Planning for the new normalby
Planning for the new normal is going to be needed. The UK isn’t simply going to go back to normal overnight and accountants may see an influx of new clients needing help through the ups and downs.
Accountants deal with a variety of businesses and now is our opportunity to share best practice from one industry to another. Some professional and trade bodies are offering great advice and others are leaving it to their members. Many clients won’t have any support other than from their accountant.
Some sectors are doing this very well and you can visit your doctor or dentist with reasonable confidence that they are taking all practical precautions. Many of these safeguards can be replicated in the beauty sector and elsewhere, so let’s live up to our role as the “most trusted adviser” and pass on the information and ideas.
How to help your clients
The compulsory introduction of masks in shops, as well as public transport, can be extended by employers in other sectors to staff delivering goods or preparing and serving food. That way, if one member of staff becomes infected, there is some protection for other employees and customers.
Construction workers recommenced early on as much of their work is outside or in well ventilated buildings. Masks and physical distancing can create good barriers as well as travelling to and from sites separately.
However, additional precautions may need to be put in place by those working in the homes of those who are elderly and shielding who may not wish to take any risks at all while their leaking tap is being repaired. Can we help our clients to think through these additional safety measures?
Manufacturing was never officially shut down although many businesses closed due to lower demand or while they figured out how to work safely. Unless there is sufficient space it will be hard to run a production line on half a shift but, in some circumstances, it may be possible to run two shifts with half the people on each or to rent additional space. Can we help our clients to interpret the legislation to suit their premises and workforce?
The hospitality sector has been hard hit and, even now that they are able to reopen, it will be a while before public confidence is restored. VAT breaks may be used to maintain prices with higher margins but these businesses will also have additional costs. It is worth them registering to accept the eating out vouchers even if they don’t currently have plans to open for the whole week, just in case circumstances change.
Additional space requirements mean that many restaurants are no longer viable with a fraction of their usual covers. They can look at outdoor seating over the summer but this will not be practical in the winter so many will remain as just takeaways. They will need our help to set up online ordering systems and other changes. Some businesses may even do better if their kitchens are big enough to handle the new takeaway service alongside their old dining in experience, so we can model these options for them.
While servers and kitchen staff can wear masks it isn’t possible to eat or drink without the customer removing theirs. Owners will need to impose rules on diners and communicate them well. Look at options such as ordering at the table to minimise movement. There will need to be some system for managing trips to the loos and keeping them clean in between. Now is the time to revisit all our hospitality clients to help them to adapt their business within current constraints. We are used to building systems so walk through the whole dining experience with your clients to see what precautions they can practically incorporate into an evening out.
How accountants can run their own offices
Office workers, including accountants, will probably be the last to return to their premises, if at all. Many companies have confirmed that they will be working remotely for at least 12 months. Some accountancy firms already worked from home prior to Covid.
What are the benefits of returning to the office? Does everybody need to return? It may be more appropriate just to improve the current situation with good practice management software, a VOIP phone system and a decent document management system.
Some staff may prefer to work from the office, particularly if they are short of space at home or if they just want a break from homeschooling. The lower numbers may provide enough space or you may need to reorganise desks and meeting rooms. The good old yellow and black tape will help people to maintain distance both consciously and unconsciously. Masks can be used when moving around the office but consider the use of shared facilities such as door handles, kitchens, toilet and even printers and scanners.
Even if staff work remotely how will you handle client meetings? Will they all be happy to work over Zoom and telephone or will there still be some who want to meet in person? Will you even offer in-person meetings?
And what about client paperwork? Incoming post and shoeboxes can be quarantined or disinfected but now may be the time to make the move to a paperless office. Can you get your clients to scan or photograph their papers Can you encourage them to email you their spreadsheets instead of printing out a paper copy? Many clients may be shielding or not wish to deliver their paperwork for other reasons. Will you offer them a collection service or leave it up to them to organise delivery? Now is a great time to discuss new software with clients.
This is a period when we can do so much to help and advise our clients by understanding the regulations and restrictions relevant to their industry and advising them on the best measures to take to run their business safely and practically. We can no longer remain cocooned at home relying on government aid and savings because businesses need to resume in order to pay employees and owners, as well as to provide the goods and services needed further up the supply chain.
We also need to get our own ship in order, whether in the office with physical distancing, masks, washed hands etc or making sure that we can work as efficiently as possible from separate locations. Now is the time to review all our working practices and perhaps implement technology so that we come through this stronger than before.
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Della Hudson was part of the class of 2009. She built up Hudson Business Accountants and Advisers from her kitchen table to a small team of flexible workers with independent premises in Nailsea, near Bristol. The firm ran regular Money Matters seminars and other training and webinars. Della sold the firm in 2017 in order to focus on the...