Coronavirus Conclave

Original article written by Lesley Meall in Chartech, ICAEW May / June Edition

Lockdowns have been characterised by a massive increase in home-working and dependence on information and communication technologies that enable, or are enabled by, remote access. This has presented businesses and workers with a host of practical technology challenges and opportunities. Mid-way through April, when the faculty checked in with some of its active volunteers to learn about their experiences, we found some recurring themes.

The need for businesses and their technology to be agile and flexible loomed large. More than one organisation began with the intention of sticking with its existing systems, then reconfigured or supplemented them quickly when it became apparent that they were inadequate, for example, because there were insufficient teleconference numbers or telephone lines. The easiest and quickest route to what was needed often trumped options seen as ideal or ‘best practice’ approaches.

Ways of working at home that were acceptable occasionally and infrequently proved inadequate or impractical for working life under lockdown. Many firms shared, for example, requests from workers for kit at home to replicate an office desktop set-up with an appropriate chair and multiple full-size screens and keyboards in preference to laptops. Employers are already pondering some of the future health and safety and liability quandaries that await them.

Videoconferencing has grown exponentially – in use, popularity and the variety of different systems that some accountants are expected to master. It is being used for collaboration between colleagues, team-building, keeping workers socially engaged, and to provide clients with remote ‘face to face’ consultancy, education and more. Many people have been surprised by how effective it can be.

Nobody seems certain what the new normal will look like in the world of work, or when we will emerge into it. But there seems to be unanimous agreement that it will include more home-working, more technology use, more videoconferencing and a lot less travel. Just a few weeks into the lockdown, some firms were already reassessing the amount of physical space (and premises) they will need in future to locate their workers and operate their businesses. They are expecting a step change.

The following response from Reuben Barry, Director of Data Analytics at Ecovis, offers a flavour of some of what the lockdown has revealed about our relationship with technology: past, present and perhaps future.

"Increased home-working will raise questions about how to best engage with remote workers. Barry sees a growing role for data analytics; and Ecovis Wingrave Yeats has its own data analytics consultancy department. 

Pre-lockdown, the firm had already developed tools to analyse staff and client performance and profitability. “We have so many ways of seeing how the business is operating in real time,” Barry says. “We have insight into every aspect of how it is running.”  Real-time analytics show, for example, where there are issues with clients and where teams have capacity or are overworked. “We know exactly what is happening, so if we need to deal with something we can intervene and take action.”