Partner An unnamed firm
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The implications of 1m+ for accountants


Is a return to the office helped in any way by the introduction of 1m+? The Imprudent Accountant worries about safety in the office, even with the new proposals.

29th Jun 2020
Partner An unnamed firm
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I am an accountant. I am scared.

The two statements might seem unrelated, but after enduring many years of training and practical experience in the assessment and avoidance of risk for firms and clients, the second is a natural reaction to the first in the current political, social and economic climate.

Mixed government messages

The Prime Minister’s closest friends and Cabinet colleagues have probably given up suggesting that his coronavirus messages are anything but contradictory and confusing. The dear old PM summed up my concerns as an accountant who likes to have clear law to follow when he announced in Parliament that “we will ask people to follow guidance on social contact instead of legislation”. I like legislation because you know where you stand (2m from anybody).

The recent announcement that “our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end”, combined with the message that we need to take care is a perfect example the confusingly contradictive advice we are being given. The final nail in the coffin was that gorgeous phrase: “we will continue to trust in the common sense and the community spirit of the British people to follow this guidance”.

Public behaviour

The most obvious signs of change have come from those trustworthy, commonsensical members of the community on the beaches of Bournemouth, in Liverpool and the parks and streets of London, where all semblance of social distancing has been forgotten as people party the day and night, regardless of the danger to their own health and their families, friends and workmates.

This might seem like great fun, were it not for the alarm bells ringing in America, Brazil and even countries that are taking the greatest care such as Germany and Australia. People are getting sick as a result of relaxations that, in some countries (aside from Brazil or America), seem far less risky than the British plans.

Lead by example

If media speculation is believed, the problem is that vital decisions are now taken on the fly by one man, without any prior planning or reference to the Cabinet or the scientists who were blamed for most of the problems in the early days, and who raise concerns over recent relaxation proposals. And the man alleged by the media making big decisions is Dominic Cummings – the human embodiment of how to create and flout government guidelines and legislation.

The irony of the fanfares around reopening the nation is that instructions for accountants remain exactly the same – we should still work at home if it is possible to do so. And to confuse things even more, the standard social distancing rule is that people should still remain 2m apart where this is possible, i.e. in accountants’ offices.

I know that one or two of the larger firms have begun opening offices, although maybe be for the mental health of those being driven crazy by staying at home. I doubt many have seriously considered the impact of social distancing regarding home office accommodation. Given the reckless way people are behaving ahead of the next relaxation, it is likely that some colleagues will now or soon be carrying the coronavirus, even if they do not know it.

Measuring distancing guidelines

Even if firms plan to spend significant sums to introduce screens, signage and other necessary accoutrements, they will need to reduce the office capacity very considerably. In reality, there will still be many accidental interactions in corridors and lifts etc. that could spread the virus at 2m distancing, let alone 1m+.

More realistically, the work at home message is safer and doesn’t seem to be harming output significantly. Given that the experts seem to think a second wave is inevitable and, even if the summer sun delays it, this winter is a racing certainty, my home office is going to get good use for the rest of 2020.

Replies (4)

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By Calculatorboy
03rd Jul 2020 00:45

Dont worry so much , death gets us all, besides if youre under 50 you have a higher probability of being killed in a car accident than from that virus.

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By Casterbridge Hardy LLP
03rd Jul 2020 10:14

Life without risk is no life .

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By Jimess
03rd Jul 2020 11:25

We have just opened the office for two days per week for now and work at home the rest of the week. The planning and work we had to do to get the office "Covid-secure" (which I use reservedly as I cannot see how anyone can say anywhere is "Covid-secure") for just two days was phenomenal. I am also hearing that from clients who are looking at re-opening their businesses and finding that when you dig deep into the guidance it is extremely difficult to put into practice in a working environment, particularly if you have staff who have underlying conditions, are in a high risk group etc who need more consideration. When you do actually get people working together again you have to factor in the natural tendency to enter another persons space to offer help if they are querying something, the automatic tendency to just do what you have always done before lockdown happened and inadvertently moving into someone else's space as a result. It is a very, very difficult thing for people to manage, and some find it quite stressful. I previously thought the rooms in our offices were quite spacious, but when you apply the 2 metre/1 metre plus distancing and look at how people need to use the space and move around to do their work - desks, chairs, photocopier, franking machines, card payment machines, printers, filing cabinets etc, etc there is really not enough space to effectively manage the social distancing rules - so the number of people in the office at any one time is restricted for the time being. I have actually found that I am more productive working at home, I am not bound by the 9 to 5 ethic at home and can start earlier in the morning or work later on a night if it suits. I still think there is a need for the office, but I suspect I will be working part home/part office for some time yet.

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By patricia caputo
03rd Jul 2020 16:42

As someone identified to be at risk of serious illness if I catch the virus I have followed the guidance carefully. I have not found anything confusing at all.

The guidance is still quite clear that we should stay at home if possible.

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