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Is it the end of the meeting?

Philip Fisher asks whether face-to-face meetings will ever come back into vogue now that accountants have discovered the benefits of video conferencing.

30th Jun 2020
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At the beginning of the year, this columnist was very much old school when it came to many areas of practice management. In particular, he had always preferred to do his business face-to-face.

That applied equally to meeting with clients to discuss difficult issues, having a session with fellow partners to discuss anything and everything from minor disciplinary issues to the future of the practice or working his charm in an attempt to sell the firm’s skillsets to prospective clients or friendly folks from other professions who might be able to assist in the generation of new work.

Perhaps a relatively forward-thinking accountant should be ashamed to admit it, but if anyone had suggested that each and every one of these meetings could be replaced by video equivalents with little or no downside, there is every chance that you would have found him laughing in their face.

To be fair, it seems unlikely that anybody in the profession over the age of 25 would have thought differently. The only possible exceptions might have been those who were used to dealing with people overseas, where the economics made it more sensible to carry out most interactions at long range.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a conversation with a couple of friendly clients/contacts which would normally have taken place over a congenial curry by the Tower of London. Instead, we were respectively enjoying a G&T, a glass of white wine and a soft drink in Kent, Cambridge and London.

At some point, the discussion moved on to prospects for the future. One of my friends is a solicitor in a good-sized firm, a little below the Magic Circle. He surprised us by announcing that their lovely new offices with great views of the Thames have already reopened but at a strict 10% capacity.

It isn’t difficult to work out that this makes no commercial sense and we began to talk about what might happen in the long run. One credible possibility is that they will ditch the office and replace it with something considerably smaller, operating almost every aspect of their business from home.

Clearly, there will be situations in which it is necessary to meet face-to-face, but these could be surprisingly few and far between if the will is there.

What works for solicitors would certainly apply to accountants and it is quite possible that we would have even less need for physical meetings than the lawyers.

It is amazing that, in only a few months, buzzwords like Skype, Zoom and FaceTime have become the norm, with meetings that no one could have imagined might work successfully at a distance proving to be just as efficacious as those with everybody gathered in the same room.

This is becoming even more significant for our own industry since, despite the Prime Minister’s boastful performance in Parliament and on TV yesterday, the rules for accountants remain the same.

We should continue to work at home for the foreseeable future. There must be every chance that this could continue into the autumn and perhaps even next year if his attempts to release lockdown fails. 

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By Paul Crowley
03rd Jul 2020 17:20

No. Humans like to meet with humans

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