Planning a Safe Office Reopening

By Chris Hostetler

Hilltop is facing a new test, along with everybody right now. We need to figure out how to safely reopen our office following a global pandemic. Our challenge is a microcosm of a much larger social question right now, so we thought it might be helpful to share how we are thinking about reopening.

In March, the dangers of the COVID-19 virus became apparent, and the whole world stepped virtually overnight into social distancing mode. As business owners, we barely had time to think about what was happening; we had to simply react and do the best we could with limited information.

With the benefit of hindsight, we feel our team was pretty well prepared, for two reasons:

First, we were ready to work from home, having instituted a policy in January allowing employees to work from home occasionally. This policy covered workflows, technology, and security expectations, as well as professionalism standards on things that can easily go lax in the comfort of your living room, like dress code and phone availability.

Second, we had a standing business continuity plan, which we review annually. That plan has proven to be both structured and flexible enough to guide us through some pretty chaotic months in 2020.

But regardless of how ready we were for the current phase, we now face a challenge without modern precedent. So how do we think about reopening? We are financial planners, so it’s not our place to predict a timeline or epidemiological scenarios, but we have identified several principles to guide our planning.

Our goals are:

  • Keep team members and their families safe
  • Keep clients and their families safe
  • Continue to meet clients’ expectations of responsive and proactive financial advice
  • Continue growing our business
  • Provide both structure and flexibility, so everybody knows what to expect, even as the public health situation continues to evolve

With those goals in mind, we’ve come up with a preliminary plan. As of mid-July, we’re still working from home. Although our timetable for a return is uncertain, here is Hilltop’s reopening plan:

  1. We will take our time going back to the office. Although the current arrangement somewhat inhibits intra-team collaboration, we have been able to stay in close contact with our clients and continue to use all the technology that we have in the office (except for the espresso machine, which is a significant loss). Basically we can afford the luxury of being cautious, and we’re going to take advantage of that.
  2. We will allow Hilltoppers to come back first and clients later. We believe this will help keep us and our clients as safe as possible in the early days of reopening.
  3. We will split Hilltop into two smaller teams, alternating weeks in the office and at home, when we do return. As much as possible, each role will be evenly split between teams.
  4. We will continue to pay close attention to news and health information sources. We’re not medical experts, so we’re going to rely on the people who are.
  5. We will prepare a safe work environment. Depending on information then available, this will include some or all of the following steps:
    • No one allowed in the office with virus-related symptoms or recent exposure to someone known to be infected
    • Frequent sanitizing of high-touch surfaces at regular intervals
    • Limited access to common areas such as the kitchen
    • Mask usage when in common areas

Every part of this plan is subject to change as we get more information. We cannot stay at home forever, but we absolutely want to be safe and thoughtful about how we reopen. As we move forward, our goal is not to simply get “back to normal”; rather, we hope to figure out what a new normal looks like.

Meanwhile, the exercise of thinking through our reopening strategy makes clear how fortunate we are. There are currently millions of people in our country who don’t have the luxury of being able to work from home. Whether you are working in a high-risk environment as an essential worker, or you’ve been furloughed or unemployed, our hearts go out to you. We are grateful for our blessings.

 

Disclaimers

This material is provided as a courtesy and for educational purposes only.  Please consult your investment professional, legal or tax advisor for specific information pertaining to your situation. 

The information contained herein is believed to be true as of the date of publication. It may be rendered out of date by subsequent legal changes, as well as variable economic and public health conditions.