The lockdown was greeted by most of the office with incredulity. Was this really happening? What did it mean and how long would it last? Is my job safe? Our main priority was to reassure all staff that their jobs were safe, and that furloughing would be a last resort). We were fortunate that we had a good book of compliance work and a healthy pipeline of engaged consulting work and enquiries coming into the new year. This stood us in good stead once lockdown became a reality in March.
Over 100 days in at the time of writing and there is still no real sense of when or whether life will go back to normal – or is this the “new normal”? We’re a relatively small office, only 14 at the start of lockdown (although we have recently expanded to 16).
We’re also relatively young in that we launched in January 2019 and so going into lockdown, half the team didn’t really know each other. Like most professional service providers we quickly adopted Zoom as our preferred method of communication with both clients and internally.
We have a workflow / production meeting every Monday which has been a very useful forum, especially when there was a lull in new engagements coming through, as we were able to reassure one another that things would be just fine. We also have a weekly partners’ meeting and virtual drinks every Friday afternoon. It’s strange to think that we’ve been able to bond so well as a team in such bizarre circumstances.
The way in which we deliver our advice hasn’t been affected and in terms of winning new work we’ve had a very good conversion rate, albeit a bit slower than we would like; however, this is to be expected as clients take stock of their own situations. In the early days it was scarily reminiscent of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, which was a pretty horrible thought. Thankfully, our client base appears to have weathered the storm and we’re seeing a real pick up in activity with referrals from colleagues across the Andersen network and from third party intermediaries, which bodes well for the future.
Of course we have had a handful of clients that have seen their lives and businesses very badly affected and we took the view from very early on that we had to support them in whatever way we could (in particular not hounding for the settlement of invoices!). Again, this empathetic approach has been really well received by our clients and, hopefully, further cements our relationship with them.
It was agreed early on that it was more important than ever to write regular newsletters and blog posts for the benefit of our clients and contacts in general. Whilst the focus was initially on COVID-related tax issues we now write on a wide range of subjects and, over the past three months, have compiled bi-monthly newsletters with great success, receiving encouraging and positive feedback from our readership. Maintaining a positive outlook in our messaging has been a key feature of our output.
We envisage accelerating our growth from September this year, with plans to hire at all grades. There will be a special focus on hiring additional interns and graduates over the coming months in order to play our role in the recovery of the economy post COVID-19. Part of the Andersen ethos is stewardship, and mentoring our junior members of staff in all aspects of the practice is something we as a partner group take very seriously.
There’s no immediate plan to fully reopen the office but those members of the team that want a change of scenery are encouraged to go in. We are taking the whole office to the West Highlands in October for a week of bonding which should be great fun. Lots of fresh air, great food and the odd dram – there’s only so much Zoom can do.