Why the Covid-19 crisis has been a powerful experience for us
The main thing the lockdown has done for me personally is that I have managed to overcome several ancient prejudices. For example, the mental block I had about everyone in the office, no matter how junior, being able to dial in from home. My younger partners were never worried about that. So, why on earth was I ever worried about that? It was simply an irrational prejudice standing in the way of progress. I can see now that it works well and will lead to an entirely new way of working in the future.
Over the first few weeks of the lockdown, we opened up our phone lines from 7 in the morning to 7 at night to support our clients. Our five most senior people ended up simply taking calls and replying to emails for weeks.
At the start of lockdown, we spent a weekend making sure all clients’ email addresses were on Mail Chimp so that we could reach all clients at once and keep them in the loop about all the various grants and support they could access for their businesses. We thought at that stage that we might end up sending out 5 or 6 emails to the clients explaining what support was available and how to apply for it. At the time of writing, we have actually sent out 39, with no sign of subject matter that needs addressing drying up.
One person has kept the office manned, sometimes two (on separate floors!) to take in any post, scan it in so we can all access it from home, and accept records when dropped off by clients. We can all answer the office phone from home on our mobiles, as the phone system is digital. Clients who have visited the office to drop off paperwork have been very good about social distancing when dropping off – everyone knows the score.
All client meetings have been very successfully conducted via Zoom, as have staff and management meetings.
The whole team has really pulled out the stops to support our clients; they have all performed really well. We have not furloughed anyone; we needed the whole team working flat out. We have been lucky in a way that this disaster did not start mid-year - at that point normally we would have had a new trainee starting and we all agree we would have had difficulty inducting and training a brand new recruit remotely.
Now we have finished formulating the furlough claims for clients for March and April (without charge), we anticipate calmer waters and things might start to get back to normal for us, especially as it seems that agents will not be involved in the applications for the Self Employed Income Support Scheme.
So, what from the last several months will we take forward into the future? Will we go back to normal? No, I don’t think so. We think our way of operating will fit in well with a gradual easing of the lockdown restrictions and we will be able to smoothly transition to our “new normal”. So, what does our new normal look like and what will we do differently?
We have always sent our trainees to Kaplan in Bristol to train in a classroom setting. A bit of a trek from Exeter. We can see, having experienced CPD courses online with Mercia during the lockdown, that we will be doing a lot more online training. And, if our trainees feel that they would rather explore online training in preference to classroom training in pursuit of their professional qualifications, we will be happy to let them go that way. It’s so much more efficient. Another of my ancient prejudices has bitten the dust.
Office parking and working from home
I can see that we will have fewer people (and dogs) working in the office as a matter of course, not least of all me – I quite fancy working from home two days a week and reducing my carbon emissions. Fewer people means less pressure on office space and fewer parking spaces needed.
We have flat screen TVs in the office meeting rooms, which our macs connect to via Apple TV. I can see client meetings (which are often best held face to face, especially for new clients) being a mixture of those physically present and maybe one person working at home who is on the screen.
We’ve always liked being at the cutting edge with technology – we were paperless as long ago as 2004 and we are Xero platinum partners. But this has really given us another push to get to the next level. We are looking at introducing a fully automated practice management system as soon as possible. That will give us more time for bespoke client communications.
It really hit home for us how much goodwill we have been able to generate with regular, supportive client communication, and I can see us all becoming regular bloggers making sure our clients are fully aware of threats they face and opportunities they may have in future, replacing our rather generic monthly e-newsletter which we have sent in the past.
Overall, we are feeling very positive about the future, whilst at the same time being particularly concerned for our fantastic hospitality clients. They have been hit hard and we are looking forward to supporting their businesses with our custom as soon as they are allowed to re-open.