Staying open through lockdown: Evens & Co
29 May 2020: the lockdown has forced many businesses to adapt their way of working, and the majority have elected to work remotely. However, one firm chose to keep its office open throughout, applying strict social distancing rules. Rachel Willcox spoke to the firm’s director Bruce Evens to find out more.
Against the COVID-19 backdrop, the business and economic environment in which we all now operate has undoubtedly presented huge challenges to accountancy firms and their clients, but it is also proving a catalyst for positive change.
For Evens and Co – a two-partner, 35-staff practice in the idyllic location of Milford Haven in West Wales – the need to protect both staff and clients has forced new ways of working, but the firm’s director Bruce Evens admits that its set up didn’t lend itself well to remote working.
Instead, the Pembrokeshire-based practice, initially based over two offices, rapidly converted two further adjacent properties it owns (including a former library complete with lecture theatre) into office space over the course of a weekend so that its 35 staff could apply social distancing rules while at work and clients could continue to benefit from face-to-face meetings in very large meeting rooms.
“Our systems and ways of working are quite traditional. We didn’t feel homeworking was for us because we work in teams and in close proximity of document flows,” Evens explains. Instead, staff have been grouped by risk factors including age, health factors and even partners’ jobs. They have also been issued with PPE including face masks and face shields. Meanwhile, staggered start times limit contact with others and the use of electronic key fobs gives further peace of mind.
The practice incorporated in 1992, and today offers a range of accountancy and business advisory services to private clients and business owners, many whom operate across the retail and tourism sectors. The lockdown coincided with the start of the tourist season, adding huge pressure to an already fragile local economy, Evens says.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Evens says the nature of the firm’s work has changed since March. “We’re now having to deal with a large number of stress cases,” Evens adds. Being able to continue to see clients face-to-face in a safe environment gives them the support and reassurance they desperately need at these often-stressful times.
“A lot of it is cashflow-related,” Evens adds, but it’s also about helping clients through the minefield of new and rapidly evolving government initiatives introduced to help businesses weather the storm.
Despite the seemingly inevitable prospect of client business failures on the horizon, Evens is adamant there are many positives to extract from the experience of the past few months. “Significant good will come out of this period,” says Evens. “We’re coming out of this stronger than when we came in. We’re having much more personal conversations with clients. And it has refocused the way we work to make sure it’s efficient.”
As for a lasting legacy, even the logistical challenge of operating over four sites has had a positive impact on internal communications. It’s also forcing the firm to challenge some of its previous assumptions about process flows. Staff have been reallocated to help clients deal with grant applications and to deal with a huge spike in demand for payroll advice as a result of clients furloughing employees.
“Previously I was focusing on seeing clients but we’re having fewer meetings and doing more over the phone. It’s freed up more time for me so I’m seeing more of my staff now than before. I walk 10,000 steps around the offices by around 2pm. We have more interactions and as a result it’s helping us better solve problems for our clients. There’s a real sense of ‘we’re all in this together.’”