How accountants are starting to return to work

The way is now clear for some businesses to re-open their premises, so how are accountants planning to return to work?

This week marks the first step in the UK returning to work, with non-essential retailers in England allowed to re-open. Many businesses are starting to make plans for returning to work, whether that will be over the next few weeks, the Autumn, or 2021.

On 11 May, the government issued guidance for businesses to help Britons back to work. That guidance highlights five key points:

  1. Work from home, if you can.
  2. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment in consultation with workers or trade unions.
  3. Maintain social distancing of two-metres where possible.
  4. Manage the transition risk where distancing isn’t possible.
  5. Reinforce cleaning processes.

Here accountants explain how they are planning for a return to the office, and what working life will be like after the pandemic.

I’m splitting my team into ‘bubbles’

Samantha White, CEO and founder,  My Credit Controllers

We have managed to secure a larger office in the same building we were already in. This will allow us to work in a more socially distanced way. I’ve divided my staff into teams – two social bubbles, so to speak.

We’ll have half the team in one week, the other half in the next week, and we’ll alternate one week on and one week off, working at home and working at the office. We’ll also be staggering work times to try to minimise the risk to the staff.

We have one member of staff that is shielding at the moment, and another whose family member is shielding, so I’m mindful of the fact that their situation is different from other team members’. I’ve put them both on separate teams, so if they don’t return straightaway, the teams are evenly resourced.

I’m looking ahead to holidays and other things that are booked into the calendar to make sure that we always have three to four people on the team at a time.

To prepare them, I’ve sent my staff layouts of what the office is going to look like, the PPE we’re going to have, and some new procedures around using communal areas, such as the kitchen.

My team have all been working from home since 17 March. They’re a little bit apprehensive about going back. The building opens next week, but we haven’t set a date for a return to the office yet.

We’re probably going to look at going back in from July, but we’re waiting for a bit more government guidance. I think it would be good for the team’s mental health to get back to some sort of normality.

Next steps: Keep consulting with team members to mentally prepare them for a return to the office.

Verdict: Increase office space, create new procedures, and rotate your team between the office and remote working.

Office work will be creative work – other work will be remote

Farid Gasanov, founder, Q Accountants

Our office contract ended in March, so it was a good opportunity for us to reassess our space. We were renegotiating with our previous premises, but in the end, we decided to move.

We move into our new office on 1 July, but we agreed with our provider that, if the government advice is still against working in offices, the contract won’t start.

I think there will be a big change in contracts for leases because people didn’t really think about force majeure before, but now I think we’ll see a lot more clauses that address that.

We were already allowing people to work from home some of the time. Now that we’re having to work from home every day, we will look at allowing it more. Initially, because people weren’t used to working at home, it wasn’t that productive, but eventually, everyone got used to it and now productivity has gone up massively. They can take on more clients.

We are still working out our transition plans, but I think we’re likely to have a model where people work from home on set days – two-to-three days a week – and won’t come to the office every day. The office work will be more of the creative work, when we’re brainstorming, talking to people through ideas that we have.

Working at home is all about focus mode. I think many businesses will follow this model, including us. I’ve discussed it with the team, and everyone is happy to work from home on certain days, so we’re going to start scheduling office time and homeworking time. By doing this, we should be able to expand the team without taking on more office space.

Next steps: Finalise transition plans and develop a new model for working with staff.

Verdict: Schedule home working and office time for all staff, and optimise the office space for creative, collaborative work.

A smaller central office – with shared satellite offices for those that need them

Alastair Barlow, Founding partner, Flinder

We had the relative luxury of being able to work from home at the drop of a hat. We actually let our team know we were shutting the office at 10 o’clock that night. The whole team is kitted out with laptops and mobiles, so they can work anywhere. Everything’s in the cloud.

I don’t think we’re going to be going back in until September. We were at an opportune time that we could exit our office. Our view was that for the four or five months we would be locked down, it would be a complete and utter waste of cost. We’ve polled our team to see what they want about the office of the future, and their view is that they could work more flexibly going forward. Most of them want two-to-three days in the office and two-to-three days remote, so we don’t really need an office as large as we had.

That’s where we’ll ultimately get to – with a smaller office that the team will come in and out of, and won’t be there as often. There will be greater emphasis on coming in on specific days, such as pod teams being in on certain days, or ‘all hands’ meetings kicking the week off, social events, those sort of things.

The first instance will be to get all of the team in for about half a day in an office in London, going through the plan for the week and the break-off sessions we’ll be having remotely, and then we’ll disperse for the rest of the week.

Where our people are struggling more to work from home, either because they don’t have the space or they prefer to work in certain environments, we might hire a small shared space around 10 minutes from their house. I think all firms will have some people who can’t work from home as effectively. You have to address that for the good of your people.

Next steps: Find new office space and prepare for the first team meeting after lockdown.

Verdict: Think about whether you need that office space. Make sure you assess workers’ needs for remote working.

David Nunn is Content Manager at AAT.

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