Date posted: 30/04/2020 5 min read

How flexible working puts this practice ahead during COVID-19

When AFS & Associates upgraded to more flexible tech and work practices in 2019 they weren’t expecting a pandemic.

In Brief

  • AFS Associates’ decision to shift to an activity-based office space powered a change to new tech and more adaptable working.
  • A flexible working policy lets employees work their hours between 7am-7pm.
  • This emphasis on flexibility has made the move to remote working during the COVID-19 emergency very smooth.

By Kate Mannix CA

In 2019, what commenced as a project to fit more people into our office via a renovation quickly moved to a review of how we worked. This was necessary as it became obvious that the move to an activity-based working environment would support our company values and team focus.

But as we all settled into the new office, along came COVID-19.

Feeling like Nostradamus, we were able to implement the out-of-office module on our phone system and allow our team to work from home, at first by choice.

Once we’d made the decision to close the office and have everyone work from home, it was a simple shift for all 70 team members.

We’d allowed the team to take home their old monitors when we replaced their machines only four months earlier. That meant they could set up at home, plug in their laptop and headset, and operate outside the office just as they would at work.

Here’s why it was so easy.


How flexible working puts this practice ahead during COVID-19

The move to activity-based working required an IT solution that enabled team members to move around the office and use all spaces. Previously, only our audit team and partners had laptops, while all other team members had thin client machines.

To be able to use the building to its full potential we needed to progress to paperless processes – or at least paper light. After setting a goal to be paperless by 1 July 2019, we worked with each team to determine how this could be done and what technology was needed to assist with it.

We wanted to keep it simple and maintain our connection to MYOB Accountants Enterprise (MYOB AE) as our practice management software. We have implemented both the One Ledger and Workpapers modules in MYOB AE and pdfDocs to work paperless.

Within two months of setting our goal, we reduced our paper use by 70%. This spurred our team to develop new ways of working and continue the move away from paper.

Along with the paper saving, we reduced our stationery, print and postage costs – a factor we didn’t really consider in the beginning.

Flexible working and laptops for everyone

While we reviewed how we worked, we prepared to introduce our new flexible working policy to the team. They could complete their standard hours anytime between 7am-7pm and integrate their professional and personal lives in a way that functioned best for them and the firm.

This was the final indicator that we needed everyone to move to laptops. After all, how could we ask our team to work in an activity-based environment, be paperless and work flexibly without providing them with the tools to do so effectively?

We invested in laptops for every team member, no matter their role or position. At the same time, we replaced every monitor, mouse and keyboard so the tech was the same age and condition across the firm.

Yes, it was quite an investment, however it aligned with a time that we needed to replace all the thin clients anyway, so it was more of an uplift in spend than replacement of a fully functioning system.

Our team was then able to:

  • Work from anywhere connecting to the offsite servers
  • Move around the new office using the space that suited them on that day (for example to a quiet zone, near the window, in the collaboration spaces)
  • Use less paper, not require training notes to be printed, meet clients without folders of papers
  • Respond faster to clients in meetings with access to the system at their fingertips.

One final change was our phone system. We invested in Office IP on Avaya Equinox (a softphone option) which runs on the laptop and staff use headsets so they can work anywhere in the office. Our phone system has instant messaging and video calls. We are using Zoom for team meetings – and good old email.

Adapting to change

The amount of change our team went through was huge, but the outcome of a brand new office, work flexibility and new equipment is that AFS is now an employer of choice in the Bendigo region. 

The increase in staff engagement has been huge. Even before the renovation, the new IT equipment, flexible hours and a ‘dress for your day’ option sparked a new vibe in the office. We even found team members logging on from home when too sick to come to the office, as they were able to get a few hours done from home.

A strong outcome for all

AFS & Associates

We hoped that the investment would provide a payback and it has. Together we have implemented a robust platform that allows our team to work flexibly within or outside of the office – with zero client impact.

On reflection, we asked our team to go through many changes over 12 months, including changing the way they worked, where they worked and how they worked. Some of these changes were laid out as mandatory, but we worked together to get the best outcome right across the business.

“We asked our team to go through many changes over 12 months, including changing the way they worked, where they worked and how they worked.”
Kate Mannix CA

In hindsight, the volume of changes we went through increased the resilience of our teams. When the pandemic hit, it made the move to remote working so much smoother.

Kate Mannix CA is chief executive officer of AFS & Associates in Bendigo, Central Victoria.

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