Coping with COVID

By Bob Bell, Bob Bell
Business Advisory Director
16 September 2020

In March of this year, the COVID-19 pandemic’s potential threat to our business, our clients and the country’s economy became a reality as we entered lockdown. Suddenly the necessity to work from home was upon us, at a time when it was starkly apparent that we, as accountants, would play a vital part in helping our clients through what was clearly going to be an extraordinarily challenging period.

We all reacted in our own way, and our younger staff in particular were extremely apprehensive as to what lay ahead. But it’s the tough times that make us better, and I wanted to communicate the need for them to immerse themselves in the challenge. As we all ransacked the office for monitors, headsets, desktops, laptops, even chairs, I sent the following email to the team:

“We are in for a rough ride for what we hope is a relatively short term, but may drag out, I will keep you posted as to developments on a regular basis. We have all lived through mainly excellent economic conditions through our lives, I have seen two GFCs and three recessions but nothing like what is happening now. In years to come you’ll be telling the next generation about the crisis of 2020, and hopefully how you were part of a great PKF team that helped their clients survive the storm. This is history in the making, and an incredible learning opportunity, for better or worse.”

While the pandemic and its effects will be with us for a long time yet, a few months down the track we look back and could not have begun to anticipate exactly how much learning there has been. JobKeeper on its own has been a complete subject in its own right, throw in Cash Boost, the Landlords’ Code of Conduct – we’ve all done a semester at the ‘University of Pandemic Life.’

So, I took the opportunity to ask the team to think about my email in light of the last four months. Here are some of the responses:

What will you be telling the next generation?
  • Don’t take simple things for granted.
  • There is a silver lining even in the worst situations.
  • Crises bring out the best and worst in people, choose to show your best.
  • The young are resilient – remote schooling, shut down of social and sporting activities, complete disruption to “normal” life – but handle difficulties very well.
  • We didn’t survive 2020, we thrived – teamwork was and is everything.
What have you learned?
  • Working from home with very few hiccups showed how well we can adapt when required.
  • New softwares, for example the use of Trello to monitor workflow, Teams and Zoom for meetings.
  • The importance of communication, making things clear on the work side and otherwise just checking in with the team and clients.
  • The response time and organisation of PKF, and in particular PKF’s ability to safely return to the office was remarkable. Many firms have not managed to return to the office yet.
Have we done as well as we can for our clients?
  • I feel it has enhanced our relationship with clients, our efforts to communicate at all levels has made clients more comfortable to contact staff members across the team.
  • Clients have been very appreciative of the work we have completed for them.
  • We put in a lot of extra time reading and analysing new laws, following the updates and communicating those to clients, especially around stimulus measures. But some clients just appreciated a simple ‘are you okay?’ phone call, and we think we delivered there.

As an Equity Partner and Business Unit Leader at PKF, one of my favourite comments was:

PKF as a firm was incredibly reassuring in the initial stages of the crisis and kept us informed throughout. The firm validated the sense of care present at PKF, actively living the “we’re all in this together” mantra.

There are plenty of hard roads ahead but continued learning, support, dedication, diligence and the odd splash of luck will take us a long way down them.