This has been a very strange six months for all of us. Here’s Helen Rutter, our Advisory and Audit Manager, to share some of her recent ‘homeworking’ experiences.
The last few months have been something none of us could have anticipated.
Who would have thought we would have all been converting corners of the house into home offices and learning how to turn on the audio and video for the new world of Zoom calls?!
After a brief return to the office, it now looks as though we will be using our home offices once more.
My working from home experience started slightly earlier than most people.
I had scheduled to work for a week at a client’s premises when one of their staff was suspected of having coronavirus. As it happens, they didn’t, but everyone was sent home as a precaution.
So, instead of working across the table with a client on their annual budgets, I was trying to do this from home with the complexities of trying to get in touch with the right people who had themselves very suddenly started working from home. This was the precursor to adapting to dealing with all clients from a distance.
I found that, as a firm, we all adapted very quickly to working from home, and the same with clients. Of course, technology has helped us all immensely. All of RPG’s systems are already held in the cloud so adapting to my usual work remotely has meant ‘business as usual’. Many of our clients use online accounting software which means that they could continue to access it from wherever they were working and we, too, had full access to it.
While it has been odd not to be able to arrange face-to-face meetings with clients, we have all quickly become accustomed to using Zoom, and I actually think that it has given us the opportunity to build closer relationships with clients. Children and pets joining the meeting, as well as discussions about bookshelves, have been great icebreakers!
I would never previously have imagined that conducting an audit from home would be possible. The audit team is used to working at a client’s premises where we have immediate access to all of the documentation that we need.
In these new circumstances, we had to identify exactly what we needed, contact the client, request the information, and wait for it to be accessed and sent to us. Mostly it was available for the client online but sometimes we had to wait for someone to go into the office to pick up a hard copy document. It meant that we had to change some of our deadlines, but we have found clients to be entirely supportive.
Social interaction with colleagues was one of the biggest initial misses of lockdown. A few of us would often have had a walk into Manchester city centre at lunchtime or met up at the pub after work – suddenly all of that was gone.
However, once again, we embraced technology!
The directors made sure that we had weekly departmental meetings to check workload, the current position on jobs, and to check in on everyone’s wellbeing. We all had the opportunity of collecting any equipment we needed from the office so, for example, I borrowed an office chair to make sure I could work comfortably.
Regular CPD training has still gone ahead, again via Zoom, and I think that it has been even more interactive than sitting in a meeting room as we have all participated more via the chat area.
Jonathan sent a weekly message to everyone and set up the weekly catch-up Zoom call so we can all hear any updates. It’s also a chance to have some informal chats – the ‘water cooler’ conversations – which might be about the football, or the latest people on Masterchef or Bake Off, but it’s fun and we can all see each other!
I suggested a weekly quiz, so this follows the Friday lunchtime call and we take it in turns to set the questions – this has been great fun! We have had a few people join the firm during lockdown, so it has given them the opportunity to ‘meet’ us all. Seeing colleagues in their home setting, wearing casual clothes and with cats, dogs and family is worthy of an article of its own!
We would normally have a firm-wide social event every quarter. The last one had to be cancelled, so I looked into online alternatives and we held a cheese and wine tasting via Zoom instead.
It was great fun as we each had a supply of cheese and wine delivered to our homes which we sampled while the wine specialist host explained the various wines to us. I suspect that a few people topped up the official samples with their own wine supplies, but it was great fun, especially with the chat room facility!
Since early September more of us have been coming into the office, at least for a couple of days a week. I’ve even been out to one or two clients’ premises to carry out their audits. It has been great to see everyone again, albeit socially distanced.
Now we are starting another period with more working from home, although we are expecting to have up to two days in the office each week, which will help us all to work as effectively as possible.
Looking at a further extended period of working from home, we will continue to embrace the technology and make sure that we maintain strong links with our clients, and I will make sure that I am on the weekly ‘social hour’ Zoom calls with my colleagues. It’s really important that we continue to share stories and have some fun together.