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Home News Insights Positive change through adversity: Stories from PKF International’s people
Insights • 2020-06-15

Positive change through adversity: Stories from PKF International’s people

We spoke to Brett Settles, Director of Human Resources at PKF O’Connor Davies

PKF firms across the globe have faced a range of challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. From remote working to maintaining service provision to recruiting graduates, overcoming such challenges are global – though each country and each firm has their own solutions. For Brett Settles, serving as Director of Human Resources at a $160m+ firm such as PKF O’Connor Davies in North America, these challenges really scale up.

“We’ve certainly had challenges on many levels,” he explains.

From an IT perspective, working from home for staff meant testing servers and support systems.

Then, can clients’ requirements be satisfied? “There have been lots of calls, emails, and video conferences – making sure we meet deliverables and assist clients with solving an array of new significant challenges that they face as result of the pandemic.”

PKF O’Connor Davies also had to quickly adapt from what was previously a one day a week remote work policy option for employees, to a fully remote workforce of over 800 employees. “It has worked better than we could have ever hoped it would”, says Brett. “Our employees have done a tremendous job of adapting to this new normal, remaining productive and even strengthening client relationships.” As a result of the success, PKF O’Connor Davies is allowing employees to be fully remote through to the end of the year if they wish - even when the firm opens its offices back up.

The pandemic has impacted on certain areas of work such as transactions and tax preparation/filing, while providing broad advice and ‘crisis support’ to client has been all-consuming. Making the pieces fit the new jigsaw has been vital for Brett and the firm’s management.

“We created a service where we help clients put together paperwork for business loans that they need to keep running”, Brett explains. For PKF Connor Davies, it’s about building strong relationships with clients and always looking to add value, especially when they need it most. The firm created a coronavirus ‘resource centre’, where its  wide range of experts provide their thoughts and takes on any aspect of managing the impact of the pandemic on a business or individual, from a tax, accounting, regulatory and transactional perspective.

Even Brett ‘s team got involved, reviewing how governmental policy updates would impact their clients in terms of workforce management, along with health and safety. The information hub has proved massively popular.

“We now have a huge library of a resource centre… it’s led to us having webinars with thousands of clients live. Many called us afterwards with further questions and requests for support.”

Communication isn’t just outwardly focused. With more than 800 employees, helping maintain morale alongside good working practices has been critical.

“We’re about the people and have always had a more community-based environment - it’s been magnified through this pandemic. Happy hours and coffee breaks are now globally recognised as good online practice.” But O’Connor Davies’s marketing team went a step further: creating a special newsletter, ‘News To Get Us Through’, motivating people by flagging up the great work being done. It also includes ‘Thank You to our Frontline Heroes’ section, where friends and relatives who are key workers are highlighted and thanked.

Going forward, Brett accepts that there is “still a lot of uncertainty” in gauging what the ‘new normal’ will look like.

As we enter a transitional phase, he sees the remote culture of working dominating for a while longer. When people are made “comfortable and safe”, they will return to the office – and then face-to-face meetings with clients will be managed.

“I think it’s a matter of waiting and seeing what’s going to happen but being able to adapt.” he explains.

“We understand that things are going to be different than how they were, but it has been incredible to see that we can all come together and deal with anything that is thrown at us.”

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