The UK went into lockdown on March 23, 2020, as the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear.
The population was ordered to stay at home, working from home became the new normal, and shops, pubs, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, gyms and hairdressers were among the businesses force to close their doors.
To mark the anniversary, and as we move out of Wales’ third national lockdown, Newport accountants Ellis Lloyd Jones’ managing partner Richard Ellis reflects on how life has changed for them and their clients over the last 12 months.
Q: How has the Covid pandemic impacted on your business?
A: There have been massive changes to our workload and the type of work we undertake. We have provided huge amounts of advice to clients on grants and other financial assistance available, along with general guidance on how to get their businesses through this difficult time. That has meant helping with furlough claims, grant claims, and loan applications.
Q: Have your staff worked from home during the crisis? If so, do you expect a full return to the office post-Covid?
A: We made the decision to move to home working a couple of weeks before the first lockdown. All staff apart from our receptionist have been working from home since then. Once ‘normality’ has returned, our staff will be able to choose whether they want to work from home or the office. We expect most staff to work from the office a couple of days a week. The office will become a place where we do our more collaborative work. The more day-to-day work can easily be undertaken from home. Most client interaction has moved to video conferencing via Zoom and Teams. We don’t hold client meetings in the office anymore. The office is open for clients to drop off records but most work is done online now. We put in place a full Covid policy when we moved to home working to ensure clients and staff were protected.
Q: What technological changes did you have to bring in to meet the challenges of the ‘new normal’?
A: We had already moved all our systems into the cloud prior to the pandemic so we were pretty much geared up and ready. We bought some new laptops for those staff who hadn’t been doing much homeworking. The only problem we faced was sourcing enough webcams as they became scarce. The biggest change was the move from face-to-face client interaction to video meetings. We had been trialling this prior to the pandemic but the take-up from clients was poor. But we’ve seen a complete cultural change in a short period of time. Clients don’t think twice about having a video meeting now. It’s helped with our service delivery as it’s much easier to have quality communication with clients with less inconvenience to the client. We will no doubt move back to face-to-face meetings, but I think most of our meetings are likely to be via video call going forward.
Q: How have your customers’ requirements changed during the last year?
A: More immediate advice is now required by clients. It’s felt like government announcements have been almost daily and we’ve had to work hard to keep our clients up to date.
Q: What is the biggest change you have had to make as a business during the last year?
A: Undoubtedly moving to a complete home working model. This is a massive change, but our staff have been brilliant and have taken to it like ducks to water. We can’t speak highly enough of the way they’ve pulled together and adapted to help the clients. We’re really proud of them.
Q: What are your hopes for the post-Covid future for your business?
A: We hope the new technologies we’ve embraced during the pandemic will help us to provide a better service to our clients and a better work/life balance for our staff. It should help us interact with our clients far more effectively. Hopefully, our staff can have far more balance and flexibility in their lives. We’re really optimistic for the future of the business and being able to help our amazing clients develop their businesses over the next few years.