Now that working from home has become the norm in many insolvency practices, Boris is encouraging everyone back to work! But what are the long term consequences of remote working on the insolvency profession?
With all the chaos and adverse impact that the Covid 19 global pandemic has had, many have found how much they now enjoy working from home and a surprising number of insolvency practices appear to also like the idea!
Who’d have thought it only 6 months ago?
It sounds like an ideal solution, keeping everyone safe and getting insolvency practices back to business. But is it? In the short-term, and at the height of the pandemic then yes there is no doubt that it has been a great help, but is it really a long-term solution?
Ignoring the issue of client visits etc which can’t be done from home, I’d like to look at other implications from both the firms and employees points of view. Now I’m going to focus my thoughts on insolvency as this has been my lifetime profession and hopefully I can claim to have more than just a little experience, but my thoughts might be relevant to other professions or sectors.
Firstly, let’s look at how your business is run.
If you have administrators, who are simply processors, such as someone who just deals with creditors claims, someone who just deals with collecting debts or takes on the cashier function, then working from home might work quite well. Not having interaction with others in the office, unless there’s a query which can usually be dealt with over the phone, will have little impact on the individual working from home or the service to creditors.
I’m guessing that these types of roles are more prevalent in larger practices, but not necessarily as there has been a trend toward pigeon-holing employees in smaller firms in recent years.
Employing people as processors is more akin to a factory environment and generally works well for the employer. However, insolvency is a profession not a factory which can be fairly limiting on the employee as they get to see very little of the rest of what insolvency is about. It doesn't encourage sharing of professional views or experiences. It also makes the employee less marketable if they decide to move on in the future.
But, if you are in an insolvency practice that allows its staff to get involved in all aspects of a case, which is the vast majority of firms, then can remote working be as effective as office working?
My concern arises from the lack of interaction with other members of staff including the IP.
Throughout my career in insolvency, I always preferred the open plan general office with managers and partners offices around the sides and an open-door policy.
Well, with insolvency, knowing what’s going on is vital, not only to the IP, but amongst the team. Overhearing telephone conversations, sharing experiences, bouncing ideas and sharing technical knowledge means that everyone has some knowledge of each others cases. So, when the case administrator, manager or even IP isn’t contactable, someone else can either deal with an issue or hold the fort until the right person is available. Afterall, many calls actually don’t need the person running the case to answer it. Calls from creditors can often be about the process rather than specific to the case. If someone else can deal with these calls, it relieves pressure from the case admin/manager/IP at a time when they are probably under stress dealing with the immediacy and urgency of a new insolvency.
As an IP I always like to know what was going on and being away from my team would make me feel quite vulnerable, as I felt far more able to steer the team by being in the next office. I hesitate to think how many potential disasters I’ve managed to avoid by being around and having my finger very much on the pulse!
So, I would question how working from home allows this. The lack of interaction day by day, hour by hour must impact on client service. Sharing can ease the stress on whoever’s case it is when they probably don’t need it!
But it’s more than client service, it’s also about learning. No two jobs in insolvency are truly identical and “every day is a school day” as the saying goes. I would seriously suggest that working from home actually damages the learning process and in turn the employees career prospects.
Yes, you can know the insolvency rules inside out and backwards and try to put your own interpretation on case law, but no one can do insolvency from a book! When I started there was only one book and that was “Sales – The Law Relating to Bankruptcy” which was not the most exciting of reads, in fact I never read it! We didn’t learn from books, we learned from doing the job. We learned from our peers. And what a hell of a lot we learned from them.
Does working from home allow that education and career development?
I would argue that it doesn’t which in turn means that IPs can’t provide the best service to their clients.
There’s no easy answer to coping with a global pandemic, but as well as keeping everyone safe, it’s very important that if we are to offer a quality service, if we are to train and educate our staff to the best of our ability, then we recognise that working from home can only ever be a stopgap for the insolvency profession.
Insolvency is a people business and we can never afford to forget that. Zoom helps communication but it is not spontaneous unless it is on all the time. And without vital interaction, what are we? I would say that we are not the profession that we need to be to effectively and efficiently ease the problems that struggling businesses and individuals vitally need during a recession caused by the pandemic.