Maria Considine King. (Photo via Commonwealth Financial Network)Advisors are very much in the caregiving profession” and need a break from that role sometimes, King says. (Photo via Commonwealth Financial Network)

“Zoom fatigue is real,” Commonwealth Financial Network’s Maria Considine King says.

After Commonwealth’s second annual Summit for Women Advisors — held online this year on June 23 and 24 — King, the firm’s senior vice president of practice management, has some advice to share on beating the mental and emotional fatigue brought on by constant virtual meetings and the other realities of serving clients from home during the pandemic.

With the women’s event wrapped up, King took the time to highlight how Commonwealth is encouraging its advisors to improve their remote-working lives and what it learned by hosting a virtual event. She also discussed what women need to thrive in the advisory industry.

“We think it’s important for our field force to reflect the communities they serve, so increasing our proportion of women advisors — as well as the numbers of other underrepresented groups — is critical to our ability to effectively serve end clients for years to come,” she told ThinkAdvisor.

Commonwealth has more than 460 female advisors, who represent about 19% of its total number of affiliated independent advisors. Its home-office staff is 40% female and includes more than 360 women. The firm is in the process of recruiting a chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Here are some key takeaways from our interview.

THINKADVISOR: What top advice do you have about working remotely?

Maria Considine King: As for what is working with work from home, we are pleased with how smoothly it has been adopted, both in the field and at the home office. What works? A lot! 

Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings have been critical to maintaining connections and keeping business flowing. We have learned a few tips: 

First, give folks permission to not be on video for every single call. We’ve all read that Zoom fatigue is real, so give folks (yourself included) the latitude to turn off the camera every now and then and reduce the strain of being “on” all day.

Second, encourage folks to limit meetings, so they are not in meetings all day and can end their day on time. Some of our departments have introduced loose guidelines to not have meetings before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. 

It’s not always possible, but if a meeting can be moved to another time so that there is a buffer at the beginning and end of each day, that is preferred. 

Third, encourage folks to get up and walk around. It’s very easy to sit for the entire day when you’re at home. There are no meeting rooms to go to, no colleague’s office to drop in on. 

That Zoom meeting you don’t need to be on video for? Participate by phone and take a walk while you’re on it. 

How is Commonwealth supporting advisors today, as they care for clients? 

Even before the pandemic was fully underway, we were concerned about compassion fatigue setting in for advisors should the coronavirus take over as it has or the markets fall. 

Advisors are very much in the caregiving profession, shouldering the worries and trials of clients as well as family and friends. While not specific to female advisors, we began hosting — and will continue to host — Caring Conversations with advisors in COVID-19 hot spots. 

These are moderated calls that allow advisors to step out of their caregiving role for a brief period and share their experiences and receive support, compassion and understanding from their peers. 

In addition, we hold weekly all-Commonwealth calls on Wednesday afternoons to give an update on the coronavirus, the markets and the home office, as well as invite outside speakers to give their perspectives. 

Recently, [financial advice author] Nick Murray and [wealth psychology consultant] Kathleen Burns Kingsbury have joined these calls, and we look forward to more great guest speakers in the coming weeks and months. 

Finally, we are beginning a series called Commonwealth’s Summer of Wellness, which is a holistic exploration of physical and mental wellness that will feature live webinars with inspiring speakers, enthusiastic fitness professionals and an integrative medicine physician, all helping members of the Commonwealth community feel their very best.

What are your three takeaways (from the recent event) on how to help female advisors excel?

First, women in this business are eager to share what they have learned and what works and what hasn’t, so that women coming up in the industry can have an easier time of it. 

To this end, Commonwealth is designing a mentor program for advisors to connect with those in different stages of their careers who have wisdom to share. Having a mentor, regardless of your career stage, is critical to the achievement of your goals. 

Second, having a community of female peers is vital for many to feel supported and validated. Seeing women who are successful while managing the responsibilities of business, family and self is inspirational! 

It confirms that the path they are on is not only doable but also desirable. Actively seeking opportunities like the summit to connect with other women leaders is vital for women to stay engaged, and sharing your story contributes to the community. 

Third, being flexible and adaptable seems to come naturally to this audience. This applies not only to participating in a conference via Zoom rather than in person, but also to their approaches to their service models, technology adoption, staffing strategies — you name it. 

Engaging in creative brainstorming with like-minded peers can lead to solutions that you couldn’t conceive of on your own.

Zoom shot of Commonwealth Financial Women's Summit Participants in Commonwealth’s Summit for Women Advisors.

How did Commonwealth design the virtual event? 

It really is an event designed for and by our women advisors. Through feedback from last year’s summit, a survey distributed earlier in the year, and individual conversations, we learned what was important for them to hear and experience, and we built the agenda to reflect those interests. 

We wanted to continue the most popular elements of the live conference — like time to network — so we included breakout rooms for advisors to connect with one another. We also were sure to include a session with Commonwealth leadership to talk about what is top of mind at the home office. 

We even held a virtual yoga session to kick off the first day! For the second day, we started off with a meditation to help folks transition from their working mindset into a receptive learning frame of mind. All of these were ideas that came from the advisors themselves.   

What did you learn from hosting the online event? 

First, it is easy to go over your time allotment. Without the physical reminders of folks squirming in their seats or doors opening, time can get away from you. So, staying on time is key. And, if anything, ending early is best. 

Traditional 40- to 50-minute sessions can work if they are engaging, but you probably want to aim for a 20- to 30-minute set. 

Second, although the event is being held virtually, you still need to make time (5-10 minutes) between sessions for folks to refresh themselves, stand up and stretch, get the dog out of the room — whatever. Even though folks can theoretically stay in their seats for an hour or two, they aren’t going to, so be sure to allow for that time. 

Third, provide closure to presenters. At the end of a session, it simply ends. There is no feedback from the audience, no way to sense the reaction to what was shared. 

There’s just … silence. So, remembering to gather presenters together at the end of the day to give them a chance to discuss their session and be part of a larger group to celebrate closure is important. 

Which sessions were most popular and why? 

The most highly rated sessions were the opening, the conversation among Commonwealth leaders, and a panel with three advisors discussing how they found and maintain their own sense of balance. 

The popularity of the opening was due, I believe, to our simply having an event rather than canceling once we realized an in-person program would not be possible. 

Advisors were grateful for the time they could spend together and for the signal from Commonwealth that we are committed to strengthening and supporting women in the field. 

The conversation among Commonwealth leadership gives the audience insight into what is top of mind for us. Sharing the issues we’re focused on lets advisors know we are moving in a direction that keeps their interests as business owners top of mind. 

The panel conversation was very well received because the advisors shared their experiences dealing with real-life pressures and events in an authentic way. Many of the attendees could see themselves reflected in the women on the panel.

Hearing many of their own stories being told and validated provided a sense of relief and affirmation.

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