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Nailing down your work-from-home policy

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Did you ever see the “Casual Friday” episode on the HBO hit comedy, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”?

That’s when Larry David’s friend visits the estate planner Larry recommended and is shocked to find the attorney wearing jeans and a denim shirt in his office. “This is how we dress on casual Friday, but we would never treat you casually,” the attorney explains to Larry’s skeptical friend, played by Ed Asner. “I want you to be on cutting edge whenever you’re handling my business,” the friend sneers. “... A lot of money is involved. You look like a cowboy. … You just lost my account. You go wrangle somebody else’s.”

During the early days of the pandemic, most people had a free pass on their wardrobes when working from home. We were in complete crisis mode, and the last thing on anybody’s mind was formal office attire. But now clients are settling into the new normal. Your clients, coworkers and strategic partners expect you to be up to speed on the work-from-home protocol. If you’re not bringing your A game every day, clients will start balking at $300 per hour bills from people who always seem to be working out of spare bedrooms in their shorts and hoodies.

Unless you’re willing to get more casual about sending your clients bills — or start charging amateur rates — you might want to start nailing down your work-from-home policy and making sure it’s consistent throughout your firm. Otherwise you’re sending clients (and your team) a lot of mixed messages.

I’ve found there are three basic types of work-from-home policies at professional services firms. All can work, but again, you need to be consistent about the policy you adopt and to make sure everyone at your organization understands it.

3 types of work-from-home policies

1. Work from home, dress however you want, work whenever you want.

2. Work from home permanently, but “dress for success” during normal business hours.

3. Work from the office as often as you safely can, and “dress for success” when there. You intend to resume an on-site workforce as soon as it is safe to do so.

With any of these options, clients are still expecting the same level or professionalism and the same level of response, regardless of where you are working for them. If they call you and you’re wearing a T-shirt, and it looks like you haven’t showered, it implies you’re not in the right mindset for doing professional work. You’re not a coder or computer programmer who works till 3 in the morning in a basement. That’s not what you do … you’re a professional who sells advice, trust and better decision-making.

In order for people to listen to you, they have to trust you. In order to gain their trust, you need two key ingredients:

1. Empathy (I really understand you), and
2. Authority (I know what I’m talking about).

You lose a lot of authority when your shirt doesn’t have a collar

What does that tell a client when they see you can’t dress professionally in your home office or converted bedroom? It tells clients you’re not able to work as effectively for them as when you’re in your actual office. Again, it will grind their gears to pay full price for your services if they don’t feel they’re getting 100 percent of your focus.

How many Zoom calls have you been on recently when a key decision-maker at your firm looks like they just got out of bed? You’re just not going to take that person seriously, right? It looks like they don’t have their act together.

Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever for clients to reach you via videoconference. The odds have never been greater that they’ll hit the “Start Video” button when you least expect it. Professionalism matters. You are selling your ability to help clients make better decisions. It’s very important to show clients: “Look, I have my act together. You should listen to me.” If you’re not willing to do this, then another advisor who comes across as more polished, more professional, and better prepared will step in to give your client a better experience.

Call me old school (even though I’m not that old), but your advice (and fees) just don’t seem to be worth as much if you’re doing the work in your boxers or a plush bathrobe. You need to adjust to the changing times and become anti-fragile.

Just because your competitors are lowering their standards doesn’t mean you should stoop to their level; raise the bar instead. Doing so will really help you stand out. As the old saying goes: “99 percent of success is about showing up on time and always saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’” Well, now there’s a third rule: “Get dressed!

I know a lot of people like to keep a professional dress shirt or blouse on a hanger in their home office. That way they can just slip
it on a few moments before a Zoom call. But, to me, it seems like a lot of extra work to keep getting dressed and undressed all day long. What are you doing between calls that requires you to dress down? Your client’s assumption is that you are working when they contact you during the “work” day. Why don’t you just stay professionally dressed and ready for action at all times?

Conclusion

I know these are difficult times, but if you’re still planning to charge clients your regular rates, then get yourself back into your routine of getting ready for the workday … and staying ready. It’s amazing how much credit you’ll get these days just for being dressed appropriately for work. Always look the part of a professional no matter where you’re doing your great work.

What’s been your experience with teleworking? I’d love to hear from you.

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Work from home Client communications Client relations Practice management Coronavirus
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