Providing virtual support through COVID-19
For many, working remotely fulltime is a new prospect and a difficult adjustment. But by adjusting the business approach, acclimatising becomes a lot easier. In part one of a two-part series, Alex Falcon Huerta illustrates her firm’s initial approach to helping her team and clients through the current crisis.
Our first and most important move was to review our client list to see who is most vulnerable. Those with face to face contact who were shut down first, such as cafes and gyms, we agreed needed immediate support.
To control the queries and emails and avoid being overwhelmed, we set up a dedicated web page which shows updates from HMRC. This provides clients with a fast response. We anticipated a large volume of queries from clients, particularly regarding government plans and the help available.
Free cashflow forecasting via Fluidly was then set up to check which clients will need funding. HMRC are not fast and their incentives might not cover the cash burn of the business. If a client stopped trading now, they may only last until May 2020. Cashflow forecasting is critical.
We partnered with Capitalise for alternative funding if HMRC is unable to deliver funds fast. Capitalise has a large range of products to suit client needs. They work closely with us to ensure the funds are in client bank accounts within a few days. I would expect HMRC’s system, based on experience, to be slow.
Remote working app stack
We use these tools to stay connected and to ensure we communicate what's going on with the clients and the team. When you're in the office, it feels easier to have a quick conversation. Working from home (WFH), you have to adapt to an isolated working culture. Teaching and educating clients and the team about a new mode of communication to keep focused is important. You don't want to overwhelm people with constant calls and video meetings as it takes the focus away from the work they need to deliver.
Our recommended list:
- Slack: Used for inhouse conversations. We regularly update each other on what's happening with clients. It removes the need for emails amongst the team and stops overcrowding of inboxes. As the physical face-to-face element has been removed, communications can be quite busy, but Slack copes well with this.
- Zoom: Used for virtual meetings. We’ve tried and tested a few others but this seems to be the tool that has less down time when we have multiple people on the call. Skype and Google Hangouts can be quick fixes also, but when you use them often, you start to quickly work out which one is the better option.
- Youcanbook.me: Our online scheduling tool where people can book a time slot. The calendar is controlled by us, but the client can access a time that suits them.
- Dashlane & Google Authenticator: These are tools that provide better security for the apps we use.
- Confluence: A collaboration tool that allows the team to view ‘wikis’ per client and documented internal processes. If the team gets stuck, they have a virtual guide.
- Loom: We record videos and send ‘how-tos’ to our clients.
- Google Suite: All of our client information is kept on Google drive so we can all access data at any point and share information where needed.
Adjusting alongside changes
Along with tech tools, these are areas where we implemented change to make the adjustment to remote working easier for everyone, not just the team.
- WFH Policy: We reiterated the policies in the business so staff were refreshed on what it actually means. Working from home doesn't mean you're ‘not available’. Adhering to company standards on communication and productivity are required and make sure we are all on the same page.
- Data Protection and Confidentiality policies with the team: It was essential to reiterate this since we work with confidential data. We are governed by data protection laws and regulations and, therefore, require heightened discussions around keeping data safe and secure.
- WFH Equipment: We ensured the team had a work area at home, desk, secure wifi and anything required to make their home environment a workable one. As we don't really know how long this is going to take, we needed to ensure that WFH was viable. We supply the team with a laptop and phone anyway, but equally essential.
- Contact Numbers: The team updated email signatures and ensured contacts numbers were easily seen and correct.
- We extended out of hours and dedicated time for COVID-19 cases to accommodate the added pressures.
- We let clients know when making calls that dogs/kids etc may be in the background via our ‘out of office’ reply.
- As our postman used to hand-deliver to us, we left a note in the window to say we are isolating and are no longer in the office.
In a time when many businesses are turned upside down, it is important to remain focused and prioritise what's important. Try to provide relevant information as quickly as possible with the least amount of disruption. But most importantly, make sure your team is coping well, and your clients know what you are doing to help them.
Part two will cover how to boost team motivation and morale, and further support of clients and local businesses.
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The founder of Soaring Falcon Accountancy, Alex Falcon Huerta FCCA is a Xero MVP and member of ACCA's international assembly. With a background as an accountant working with some of the most agile and progressive small businesses in the UK, Alex is an early technology adopter who set up her practice to accelerate change both for her clients and...