Kris Loomis, CPA, CVA, Managing Principal
Cordell, Neher and Company, PLLC
When asked if we would share how COVID-19 has affected Cordell, Neher & Co., PLLC, I took the opportunity to sit back and think a bit. In reality, it would be easier to share how COVID-19 has not impacted us.
It hasn’t changed our mission. In fact, COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to increase our energy and focus on helping our clients on their paths to success. It hasn’t changed our commitment to provide timely, compassionate, and accurate financial advice to our clients. And, COVID-19 has not changed our reliance on or respect and appreciation for the team of professionals we are lucky enough to work with every day.
Our decisions while operating a small business during a global pandemic have been focused on keeping our employees safe, providing timely, technical information to our clients, and meeting our clients where their needs are today. As it turns out, that was not necessarily a tax return in April. Our Firm was operating at full capacity in early March much like any other tax season. Things were going smoothly, and the tax deadline was close enough that we could clearly see April 15th on the horizon, yet far enough away that we hadn’t yet kicked into overdrive….and along came COVID-19. Like most businesses, everything changed at Cordell, Neher & Co., PLLC in an instant.
First, we needed to keep employees safe, so we pivoted to allowing employees to work from home as much as necessary for their given situation. We provided ample office space for each employee to allow for social distancing. We left doors open so shared touchpoints could be avoided. We moved staff meetings to TEAMS or ZOOM and provided lots of hand sanitizer. We closed our office to ALL outside visitors including family members of staff. We provided a table, visible to our reception desk, but more than six feet away for clients to drop off their documents. In the early days of COVID-19, there was a lot of concern about surface transmission, so all documents received from outside the office were quarantined for 48 hours in a sunlit room prior to being distributed.
Second, we focused on providing timely, technical information to our clients. For many of our clients, COVID-19 has been a significant hurdle to manage. We immediately realized that the impact reached beyond our own clients. We love our community and wanted to reach as many small and medium-sized businesses as we could. Our government—Federal, State and Local—was rolling out legislation and programs very quickly. In most cases, these programs were complicated and required a timely and accurate response. We dedicated a couple of experts in our office to gathering information on the available programs and pushed out webinars as quickly as we could. It was a full team effort as we figured out how to host a ZOOM webinar and get that information out to the community. We considered it a success—our very first live ZOOM webinar had over 250 attendees.
Finally, we needed to meet our clients where they were in terms of business needs. This was late March and early April….deep into our tax season where we eat, breathe and live tax returns until April 15th. The deadline was delayed, but some clients were expecting refunds, so it was important to stay attentive to getting those returns completed quickly. Other clients needed support and assistance with the PPP loans or a better understanding as to whether or not they should apply. There were also grants that were made available, and many businesses needed support with setting up their business books to support PPP forgiveness, forecasting cash flows, navigating the State Unemployment programs, and managing the myriad of payroll tax credits and deferrals. We kept our eye on the deadlines, pushed out information as those delays changed or expanded, kept abreast of the latest information, and answered thousands of questions and emails. I don’t think our website has ever changed so frequently during any other time period.
The bigger question, it seems to me is what do we do with all we have learned in the last five months. To some degree, working from home is the great equalizer. We are more transparent and more human. During ZOOM meetings, my dog demands some attention. You may need to take a break to check on your children. Others may be sharing home office space with the rest of the family. The vulnerability from the fear associated with what will happen to our businesses and economy along with the melting away of some of our professional “walls” can lead to a stronger bond with our clients and with our teammates. That will be a positive outcome if we allow this pandemic to further support the evolution of the workplace. It can help us improve work-life balance and deepen the bonds and trust with clients, employees, and our community. This can be a tremendous opportunity.
For our Firm, COVID-19 has brought to life our Mission: Helping our clients on their path to success. It has created an opportunity for us to learn how to maintain and even deepen our collegiality and collaboration using remote tools. The water cooler conversations have been replaced with TEAMS lunch or ZOOM happy hours and the back patio has become a favorite spot for socially-distanced client meetings. It has given us a chance to be thoughtful about how far “back to normal” we really wish to go. I am confident we will use what we have learned to be better in the future.
Cordell, Neher & Company, PLLC, is one of the largest Certified Public Accounting firms in North Central Washington with individual and business clients spanning the globe. The Firm has been providing businesses, not-for-profit organizations and individuals with financial and tax planning assistance for more than 50 years. The Firm is comprised of experienced, dedicated professionals with widely diverse backgrounds and areas of technical expertise. Because business and personal accounting today is so broad in scope, specialized expertise is needed to offer a full range of accounting services.