There has been a lot of discussion in the media about what a return to work strategy looks like. Of course, there are a huge amount of people, particularly those working in the health and care sector, that never stopped going to work. For many of us though, the idea of returning back to the old way of working seems a long way off. Law firms are no exception to this. Many of the firms that Financial Eye work with have not opened their doors since lockdown. Other than attending to the post, there is no reason for any staff to go in. Our quarterly site visits continue to be via Zoom or Teams and all general accounts/COFA enquires by email or telephone. Updated compliance documentation has always been emailed to our clients so no change there. Access to client accounts systems has always been via a secure login so once again, no change there either. I was beginning to think I may never need to go and visit any of our clients ever again. Was this a good thing I thought? Nobody can honestly say they have missed cramming onto packed commuter trains or sitting in rush hour traffic. But somehow the idea of never actually seeing our clients in person started to feel very odd indeed.
And then it happened. One of our London based law firms invited us to attend their offices for our next compliance review meeting. They did not insist that we attend, they were more than happy for a Zoom. But invited we were. One week later my colleague and I were standing on the platform at Hildenborough station, with a train ticket we had purchased on trainline and both wearing masks. And we were alone. One other person eventually showed up but we were able to stand at least 50 meters apart. So far so good. When the train eventually arrived, we entered the carriage to find just one other person sitting at the opposite end. This was all going very well. I started reading my notes for the upcoming meeting on my laptop. One minor problem here, my glasses kept steaming up making it almost impossible to read the screen. Note to self – if this is going be a frequent occurrence, I will need to invest in some higher quality face coverings!
After an uneventful journey, the train arrived on time at London Bridge and we walked the short distance to our client’s offices. I have been working in London for some 30 years and this was the strangest walk I have ever experienced. The place was like a ghost town. There were no cars, cyclists, or people. That is not strictly true, there were other people about but nothing like the crowds I have always known. We arrived at reception and apart from the now obligatory plastic screens, the checking in process was no different to usual. We collected our passes and made our way to the lifts. We had been wondering how this was going to work but when the doors opened, we noticed four markers had been stuck to the floor advising us where to stand, facing away from each other. Given there was nobody else waiting to get in the lift, this was not going to be too much of a problem.
We were met at the lift by our client and led to the office we would be working in for the day. We followed the arrows on the floor, maintaining a safe distance from each other and entered the office. We would be sharing a large room with multiple desks with 2 members of their finance team. We were in situ and ready to get started. I logged in to LEAP and off we went, business as usual. It then began to dawn on me why we were there. For the next 3 hours, whilst we carried out our compliance review, we were inundated with COFA and compliance related questions. The kind of questions that would not have been asked had we not been in their offices. We duly answered all their enquires and many more relating to LEAP and Xero. We carried out a number of online file reviews and identified a number of areas that required some modification to their internal processes to ensure that no breaches of the Accounts Rules would occur in the future. It had turned into the kind of clinic that only occurs when we visit a client’s office. For whatever reason, the same sort of Q&A sessions never seem to occur over Zoom.
After the wrap up meeting, we said our socially distanced goodbyes and made our way back to the lifts to stand on the markers facing the walls. Now under normal circumstances, we would have probably made our way to the nearest hostelry for a glass of something cool and refreshing. Well actually, this visit had felt completely normal. So that is exactly what we did.
The waitress seated us at a table overlooking the Thames and advised us it was table service only. Well that was fine with us. We were sitting at the sort of table you would only normally secure by making an advance booking. Things were really looking up! As we mulled over the day’s events, we began to appreciate what a great opportunity we had been given by our client by inviting us into their offices. We also realised that many of our other clients would be in no position soon to do the same simply because their offices were not configured in the same way. From the conversations we have had with many law firms, it would appear that reporting accountants are now pretty much exclusively carrying out remote audits. This I can understand as the risks involved outweigh the need to attend in person.
We decided there and then that we would offer our clients the choice. If we were invited in and we could attend their offices safely in accordance with their own Covid19 policies, we would go. The benefits outweighed the negatives. This became really clear to us the following day when we received a number of emails from the client expressing their gratitude for the advice and guidance, we had provided them with on the day. I get the feeling we will be doing a lot more travelling over the months ahead. For the record, there was only one other person in our train carriage on the way home. Living the Eye life indeed!
Director – Financial Eye