When we think of Covid-19 as having accelerated digital transformation, quite often we visualise businesses in the early stages of the first lockdown in 2020 moving swiftly to shift systems and processes online and then having to quickly adapt to new and safer working practices. Yet, for some businesses, working through lockdown was essentially par for the course, because they had already chosen to automate these systems and processes.
Bell Howley Perrotton LLP, a multi-disciplinary firm offering accountancy, tax, legal and financial advisory services to its clients, is one of these businesses that was ahead of the curve in this way. Simon Howley, managing partner at the firm, works from his base in southern Spain and would customarily fly to the UK for client meetings pre-pandemic. Meanwhile, other members of the Bell Howley Perrotton team were based in and around London and the M25, as well as in the north-eastern city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and they too would carry out their day-to-day work from home and attend in-person meetings where required.
Coming onto The Leaders Council podcast to speak about how the business has fared during the pandemic period, Simon Howley explained that the lockdown period was almost akin to working as normal barring the lack of in-person meetings, since remote working structures were already established in the business.
Simon outlined: “We have always worked remotely, so in that sense it has been like a normal working environment for us. Normally pre-Covid, I would fly across to the UK from my residence in Spain for client meetings, so we do miss that in-person interaction with clients. We have used more Zoom calls than normal for our team meetings which seems to be the biggest change, and we do still have a team-meeting once a week with all of us jumping on.”
While some businesses leaders have sampled flexible working for the first time during the pandemic out of necessity and grown more accepting of it, Simon explained that he always favoured working from home and believed it was one of the best options for driving productivity.
“I think people work better from home. People have busy lives and as long as my team’s work is done, it doesn’t bother me when they do it. It seems to work, and out of our workforce many of our staff have children, so it helps them and gives them that flexibility for the school run, and it leads to a much better working environment as a result. It also cuts out the daily commute into an office, which helps make staff more time efficient and has a positive knock-on effect for the environment.”
Simon also spoke candidly about how the business monitors mental health and wellbeing among staff members operating under a remote working structure all of the time, revealing that a virtual open-door policy of keeping the communication channels constantly open was paramount.
He said: “We communicate every day by Teams, Zoom or email. From a day-to-day processing perspective, we have not changed a lot during Covid to keep a watch on mental health, we just strive to keep the communication channels open. It is about getting the right people around you as a business leader, trusting them and instilling a level of trust in you, and having that virtual open-door policy so that they can approach you if they need to. Being approachable is critical. I also make clear to all my staff that with this flexible working model, it is never an issue if people need to shoot off to pick up their children from school or anything like that. Such a relaxed policy helps us all.
“Furthermore, the fact we are largely automated and use a lot of software takes much of the stress away from our work. People have their jobs to do each week and we have done away with the era of getting up at 6:30AM and coming home at 7:30PM.”
Outside of the business, Simon also revealed that with Covid-19 social restrictions forcing so many other firms to begin working from home, it has had a positive knock-on effect commercially for Bell Howley Perrotton.
Simon explained: “Commercially, we have had one of our best years out of the 13 years we have been established. This is because we work with a lot of property sector clients, and in times of recession or financial hardship people do tend to purchase properties. We have also seen a lot of people moving out of London as work-from-home has become the norm, who have been buying larger properties out in the country so that they can have that bit more spatial freedom in their working lives at home.”
The full interview with Simon Howley on The Leaders Council podcast can be seen below.