Interview: Martin Clapson discusses whether staff need to return to the office right now on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

From this week, employers can insist that staff return to the workplace as long as enough safety measures are in place to guard against the spread of the coronavirus and they make businesses COVID-secure. It marks a shift from previous government advice telling people to work from home if possible.

Price Bailey has approximately 370 members of staff currently working from home. Martin Clapson spoke to Chris Mann on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire yesterday from his home in Newmarket to discuss whether staff really need to return to the office right now.

Interview on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

Chris Mann

Martin Clapson is the Managing Director of Price Bailey, a leading chartered accountancy firm based in Cambridge. Martin, now you’re talking to me from home in Newmarket. Are you planning to stay there, or are you all going back to the office?

Martin Clapson

No, I’m planning to stay in Newmarket, and we have no serious plans to send our teams back to the offices.

Chris Mann

If we’d had this conversation back in February, and I said we’d be talking in August, and you’d be telling your staff that they can all work from home, would you have imagined that Martin?

Martin Clapson

No, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be telling them that they should continue working from home. We have had, for a number of years actually, something called Smart Working where we’ve said to our teams that we don’t mind you working from home or remotely from the office as long as you get the work done. I don’t believe I would have said, back in February, that I would want everyone to be working for home, so that is a big change.

Chris Mann

Have you had to give them any extra equipment or do anything different for them?

Martin Clapson

Most of the teams already had IT equipment at home because of Smart Working, but not everybody did. We had to work quite hard in March to ensure that everybody had laptops and dual screens. We told them that they could take their office chairs home and even said to a few people that if they wanted to take their desks apart and take them home, then they can. We want them to be as comfortable as possible.

“I’m not complaining about the productivity of our teams working from home.”

Martin Clapson

Chris Mann

In terms of productivity; before, during and now in the period after lockdown, with people being encouraged to go back to work, how has productivity gone in those phases? 

Martin Clapson

It’s over four months since the end of March when we went into lockdown, and I think productivity at the beginning was good. At the end of April, the start of May time, I think people started to feel a little bit down thinking this is the long term. I was quite naive to think we could be back by June. Thinking I’m going to be doing this for say eight weeks, ten weeks, and I think once we got to about May you realise this is more for the longer term, so I think people felt a little bit down and productivity did decline a little bit. 

We’ve worked really hard to keep the motivation going with lots of communications. To be honest, I think I’ve seen certain Price Bailey people more in lockdown than I did before, with using Zoom and Microsoft Teams so I think we’ve worked quite hard on the communications. I think now people have got used to it and productivity is good. I’m not complaining about the productivity of our teams working from home. 

 

Chris Mann

Of course, there is the whole issue of contact not just with each other, but with your clients, so what do you do about that?

Martin Clapson

Right from day one, we’ve encouraged our team members to spend as much time contacting our clients, whether they want that to be done by telephone or by Zoom calls and to just keep that contact going as much as possible. 

I think the worst thing for clients and for our teams is to feel lonely and I think we are there to help our teams and our clients as much as possible. I think you can do that by just keeping the communication going as much as possible.

Chris Mann

Now you’ve got headquarters in Cambridge, but there are many big companies based in London. I think Barclays have got 6,000 people. Do you think people will go back at all, in those kinds of numbers, to big offices like that again? 

Martin Clapson

Many of the big banks are saying to their team members, don’t expect to be back working from the offices until at the earliest Christmas or even March next year; obviously, the branches are open, but at the head offices they are very cautious, and that’s one of the reasons why Price Bailey is very cautious in getting our teams back. 

The number one priority for any managing director and for any boss is the health and safety of their teams, and I do worry about having our teams working from offices where you can’t open the windows, and it is air-conditioned. It’s tough. It’s fine for the Government and for other business leaders to say get teams back working but is it safe, is it really safe? How do we know whether somebody’s got COVID-19 or just a cold unless you can get the test done really quickly? I think our teams are working fine from home. 

I think big companies are seeing that their teams are working fine from home, so why is there the big rush to get them working out of offices?

“As a human race, we’re very good at adapting to circumstances.”

Martin Clapson

Chris Mann

I had to talk to my GP last week so didn’t go in and didn’t have an appointment, we did it on the phone, and we could have done a Zoom call. Just a few months ago you would have thought that’s not satisfactory, but actually, it does work Martin doesn’t it? 

Martin Clapson

As a human race, we’re very good at adapting to circumstances. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that we’ll be working from home and we’ll be seeing GPs from a distance forever, but I think it could be a balance in the future. Sometimes you need to be in the office to work, and sometimes you can work from home. Sometimes you’ll need to see the GP face to face, and sometimes you can do it by telephone. That flexibility is going to be really good for society going forward.

Chris Mann

You’re the boss of a big international organisation [IAPA] as well as part of Price Bailey but, dare I say it, lunches are a big part of your business, entertaining, going to things, sponsoring and so on.

Martin Clapson

My view is, how can you look after and give great advice to a client unless you spend time with them? Get to know them. Get to know their family. Get to know what their problems are. Then you can give them the financial solutions which suit them and their family.

You can only do that if you spend time with people, and I think you’ll struggle to get that kind of deep knowledge and awareness of a client by doing it virtually. We are missing that side of it, and we do need to get back as quickly as we can, but we can see clients outside and socially distance. I just don’t think we need our teams working from officers at the moment to do that. 

Listen again

This interview was recorded as part of Chris Mann’s show, Afternoons on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on 3 August 2020. You can listen to Afternoons on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire with Chris Mann airs Monday to Thursday from 2 pm on 95.7FM, 96 FM and on digital radio.

 

Listen again

 

 

We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

 

Subscribe

For more insight, events and webinars sign up to the Price Bailey mailing list…

Sign up

 

Have a question about this post? Ask our team…