5 months into the Pandemic

In the second part of her series on dealing with Covid-19, Tracy Ebdon-Poole explains how TaxCalc staff have reacted to working from home, and why they will continue to do so until the new year.

It’s almost five months since our world was turned upside down and we all scrambled to switch from an office-based enterprise to one that was working more or less entirely from home.

As we emerge from lockdown (if indeed we do), we find ourselves at TaxCalc wiser, more productive, more mindful of each other and with a positive outlook, even given the difficulties that our industry and society faces.

As you may recall, before the 23 March mandate to stay at home and protect the NHS, we’d already mobilised a Covid task force and were able to plan a swift migration to the ‘new normal’. In hindsight, it was the right call and our three Covid cases were contained within the home environment and thankfully everyone has recovered.

Although the government is trying to reboot the economy and urging people to return to the workplace, TaxCalc is still working from home and will do so until next year. Why? Well, call me over-cautious but until I can ‘hand on heart’ provide a safe working environment for 100-plus people we’re staying put. The ‘R’ (reproduction) rate in March stood at around two and it’s creeping up in pockets across the UK. We are heading towards the Autumn where we need all of our team to be fit and well. January is looming and it’s a busy time for us all.

Day to day, our remote working experience has been more highs than lows, to be honest. We’ve had quiz nights, beer on a Friday, coffee mornings, natter groups. We’ve still celebrated weddings and birthdays and welcomed new starters on Skype. Teamwork has never been more important and more precious.

We already had a robust infrastructure in place for remote working and a new telephone system that enabled a seamless changeover for our support and sales teams and they have been real troupers and continually embrace a corporate value that’s very close to my heart: ‘my customer, my responsibility’. Take ownership, deal with it respectfully and if you can’t, ask for help.

There is nothing wrong with not knowing. Experience is only something you get when you’ve lived it! All this can be done remotely; and it’s wonderful to see that we’re keeping good habits in check.

I do, however, have a great deal of empathy for customer-facing teams. I know first-hand that our Sales, Renewals and Support teams are sitting at home, with dogs barking, children playing, babies crying while assisting customers with complex problems, data migrations or software renewals. I think we are all a little more forgiving these days, and long may that continue.

I love it when one of the ‘TaxCalc Kids’ pokes their head in on a Skype call because we are family. An extended, blended, team of individuals where creed, colour or sexual orientation matter not. We are embracing and sharing life as we now live and, because it costs nothing to be kind and supportive to the employees that support us and rise to any challenge that head their way.

However, managing a remote team is challenging – I won’t deny that. Body language, rapport and eye contact play such an important role in interpersonal skills and so much can be misinterpreted in texts and emails. I often talk to my team about IQ and EQ – the ‘Intelligence Quotient’ over the ‘Emotional Quotient’. While IQ is a measure of a person’s relative intelligence – which I’m sure you’ll agree is a vital commercial component – EQ is the ability to manage your emotions and the emotions of others. This world needs more EQ. There are many people that have inspired me in my life but the late Maya Angelou, an American poet and civil rights activist is in my top ten, and she sums it up beautifully: “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

With that always in mind, it’s a fair assumption that none of us tread the same path. During lockdown I’ve made it a priority to speak with many of our customers as I can personally. Writing is fine, but sprinkle a dose of EQ on your cornflakes and do something different. Give them a call! It was a voyage of discovery for me, lovely to have a chat and share Covid stories, talk of opportunity and of course show empathy when things were out of kilter.

Some have understandably experienced difficulties, while others have literally been run off their feet. I derive great satisfaction from the knowledge that we’ve done all we can to support our much-loved customers during these times.

This is reflected in the expansion of our support teams to assist with the huge increase we have seen in our customers moving over to CloudConnect and those moving to us from competitors. Remote working has not prevented us responding effectively to all support and technical queries or ongoing product improvement as well as new product development.

We’ve launched a Customer Champions initiative, through which we contact customers to gain their feedback. This intelligence is passed onto our teams to help us build the best software we can to serve our customers in the ‘new’ future. To this end, Mr and Mrs Smith, our Head of Customer Care and our Product Director (yes, they are married), have done a phenomenal job along with the rest of the company.

My job is to continue to build resilience into the very fabric of ASP. To make the changes necessary to enable the company to continue to grow in a disrupted, and disruptive future. It was pointless to ‘tweak’ our business model, we rethought it. We rebalanced priorities, cut operating costs and strategically planned our way forward.

Another great man, other than my Pa, taught me about strategy and that was Sir Marcus Sieff. I was a management trainee in M&S in the 1980s and I was very fortunate to know him. He words still resonate with me to this day. He said: “People ask me why Marks & Spencer is the most successful retailer in the UK and I tell them, ‘the customer is God and cashflow is king’.” And now you know the foundation upon which TaxCalc is built!

So, what of the return to work? Things will never be the same but in some ways that’s a good thing. We are more mindful of our colleagues and customers, our processes have changed, in most cases we are more productive. Our resilience has been tested. We’ve proven to ourselves and to our customers that we can prevail during the most difficult circumstances.

We remain open for business and are here to keep our customers productive and profitable long into the future, no matter what occurs.

• Tracy Ebdon-Poole is Chief Executive of TaxCalc

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