in unprecedented times

The world looked so different two months ago. Back then, we had travel plans, in-person client meetings booked, conferences and events scheduled and vacations to look forward to. But, as coronavirus concerns grew, plans were shelved and businesses that could operate with a remote workforce began to prepare their systems and employees, not knowing how long it would be needed.

Many in financial services mobilized quickly, setting up remote workstations while continuing to take calls from stressed clients. Navigating market volatility is always challenging but adding a global pandemic to the mix ratchets the stress to new heights. It’s normal to feel a bit disoriented at the pace and scope of changes we’ve dealt with and will continue to deal with for many months to come.

On flights, passengers are told that, in the event of a loss in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from above. You’re instructed to put it on yourself before helping those around you. In other words, you won’t be much help to others if you aren’t ok.

While some advisors are beginning to accept the new normal and look for fresh ideas to add value amid a backdrop of unique circumstances, many are just trying to stay afloat. To those advisors, I implore you to pause for a moment, put on the proverbial oxygen mask, or risk burnout.   

Your team and clients need a leader and partner who is focused, informed and confident—their financial future may depend on it. To be that advisor, you may need to reorient yourself physically and psychologically for success.

Claim a space conducive for work

At first, the idea of working from home may have sounded good. The relaxed dress code, negligible commute and proximity to pets were attractive benefits. But, at this point, the office might seem downright luxurious with its large computer monitors, office chairs and commercial-speed internet—amenities you may never take for granted again.

With no definitive end-date in sight, it’s important to claim a space in your home that can work for the longer-term. At minimum, you should have a desk or table and a comfortable chair that is ergonomically appropriate to help avoid any unnecessary physical problems. Emulating your office setup with dual monitors, a wireless mouse/keyboard, wireless headset or a standing desk can help you get and stay focused. Even small things—such as your preferred brand of pens or notebooks—can make your new setting feel more official and help you settle in quickly each morning.

If you’re sharing an office with a spouse who is also working from home or with children who are distance learning, set a plan for taking calls that minimizes interruptions and maximizes privacy. It’s important to get on the same page with those in your immediate vicinity to avoid frustrations.   

Redefine personal measures of success

Market volatility reminds us that there is much we cannot control. Often, regaining a sense of control requires some creative thinking, re-tooling your perspective and building in personal encouragement. For example, instead of focusing on sales goals, shift your attention to what you can control—your activities. Determining how to spend your time and focusing on manageable activities can provide structure and promote feelings of accomplishment.

Psychologically speaking, writing everything down, prioritizing and categorizing each item can help reduce the burden on your brain and provide a clear path for your energy. Each day plan out the activities—setting the number of calls, emails or contacts you want to make and check each one off when completed. Even if you’ve never been a list-maker, it’s worth trying out—we could all benefit from a little extra clarity.

It’s important to set yourself up to feel a sense of accomplishment about the activities you tackle—especially now. Create a new reward system to stay motivated and pat yourself on the back when the job is done. You may find your usual rewards such as restaurant dinners, theater tickets or a round of golf are no longer options due to stay-at-home orders. Identify simple, immediate pleasures like getting some sunshine, preparing a nourishing meal or snack, taking the dog for a walk, riding your bike, tackling a crossword puzzle or texting your extended family. You may find that, although the rewards are different, they are no less sweet when they are earned.

Emphasize overcommunication

No matter how well you communicate and work with your team, remote arrangements are bound to create challenges. The key to overcoming them is to overcommunicate via email, calls or video chats more than ever before. Incorrect assumptions or misinterpretations tend to arise when communication channels are quiet.  

Lead by example and continually communicate your own schedule changes, priorities and expectations. Leave no ambiguity with how and where you are spending your time—this gives your team guidance for assessing their own workloads and the type of reciprocal communication you expect. Remind them of the clients who are counting on your teamwork to provide answers, advice and leadership throughout this period.

Ultimately, most people are doing their best to adjust to an unusual situation, stretching into new, unfamiliar roles while grieving the loss of real social connections and stable routines. Increased communication gives you the opportunity to understand the individual circumstances each team member is facing. Be empathetic and actively listen. Empathy is mutually beneficial, it’s even thought to help lower stress levels and protect against burnout.

Looking back

For the majority of Americans, the coronavirus has cleared our social calendars and reduced our movements to a small radius from our homes. We have fewer places to go and less people to see—in person, that is. This time is fraught with heavy emotions but it’s also an opportunity for those who can reframe it. Many of us had running lists of the things we’d do with more time—that time is now. Of course, most of us would have preferred it not to stem from a global pandemic, but we have to play the cards we are dealt.

Fill your non-work hours with activities that make you feel happy and connected with your loved ones. Tackle those house projects, watch more movies, video chat with your family, support your community, learn something new and create space for quiet, personal reflection. Some day we will reflect on our memories of life during the coronavirus pandemic. How do you want to look back on this time—as an opportunity squandered or relished?  

Robert Frost wrote, “The best way out is always through.” We learn the most from the difficult times and will emerge on the other side more resilient. Until then, please stay safe and healthy while maintaining your sanity.

The views expressed in this article should not be considered investment advice or recommendations to invest in any security or adopt any investment strategy.

To stay up-to-date with the latest insights from across our firm, bookmark our Insights On Coronavirus hub.  

To help your clients stay invested and focused on their long-term goals, bookmark our Market Volatility Resources.

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What Are the Risks?

All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. Stock prices fluctuate, sometimes rapidly and dramatically, due to factors affecting individual companies, particular industries or sectors, or general market conditions. Special risks are associated with foreign investing, including currency fluctuations, economic instability and political developments. Investments in emerging markets involve heightened risks related to the same factors, in addition to those associated with these markets’ smaller size and lesser liquidity. Investments in fast-growing industries like the technology sector (which historically has been volatile) could result in increased price fluctuation, especially over the short term, due to the rapid pace of product change and development and changes in government regulation of companies emphasizing scientific or technological advancement or regulatory approval for new drugs and medical instruments.

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The companies and case studies shown herein are used solely for illustrative purposes; any investment may or may not be currently held by any portfolio advised by Franklin Templeton Investments. The opinions are intended solely to provide insight into how securities are analyzed. The information provided is not a recommendation or individual investment advice for any particular security, strategy, or investment product and is not an indication of the trading intent of any Franklin Templeton managed portfolio. This is not a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any industry, security or investment and should not be viewed as an investment recommendation. This is intended to provide insight into the portfolio selection and research process. Factual statements are taken from sources considered reliable, but have not been independently verified for completeness or accuracy. These opinions may not be relied upon as investment advice or as an offer for any particular security. Past performance does not guarantee future results.