During March 2020, when it became clearer by the day that drastic action would need to be taken by the UK Government to deal with the pandemic, we began to make plans to work from home as a team.
Normally, our firm is based at Hartham Park in Wiltshire which has a stately home feel and is right in the middle of the beautiful countryside. We’ve always been a paperless office so the prospect of us all working from home was not daunting. What was of more concern was ensuring our team members, whose ages range from late 50s down to mid 20s, were all well and supported.
Our early discussions led to us taking the view that we had to all exhibit compassion and care during this period. To date, it served us very well and it has meant we need to consider not only our business, the businesses of our clients but also the human impact of all of this – being mindful of the mental wellbeing of everyone connected with the business.
We were very quickly able to start working with clients as lockdown came to help them access available funding and support. For us, unlike many other businesses, we were in the ‘thick’ of helping business owners – some were not existing clients – apply for CBILs and helping them plan cashflow over the next weeks and months.
For our clients this was the first and most important task. Our real-time plans for their growth had to change immediately given the extraordinary situation which none of us could have predicted a year ago. The technology we use routinely has come into its own at this time. The ability to make real-time decisions around real-time data has proved its worth. Digital has shown its true value during this time for all of us, whatever we do, and has proved what a vital part of our lives it is now.
Professionally, we were able to help clients look at cashflows and forecasts and flex their plans accordingly. For some this meant tightening their belts and applying for funding, some had to pause, for others it meant being agile and switching to a more digital market place and for others it meant planning for growth as the situation had, for them, brought about clear opportunity. The mix of experience across our client base – and with those who came to us as new clients – has been extraordinary.
It was easy during those few frenetic first weeks to forget the human impact; we worked on this by having a WhatsApp group purely for non-business interaction and a weekly ‘remote social’ which was often a quiz. It was important from day one to just allow each other to chat, if desired, about our home situations during this time.
Some of us have young children who were having to be home-schooled, some of us live alone and others have grandchildren or older parents to worry about. During these conversations it came to light that my fellow director Angela (Angela Ashworth) was picking up her scissors and dusting off her sewing machine to start making ‘scrubs’ for health professionals in her community. She became one of 100s of people sewing for local hospitals, for GPs and for those who work in care homes. She shared her experiences so that we felt pride in her contribution.
Being forced to ‘pause’ our busy lives has made people within the team think about their lives and that’s happened to our team too. During this time, Angela has made the decision to take more of a back seat in the company, though she remains an active shareholder. While this was always the plan over the next year, the pandemic has reinforced her decision to focus more upon her own family and her own plans for retirement. I’ve completely supported her in that.
Alongside that, we welcomed a new team member, Julia, during this period. Julia was appointed to the role of office manager (a new role for us in the business) prior to lockdown. However, lockdown came along before Julia could set foot in the office, so she has completed her first few months with us – all remotely.
I applaud her for her resilience and her ‘get up and go’ during this time of not being able to ‘get up and go’! Julia has made such an effort to get to know us and has thrown herself into her new role, attending as many virtual meetings as possible, including our social meetups. She’s already offered us new insights into things we can manage and do better over time. Her support with marketing and PR with our suppliers has been absolutely invaluable.
As lockdown starts to ease and a new normal begins I can only be grateful that our business was less impacted than many others. I’m grateful for our team who have performed to their brilliant best at a time when their own personal circumstances were also massively changed. Everyone has stepped up and delivered.
I’m also grateful to our clients for reaching out to us for help when they needed it and for recognising the skills we bring to bear on their business – whatever the plan and whatever direction they are now taking. Also, to our suppliers who were by our side and helped us. We are in a somewhat unknown situation and by being caring and compassionate of each other, hopefully there will be changes from this situation which will help us all in the long term.
By Oli Thomas, director of South West-based technology driven accountancy firm Purple Lime