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Staffing in a post-pandemic world

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Philip Fisher continues his overview of accountancy in practice when we finally reach the elusive new normal with consideration of staffing needs. You may have too many, too few or the wrong mix for growth?

28th Jun 2021
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Some staffing issues are common to all, where others will be drastically different depending upon the nature of the practice and the impact of the pandemic. Firms will largely fall into two categories.

Happy days

There may be a good number of firms that have either consolidated and improved their fee income over the last 15 months or, at least, kept it steady.

For those lucky practitioners, staffing issues are likely to revolve around recruitment, improving profitability and efficiency.

Hard times

At the other end of the scale, many with particular niche clients that have suffered badly through the pandemic might well be, if not actually struggling to survive, finding life very difficult and facing tough choices.

Strategic overview

This might be split into both short-term and longer-term visions.

In the short term, ignoring the lucky few most of us will be looking to consolidate, cut staffing costs and work as efficiently as possible to ensure that profit shares are maintained or improved without compromising the quality of work or the ability to bring in new fees.

Looking further into the future, this might be the time to consider how best to expand, whether by adding on new practices, new skill sets or merely finding additional talented members of staff and partners.

Partners and professional staff

Frequently, when those managing firms of accountants look at staffing, they entirely neglect partners.

That could be a big mistake since partners are the most expensive assets that any partnership has. While it might lead to a number of difficult conversations, the best way of ensuring future profitability can be to cut the number of partners.

On the other hand, the best partners are worth their weight in gold, possibly even literally if they aren’t too hefty and have a big client following.

The key is to get the balance right.

Next in line will be members of professional staff, where broadly the same considerations apply on a smaller scale. By employing fewer more talented individuals there should be real opportunities to push up bottom line profits. That is easier said than done, particularly when other, bigger firms will be sniffing around and attempting to recruit your most talented workers.

Support staff

As suggested previously, the days when support workers represented a really significant proportion of the overall workforce are long gone.

Having discovered that working from home is generally both efficient and enjoyable for the majority of people, many support staff such as secretaries, receptionists and the like could now be surplus to requirements.

This conclusion and the implementation of a reduction strategy could lead to much dissension and many tears but for those wishing to run their practices optimally, it is just a sad fact of life.

Preparation and costs of 'rationalisation'

Losing a member of staff is often going to prove expensive, particularly where they have been long serving and long-suffering. Beyond the heartache could be significant termination payments and the prospect of legal fees in the run-up to an employment tribunal. Therefore, it is necessary to take the greatest care and proper legal advice before cutting staff.

Expansion

It seems unlikely that many practices have been seriously looking to expand since the arrival of coronavirus last year but in order to prosper, this should be a key part of future strategy.

In some cases, firms may simultaneously be contracting and expanding, cutting out dead wood at the same time as injecting new talent and skills with which to take things forward when the world finally settles down.

Conclusion

There are worrying and exciting times ahead and even if new viral mutations delay normalisation for a few more months. It would be nice to think that by 2022 we will all be looking at the world very differently and planning for a return to those happy days with just the right balance of committed, talented employees and partners.

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Maytuna
By DJKL
30th Jun 2021 13:09

Whilst on paper non client poaching clauses for partners and staff ought to exist, the reality is there can often be unforeseen consequences arising from such cullings that can make you worse off post event- the grass is not always greener and forecast profits can be fragile.

When I left the firm I worked with in the late 1990s I suspect if I had gone to A N Other CA firm I could have walked away with circa 50% of my prior client list and if I had set up by myself at least 25%, luckily for my previous employers I went to industry and after a few years when I did set up a small part time practice we were still frienfdy and I would not solicit my connections with my former firm's clients, but not everyone would apply the same ethics.

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