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Secrets of excellence: Life during Covidby
Accounting Excellence Award winners discuss the ways in which they coped with working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic left small businesses in tatters over the past 16 months, which pushed them towards their accountants for support, guidance and clarity as new government diktats and schemes showered around them.
The pandemic forced the profession into overdrive. The usual day-to-day concerns were swamped by non-stop requests and new procedures for grants and furlough schemes, or help with forecasts and plans to accompany guaranteed loan applications. Looking back over this turbulence, we asked our Accounting Excellence 2020 Award winners how they kept their teams and clients on track as the world crumbled around them.
Ria-Jaine Lincoln, Director of The Beauty Accountant - Accounting Excellence Covid-19 Hero Award: Individual 2020 winner
Looking back at the pandemic, you almost switched to autopilot. You had to be as alert as possible to all the information that was coming through. Even if you just logged offline for an afternoon, you could miss an update.
That meant stepping away from some of the compliance tasks, because all the priorities shifted. The focus was more on the immediate and urgent information that clients needed. People’s heads weren’t in the right place to even start reviewing accounts and all of that.
Obviously I had to increase the hours at that time. It was about making sure I had the space where I could work and trying to establish some type of routine that worked around the rest of the household as well as my clients.
I relied a lot on my network. That helped me as an individual to try and avoid the overwhelm and understand that everyone was feeling slightly out of their depth with everything that was happening.
Sometimes those feelings can take over, and then you can lose sight of what you’re doing. Panic isn't good for anybody. So for me, one of the biggest things that helped was being open and honest with other accountants. It was like firefighting really.
Jaye Snell, Founder of Exe Bookkeeping and Payroll Services - Accounting Excellence Bookkeeping Firm of the Year 2020 winner
Initially, our aim was making sure that we made contact with clients to keep them up to date. There were a million different announcements coming through from one hour to the next, so we had to be really hot on passing that information over.
We let our clients know that we were there, even if they just needed somebody to listen to how they were feeling. We gave support outside of just providing a bookkeeping service.
We kept people up to date by email and telephone, and we offered to assist them with the whole process of furlough from start to finish. We also assisted with applying for the grants and helping with cashflow forecasting and loan applications, before the Bounce Back Loans were announced.
We have had difficulties. The worst part was having to tell some people that they weren’t eligible for some of the help. I took it all quite personally because that is basically what our whole practice is built on - that personal service and building up a relationship with the clients. Keeping up with the changes was a little bit tough, but making sure we were subscribed to government alerts helped because as soon as anything was announced, we knew about it.
Warren Munson, Founder and Managing Director of Inspire - Accounting Excellence Medium Firm of the Year 2020 winner
When the pandemic hit, we had already gone paperless. We have always tried to invest heavily in technology, which meant we were able to use our resources to put our arms around our clients.
At Inspire, we talk about building long term relationships. A lot of firms say that, but I think it’s truly in times of crisis that you can be there for clients. You can understand their issues, spend time with them and be the sounding board. It helps builds the relationship with the firm going forward.
Being a smaller firm, we can be nimble and quicker. We made sure that as the announcements were being made, we were releasing details, posts and emails to the business community, and following up the next day with webinars.
We spent a lot of time initially speaking to all of our clients, giving them guidance and support. We also then saw an opportunity to build the Inspire brand within our community.
We were using the strengths we have as a firm to build our brand, and that’s paid dividends.
Everybody in the team has been remarkable in the way in which they’ve risen to the challenge.
Sarah Sallis, Director of The Accountancy Office - Accounting Excellence Sole Practitioner of the Year 2020 winner
We’ve always worked remotely anyway, so we had familiarity with working from home. We could do everything easily, no matter where we were. Our clients were very much on board. We managed to keep in touch with them through telephone calls, emails, webinars and Zoom meetings.
It was a scare factor for many of our clients and something that none of us had experienced before. There was the stress of managing our own business as well as bearing the brunt of our clients’ businesses and trying to look after them all. It was a huge transition, but we came out of it. It was just a case of being organized and conveying as much information as possible as quickly as we could.
The focus was interpreting the information and making sure we were doing it as relevantly as we could. It was a case of us sitting down at every press conference, digesting that information, and trying to relay the guidance to clients as quickly as possible.
All in all we did really well - all of our clients have survived and are really happy with the level of service they’ve received. It just came down to prioritising the needs of the clients, one by one.
Pamela Phillips, Co Founder and Managing Director of de Jong Phillips - Accounting Excellence Small Firm of the Year 2020 winner
When Covid hit, we were already a fully digital firm and totally believed in flexible working. People’s work days had already been built around what suited them. We adjusted well, but we did have challenges.
The biggest thing was the constantly changing guidance on government initiatives to support businesses. Clients were desperately keen to know what everything meant. Suddenly we were having to drop off regular work to do a lot of firefighting - finding out what was available, interpreting it and sharing it. People felt the pressure of that. It’s like another full time job.
The other challenge was thinking about how we could still feel like a team in separate houses. We started having regular team meetings with an added agenda item, which was our feelings. People were able to be open about how they were having a challenging week, whether in regards to their work or personal life.
Training new people remotely was also a challenge. We’ve shifted into scheduling more group training, with one workshop a month to share that knowledge a bit wider. We just have to make sure we’re allowing time for work that maybe would have been easier if you were sitting next to someone.
Sian Kelly, Managing Director of Inform Accounting - 2020 Client Service Award and Digital and Innovative Firm of the Year winner
The adjustment to the pandemic was pretty much business as usual for us. We didn’t all work from home, but because of the way we were set up it was a smooth transition.
I sat everyone down immediately to plan for the worst case scenario. I got them all prepped in the meeting and said this isn’t a problem - you’ve all got laptops, so what would you need to leave the office with if I do tell you one day next week, we’re closing?
Because we’re 100% cloud-based, it wasn’t an issue. It was just the practicalities of taking your equipment home with you. The team were all working from home literally the day after we said we were closing. It was just sitting in a different place and getting used to talking to each other in a different way.
The real challenge area of working remotely that we’ve identified is there’s more of a training need. With our new recruitments, we do want them to be in an office with someone there to guide them at least three days a week, which we are now putting into place. It makes a big difference to how up to speed they get and how quickly. Allowing space for some face to face training gives a much greater level of support than being on Google Meets all the time.