ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

PMJ: how the crisis made us more productive

29 May 2020: for one practice in Essex, adapting to lockdown has taught them to be more productive than ever – so much so, employees are doing a four-day week for the same salary.

Paul Jackson has always been a fan of technology. “I've been using computers since the late 70s, for example, and I actually went paperless probably the best part of 20 years ago,” he says. “I’ve always liked to be ahead of everybody possible in IT.” 

This approach to life has been particularly useful in helping his seven-person firm, PMJ Accountants, adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Because we could see what was happening [during the build-up to lockdown], we took the decision to immediately get sorted. And therefore, we were operative from Tuesday the 17th of March from all of our homes.

“For us, it was a very easy transition, simply because we have all of our IT hosted, so we don't have our own servers or anything like that. I've used hosted now for about four years,” he explains. As many proponents of technology will gladly tell you, the real benefit is it gives you more time to get on with the real “human” work, such as talking to clients or coming up with new ideas. Jackson happily falls into this category; he uses technology because, “I want to spend our time advising people more, working with them more, having more interaction, more relationship building with them. And where they keep saying, 'We love what you do guys. Can you meet this friend of ours who's got a business, and so on.”

He’s also in the early stages of working with an artificial intelligence firm in Bratislava, again to give him and his staff more time with clients. He wants to “cut out most of the time that we may spend in producing the final figures. We can virtually do that on Xero these days, but there are still some things that [are] not automated.” He says, “I want to be able to press a button and get that result there and then,” to have more time explaining to clients what the implications of all this data are.

Moving to a four-day week

But it’s not just AI that’s saving the firm time. The pandemic has proved to them all that the right technology for remote working can make them much more productive. Jackson says that the team has “enjoyed it because it’s a novelty at the moment. And they've all got direct-dial phones. So if anybody wants to speak to them, they’ll come straight to them.

“They have a lot of contact with me or Joe, my second in command, during the course of the day. We have a regular Zoom meeting, for example. We have a chat and see what each other looks like, so we don't forget, and so on and so forth. And their output has been remarkable.”

This is the thing that has most surprised Jackson: “The odd thing is that, even though my team has reduced from nine to six [over the past year], we were actually doing more work with fewer people. Now they're even doing that quicker because they're not getting interruptions in the office.”

Because of this, Jackson and his team have decided to move to a four-day week for the same pay – given the revenue remains the same. In fact, says Jackson, he paid them a bonus in April, due to the firm’s performance the previous financial year and has raised salaries this year. He says, “What we've decided to do at the moment will be to work in the office on a Monday, work at home Tuesday and Wednesday, back at the office Thursday, Friday off.”

This is not an arrangement that would have been possible 10 years ago but, thanks to technology and the necessity of having to make a rapid change, PMJ staff are working more productively than they ever have. Investing in that first computer in the 1970s has certainly paid off.