With the UK racing “towards its fastest and deepest recession for more than a century”, according to the Bank of England, probably the idea of selling your accountancy practice has crossed your mind. With many of your staff likely furloughed, and the end of the lockdown nowhere in sight, selling your practice might seem like the only option.
But what kind of price would you get for it in these highly uncertain times? Doubtfully a decent one.
Times are toughest for those who were not prepared for working remotely. There are so many tools out there for doing this — Microsoft Teams, Monday.com, Slack, Zoom, and others — that trying to navigate through them during the pressures of an uncertain economy is impossible.
Perhaps you’ve decided not to sell your practice, after all. You’ve chosen to hunker down for the long haul, dig into savings and push through until the end of the lockdown, then market like the dickens and get in new business when the lockdown is over.
But leaked information about the UK government banning hot-desking makes going back to the office more complex.
And new rules mean you would have to adhere entirely to the two-metre rule (or the one-metre rule) to be allowed to open the office at all.
What if your office isn’t big enough for that?
You might have to implement other protective measures such as making staff wear face masks or installing Plexiglass at desks to limit the chance of contagion. This means even more expenditure, more use of cash just to be able to open your doors.
There’s also talk of implementing staggered work hours. Even if you had decided to hunker down, for now, it appears you might need to implement some kind of remote-working facilities, after all.
Change, change, endless change. It’s like walking on quicksand at the moment.
But take heart. There is hope.
The world has changed, people will understand if you don’t have an office
The world has changed. People feel it in the air. Things are dim, and we’ve all been through something catastrophic and difficult together.
As a result, we all look at the world differently now. And who’s to say that the changes are bad? Coronavirus is one thing, but what about illness in general — cases of flu, colds, and other diseases? I cannot count the number of times I’ve been shopping at the Tesco in winter only to walk past three people coughing in my vicinity.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, my first thought was, “Stay home if you’re ill, people!”
In today’s world, the thought of women being forced into the life of homemaker with no choice to earn a living in a “man’s world” is abhorrent. It’s difficult for us even to imagine such a discriminating, unjust world. And yet it existed before World War II. The war changed that.
A posh address which starts with “One Canada Square” was the reality of yesterday. Today’s reality is, “Oh, goodness, how do you keep your staff healthy if you work there!?”
Working from home is the new normal. Our kids and our grandkids will not feel the culture shock we’re feeling today. They’ll go to the office, see the Plexiglass, wave at each other and smile from a distance. They’ll think that their parents/grandparents were a lot of fools because we spread so much disease.
So, have no qualms about ditching your office space. No one will care, or at least everyone will understand. There is no shame (anymore) in running your fancy business from your home.
What to do with staff?
This is a terrible situation for everyone, and times like these make it difficult to do good by everyone. The matter of personnel is a catch-22 at the best of times.
The government has provided us with the CJRS, but in order to qualify, staff must not do any work at all.
Let’s look at that:
- If staff do no work, you can’t run your business and stay afloat.
- If staff do work, you can’t claim 80 per cent of their salary, and thereby increase your overheads.
To solve that, the UK gov went and gave us the BBLS. More loans, more debt. A never-ending downward trend of reduced income and increased costs.
I cannot advise you on what to do about your staff. This is a personal matter of integrity that every accountancy owner must consider themselves. We deal in numbers, but our staff are people with families and livelihoods.
Still, we do deal in numbers. And the numbers paint a dim picture. If the entire ship goes down because we’re forced to hold onto the whole crew, then everybody suffers. As much as business owners wish they could keep their staff, this simply might not be possible.
I would, however, appeal to you to talk to us first if making staff redundant is your only option left, we might be able to help. This is not a plug of our own services, but a plea to do everything you can to keep your people employed.
The next breath
In times like these, when we are all seemingly at the whim of daily government decisions which encroach directly into our livelihoods, it’s difficult to do more than take your next breath.
We’re allowed to go outside once a day for exercise. I would strongly recommend that you do that. Take a walk, look around, appreciate that the world still exists.
All you need to do is take the next breath, save the next penny, and then get back into business with a roar when we’re allowed to open the doors again.
Until then, look at how to cut costs. Consider your office space first, and your staff as last. We don’t need offices anymore. We do need people.
The world has changed, and we must change with it.