Up and down the country, millions of people (lucky enough to be able to work remotely) are creating makeshift home offices – dragging tables into corners and choosing the right chair. 

“Businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible.”

– UK Government, Guidance for employers and businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19), 18th March 2020

As you’ll already be aware, the latest coronavirus advice from the government is to stop non-essential contact with others. That includes avoiding the office if you’re able to work from home. In the next few days, the over 70s and those considered ‘high risk’ are expected to be advised to stay at home. For these people there’ll be no option but to work from home or not at all. There are around half a million over 70 still working in the UK and the ‘high risk’ group will be significantly higher. It does, however, seem like a matter of time before working from home becomes mandatory for all.

Woman working at kitchen table

For our recommendations on useful technology for remote working and to see a tortoise running our support desk (which is in no way a reflection of our excellent response times), see Part 2 – COVID-19: How to run your practice from home 

The Big 4 get ahead of the game

As soon as self isolation was first mentioned, companies around the world have been trialling or mandating remote working. On Friday, KPMG put their remote working capabilities to the test with around 11,000 people working from home. Also ahead of the game, Deloitte announced on Monday that all UK employees should work from home from Tuesday. Quick note – the London-based Deloitte employee that had a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the beginning of March has since been discharged from hospital and has made a full recovery. Ernst & Young and PwC had also allowed employees to work from home if they could.

“We are fully supportive of agile working and have the technology and capabilities in place to enable all our people to work remotely and securely.”

Deloitte update, March 18th 2020.

Over in the technology world, the other Big 4 are naturally leading the way with their response to coronavirus. Last week, Google, Amazon and Facebook recommended that employees in every country work from home if their job allows. Twitter had already gone one step further and made remote working mandatory for all employees globally.

Remote working is here to stay – for a while at least

The Department of Health has advised that the UK is likely to hit its peak number of coronavirus cases in about three months, between late May and late June. That doesn’t mean we’ll be out of the woods by autumn. The coronavirus crisis could last until next spring and up to 80% of people are expected to get it, though the vast majority will only get relatively mild symptoms. As such, treating home working as a temporary measure will be to our detriment.

This makes it vital that you put the right systems and procedures in place for remote working as soon as possible. This comes at a time when your clients are going to need your support more than ever. So it’s crucial that your practice continues to operate as usual – or even better. 

How to prepare for home working 

Identify how each person will maintain ‘business as usual’ from home

This means digging deeper than simply making sure each person has a workspace and access to their emails. You should aim to continue delivering the same level of service to your clients, and not cut back or compromise on any of your offering. 

How will your team:

  • store, access and share documents and data – securely?
  • stay in contact with clients?
  • keep an eye on work in progress and completed?
  • log the time they spend on work?
  • communicate internally?
  • cope with the inevitable increase in client questions and concerns?
  • onboard new clients?
  • work on the same things together?

“If you are not already doing so, allow your employees to telecommute. Companies that allow for remote work — right now — will have the necessary tacit knowledge, planning, and infrastructure in place to quickly transition more operations if that becomes necessary.”

– MIT Sloan Review, How Companies Can Respond to the Coronavirus, March 9th 2020

Plan for the worst-case scenario  

While there may still be people working out of your office at the moment, it’s not out of the realms of possibility for every member of your team to have to self-isolate at the same time. If the predictions are correct, it’s also likely that a percentage of your team will be off sick at the same time too.

Make contingency plans for 100% remote working and covering absences, asking yourself:

  • Which people have the skills and knowledge to cover for each other?
  • Who can take on extra admin if your admin staff are off?
  • How will you juggle filing deadlines and maintain client support while operating at 80%, 50%, even 20% capacity?
  • How would you manage a whole practice working from home?
  • Is there anywhere across your practice that you can save time, giving you extra time to take on the work of others?

Have a test run and collect feedback

Plan a day where everyone at your practice works from home. Getting your ‘practice day’ in before offices are asked to close entirely means you can resolve any issues in good time. While it’s probably not feasible to cut your capacity for a day, run through scenarios with your team and make important decisions now to avoid problems, confusion or downtime further down the line.

“You will find out where your deficiencies lie when you look at the results of your employee survey. If you expect your work-from-home effort to succeed, fixing those deficiencies is imperative.”

– Forbes, How To Prepare For The Coronavirus Work From Home Requirement, March 13th 2020

We are all in uncharted territory and we’ll all adapt in different ways. So it’s important to gather honest and comprehensive feedback from every staff member on your remote-working trial. Create a free online questionnaire if you have a large, or multiple offices. It might be a good idea to gather feedback a few weeks into home-working too, once people have settled into it. 

Take advantage of cloud-based software

If you’ve worked from home without cloud-based software, you’ll be familiar with – and will have likely cursed – VPN. Slow, patchy, incredibly annoying. With an online system, there’s no difference to the speed of your system or its capabilities, whether you’re in the office or at home. 

But it’s not just speed and reliability that has thousands of accountants flocking to practice management software every year. And it’s not just a great way to bring your team together when they’re working in different places. The overriding benefit is one of saving time, taking jobs off your plate and freeing up hours and hours of time each week. Which, in our current situation, you’ll no doubt spend helping to protect businesses – both your clients’ and your own.  

For those recommendations on useful technology for remote working (and Rachel’s tortoise), see Part 2 – COVID-19: How to run your practice from home 

To explore the option of cloud-based practice management, visit accountancymanager.co.uk or call 01926 355 366.

Current advice for employers from the government – 18th March 2020:

  • businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible
  • if someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow the advice to stay at home
  • employees should be reminded to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues
  • frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products
  • employees will need your support to adhere to the recommendation to stay at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) to others
  • those who follow advice to stay at home will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first day of their absence from work
  • employers should use their discretion concerning the need for medical evidence for certification for employees who are unwell. This will allow GPs to focus on their patients
  • employees from defined vulnerable groups should be strongly advised and supported to stay at home and work from there if possible

Taken from Guidance for employers and businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)