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Monday, Jan 30, 2023
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Finance Ahead of Curve

For Encino accounting firm Rose Snyder & Jacobs LLC, the work-from-home model has shown promise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, for some accountants, there’s no place like the office. Alan Kazden, a partner in the company’s tax and accounting practices, told the Business Journal, “with the stress that my clients are going through right now … I need to be at the top of my game. And to be at the top of my game, I need to be in my office, not at home.” On May 26, the L.A. County Department of Public Health approved the region’s transition into Phase 2 of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-step plan to restart the state’s economy. That included lifting restrictions on office employers, enabling them to return to their workplaces under the condition that doing so is necessary for normal business operations. Because the financial services sector has transitioned so smoothly to remote work, many firms aren’t in an immediate rush to get back to the office – according to a report from Deloitte, Capital One disclosed it will not have any broad return to work until at least September. That hasn’t stopped some local firms from planning what a return might look like. Following the county’s approval, Kazden said, Rose Snyder & Jacobs notified its employees they were free to come to the office if they’d like but not required. Turnout has been low so far. “Only one more person came in last week,” Kazden said. “We’re blessed that the financial industry can, with today’s technology, work remotely so well.” While nearly all of Rose Snyder & Jacobs’ 55 employees have been working remotely since mid-March, Kazden has shown up at the office daily, along with a managing partner and an administrator. He conceded that partners are seeing slight dips in productivity, creativity and team synergy from remote employees, and said the company will eventually start requiring people to return. There isn’t a concrete date, but partners are evaluating early July as a possibility. “Some people have underlying health issues. We’ll probably delay them even longer,” he said. “The biggest challenge is – we don’t know what to do with the parents. There’s a chance they may not have anywhere until the end of the year to send their kids.” Spatial planning To ensure safety and social distancing compliance when employees return, Rose Snyder & Jacobs has hired a spatial planning firm to reconfigure its 13,000-square-foot office space at 15821 Ventura Blvd. Kazden said the planners assigned certain hallways as one-way corridors and are keeping some spaces behind closed doors altogether. He said the company’s cubicles already keep everybody six feet or further apart. As for office protocol, masks are required outside of personal offices; employees must take body temperature tests before entering the office; and visitors are not allowed with the exception of postal workers. Kazden said the rules will affect how the company communicates with its clients, at least temporarily, but most have been happy teleconferencing during the pandemic. Further west at Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. in Woodland Hills, Managing Director Jason Sands said his branch is content working from home. “As long as Los Angeles County is still under coronavirus guidelines, we’re going to stay home,” he said. Sands said the current office layout, which spreads 15 employees throughout 4,000-square-feet, is already adherent to social distancing rules. “We’re all in private offices for the most part, so (reconfiguration) wouldn’t be necessary,” he explained. Rick Pearson, a tenant rep with commercial real estate firm Cresa in Woodland Hills, told the Business Journal he thinks financial service firms would be smart to approach the return to the office slowly. “I’m talking about, in the next six months, slowly bring people back, and only the people who want to come back. I haven’t heard of any of our clients who are forcing people back,” he said. On the topic of interior remodels, he said he’s advising clients to do nothing yet. “Don’t spend a bunch of capital reconfiguring your space or buying new furniture because, in six months to a year, we might have more information and make different decisions,” he said. “When there’s a vaccine, are people going to care?” Pearson said working from home has been relatively easy for the financial service industry, so firms have no reason to rush back. Moreover, a significant fraction of any given company’s employees won’t be eager to return to the office, either out of fear of contracting the virus or simply because they’ve preferred working from home. When people do start to trickle back into the workplace, Pearson suggested employers work with their existing spaces. “Maybe leave every other cubicle empty,” he said. Pearson said his Cresa office is small, and most working spaces are divided by at least one wall. “My assistant can work from home as long as she wants. It’s worked for us just fine,” he said. He added financial service firms tend to feature personal offices over cubicles, and therefore should have less trouble achieving a safe workplace. Parking lot savings As 2020 grinds on amid the pandemic, some office employers will be forced to act as they contend with expiring lease agreements. For companies in such situations, Pearson said: “Kick the can down the road. Try to get a one-year lease to give you time to where, ideally, you get back to work, slowly open your doors over the next six months, and then take the whole year of 2021 and you learn, gather information and talk to your staff. I don’t want to be in a position to make any long-term real estate decisions until the end of 2021.” Kazden, the accountant, said Rose Snyder & Jacobs is considering downsizing on real estate – “we’ve been throwing that around … once a month when we write out the rent check,” – but won’t make any decisions for a while. That isn’t the case for the company parking lot. “We have cut our parking in half,” Kazden said. “We have to take a minimum 20 spots with our lease. We were paying for 55 spots, but we cut it down to 20. … We’re saving about $6,000 a month.”

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