The resilient family office: How to keep your workforce productive and your culture healthy

April 30, 2020

Belinda Sneddon
Managing Director, US Family Enterprise Advisory Services, PwC US

Businesses of all types and sizes, including family offices, have been managing unprecedented challenges brought on by the economic shutdown due to COVID-19. As many adjust to working remotely and adapting to new technologies, family office leaders are tackling difficult workforce questions. 

Here are a few ways to help keep the family business running efficiently and effectively—both during the quarantine period and beyond.

Q: What are some best practices to connect my family office remotely?

A: We’re all still learning how to better communicate in a world becoming ever more virtual. While remote work might be new to your family office, understanding your team’s needs and maintaining strong connections is more important now than ever.

  • Create guidelines for how your family office should communicate remotely and spend time talking about how to approach work instead of diving right in. Think about collaboration tools, as well as the methods and frequency needed. Then track and evaluate your new policies and practices to help them evolve over time.

  • Take the time to learn about how your team is tackling their day. It can be as simple as sharing something about the new view from your home office or a funny anecdote from the day before. Video technology and messaging tools allow your team to connect on a deeper level. In fact, some leaders have said they feel more connected to employees now than when they were in the office. Don’t overlook the power of a virtual coffee break or lunch meeting without a specific work agenda. Some offices are doing virtual trivia contests, social hours and themed meetings like “Bring Your Pet to Work Day.” You may be surprised with the result: new ideas, a little added energy and an elevated mood.

Q: How can I keep my team productive as we all work from home?

A: On our recent webcast, Navigating Your Family Enterprise Through Uncharted Waters, we asked family enterprises about their top concern when operating a remote workforce. Forty percent of respondents said disruption in productivity is their biggest concern. To help keep productivity high, family office leaders should consider modeling new ways of working to foster collaboration, empathy, inclusivity and flexibility.

  • Establish new norms, but expect a learning curve. Remote work requires frequent, clear communication. Everyone in your office should update how they can be reached and prefer to communicate. Whether it’s a quick ping, chatting or video calling, communication is essential to help keep everyone aligned and executing tasks. Your workforce also may need to understand how to better protect data and information accessed from home, along with learning new technology or forming new habits. 

  • Be flexible, but maintain a schedule. Deadlines can create a sense of daily structure. If you’re concerned that your family office won’t meet a deadline, communicate that early. With the challenges of balancing children at home, working remotely and caring for family members, work interruptions may happen, but be flexible and focus employees on finishing the most important tasks of the day.

Q: How can I support employee well-being and provide a way for employees to voice concerns and suggest solutions?

A: Now is the time your family office should be asking, “How can we better connect with our workforce to engage and support them? What do my employees need right now?” Remember that for many employees, this may be the first time they are working under remote circumstances.

Empower your employees and actively listen to what they say. If you have a large staff or would like to preserve anonymity, surveys can help you monitor your workforce, as well as encourage actions you want them to take. Other supportive efforts include using video more often, checking in more frequently, increasing the cadence of staff meetings and asking staff about their family and any challenges or concerns they have. Simply put: Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Q: How can I help employees adopt digital tools and new ways of working?

A: Most of us are in the same boat when it comes to having to adjust to new digital tools, technologies and virtual assets that can help keep the family office running remotely. To help encourage employees to embrace new tech and start changing behaviors, communicate immediate benefits and make it relevant to employees. Make these communications short, concise, immediately applicable and actionable.

Also take pain points to heart. When your staff tells you something isn’t working, don’t brush it off. Work together to find a fix. Instead of a multi-hour webinar, make training engaging, snackable and available on demand, so employees can get up to speed on their own time and refer back to resources at a later date.

Q: How can I start preparing my staff to return to the office when the time comes?

A: As our clients think about transitioning back to the workplace, here are some lessons they’ve learned through COVID-19 and what they’ll continue doing in the future: 

 

  • Clean and sanitize workplaces: Confirming employee safety and health is a top priority. Make sure guidelines and procedures are in place—and followed—to provide a safe working environment and proper protocols for common areas and shared space. Companies are also looking for automated ways to have employees check in if they’re continuing to work remotely and perform contact tracing once they return to the office.

 

  • Secure safety and health equipment: What personal protective equipment equipment (like face masks and gloves) can you provide to your employees? Also consider providing health check areas with thermometers and essential supplies.

  • Consider remote work for the long term: This will become more palatable, especially with the recent discovery that video and remote connectivity can work well. Think about the aspects of work that don’t necessarily need to be done in person and the in-person social interactions that are not considered business-critical.

  • Limit visitors: You may restrict outside visitors to protect staff safety and health. 

  • Supply work-at-home setups: Determine if staff members should be given necessities to work from home, such as laptops, second monitors and headphones. Consider revisiting policies about paid sick days, so employees feel more comfortable staying home to work when they’re not feeling well.

  • Implement electronic workflow: This is likely to be a standard practice from this point on, whether implemented for payments or authorizations.

  • Reconsider office workspaces: Office layout will likely be more thoughtful, including more spacing between cubicles. 

  • Stagger scheduling: To allow appropriate social distancing, consider rotating individuals who come into the office for certain periods of time.
  • Stay flexible: Work with your individual team members to accommodate their unique constraints and be open to new working arrangements. Consider the positive changes to your culture or work environment—such as working remotely—that you want to maintain going forward.

 

Let us help

PwC is continuing to monitor the latest information about the impacts from COVID-19 and is helping privately held businesses and individuals understand how they are specifically being impacted. Our Family Office team will continue to share insights on how to adjust to the remote work environment so company leaders can stay focused on the family legacy.

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