How Do We Effectively Work Remotely During Times of Crisis?By Michael Twomey
Ensuring we can deliver optimal level of service to our clients, no matter the circumstance, is paramount.
Pandemics, power outages, natural disasters, extreme weather conditions…these are but a few of the reasons we work remotely. More often than not, these situations arise without warning and challenge our team to adapt quickly to a new working environment. In each instance, our primary goal is to maintain peak levels of service to our clients. But the question becomes, how do we achieve such high standards while working remotely?
Fortunately, we train for such circumstances and regularly review our protocols to be certain they are up to the task. As fiduciaries we have developed our Business Continuity Plan (BCP) to ensure our client interests are not significantly impacted by unforeseen business interruptions. Over the last twenty years, beginning with 9/11, the SEC has reaffirmed BCP as an aspect of our fiduciary duty as RIAs and offered additional guidance on the topic. We incorporate this guidance to be better prepared for the unexpected, like COVID-19. More specifically, we look to develop policies and procedures for a wide range of operational risks including our inability to access physical locations, technology failures, loss of personnel and cyber threats.
When it comes to working remotely, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will insure a smooth and secure transition of employees to their virtual office. We have been strategic about developing a secure, accessible and consistent technology stack whether our people are working from their home or in the office. This was no accident. We recognize that now more than ever, the demands of our business have evolved. It is not only about times of crisis, but also normal business travel, facilitating full capability between our offices, or simply for our employees choosing to work from home, our expectation is to deliver the entire suite of technology services to our team without disruption or any sacrifice of security or efficiency.
Our experiences working remotely have taught us three key actions we can take to enable our team to work at the highest levels and help mitigate operational risks as follows:
1. Advanced Technology Stack Design
We have been disciplined about choosing wealth technology and custodial partners that offer a seamless integration with our IT infrastructure. Utilizing cloud-based, third-party applications (CRM, Reporting, Portfolio Administration, Portfolio Analytics) reduces our IT footprint, increases accessibility and maximizes our cybersecurity.
Our users are equipped with ‘virtual desktops’ to ensure their working environment is mobile, secure, accessible, and integrated. A virtual desktop means that a user’s desktop environment (including the user’s favorites, applications, wallpaper, icons, etc.) are stored remotely on a server rather than a local PC or other computing device. The remote server that powers the virtual desktop is accessible with an Internet connection and enables a consistent user experience whether in the office or at home. The consistency of user experience empowers us to be more productive and to work effectively for our clients from anywhere.
We know that working remotely can present cyber threats, not usually present in the office environment. To help protect client data, we maintain a centralized private cloud with a single point of entry and egress. Our virtual desktops further protect our client data from cyber-attack while still being accessible for our team. As an additional level of security, we employ multi-factor authentication and single sign on protocols.
2. Highly Disciplined Planning and Execution
The degree of support and guidance we need to coordinate our employees’ technology needs varies across our team. During regular reviews and simulations of our BCP, we take stock of everyone’s remote set-up to evaluate their hardware requirements and technological shortcomings. We generally introduce consistent software and hardware for deployment to allow for easier set-up and support. Maintaining a complete and up to date list of outstanding hardware is important so we can budget and plan accordingly.
Once our team is set up with the necessary equipment, our IT professionals keep a consistent cadence with our employees. Proactive inspections of employee setups helps identify potential issues that could increase the firm’s exposure to cyber-attacks. A remote monitoring agent installed on each device enables our IT team to monitor the health and security of the remote setup from a central location and provide trouble shooting support as required. A key component of Coastal Bridge delivering timely and effective support is that we have a third-party IT partner who is familiar with our network infrastructure, our employees and our hardware.
3. Regular and Open Communication
When operating remotely, it can be easy to get lost in your own work and not connect with your colleagues. We recognize the importance of frequent and regular interaction amongst and between our team members, but also know that email is not enough. Instead, we insist on regular phone and video dialogue throughout the organization.
After any BCP is initiated and/or during any BCP simulation, we actively engage in a self-critique of our technology, user experience, processes and network reliability. Our team is surveyed to identify flaws and the expectation runs high that input will be forthcoming. This process identifies areas where we can improve and learn if there are additional features and/or capabilities of our current providers that can help the firm in the future.
Ensuring we can deliver optimal level of service to our clients, no matter the circumstance, is paramount. At Coastal Bridge Advisors, we have spent significant time and resources to design, build, plan and test a virtual office environment which we believe gives the members of our team the best opportunity to deliver our clients the service they deserve regardless of the working environment. While we prefer there to be no occasions when our BCP was necessitated, through the years we’ve found ourselves in several circumstances when remote activity was required, we have confidence we’ve developed the right approach to work effectively.