on their own time.

After all, it’s still a contagious world. Airports are full this holiday season and the airlines will ban you if you take your mask off, mistakes happen.

If you value your people and your business continuity plan, you’ll probably sleep better if they’re free from the viral threat. Likewise, your clients don’t necessarily need to come into the office.

Meetings can stay remote. It’s up to the people involved.

Everyone on the front lines needs to be virus free when clients do come in. But the back office doesn’t even need to be in the office at all.

Outsourcing is real. It isn’t going away. The nimble wealth manager can operate anywhere. 

If you and your people love the office, you're probably eager to come back. Just don't confuse it with the bigger feeling of being liberated from the house.

It's a wide world out there. The office is only one of the places that have been off limits. As you stretch, you might find that you and your people never need to come in again.

All we need is for the virus to go away and the world opens up.



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