In this interview, we hear from Audit Director Gareth Norris on how he’s found working from an office again, his tips for others and his reflections on the past 17 months.

I didn’t really have any concerns about returning to the office as I knew that the reopening had been carefully planned with plenty of measures in place to ensure our safety. I’ve been careful throughout the pandemic, aware that I have some vulnerable family members (albeit not in my household), but wasn’t worried about coming back to the office with the measures in place.

Having the option to work from an office since they reopened last summer has been very important to me. It’s enabled me to work more effectively and complete tasks that were more challenging at home. Some people will think I’m mad travelling the best part of an hour each way to work from an office, but this works better for me and makes it easier to switch off from work at night. In the same way, I know that lots of people find working from home much better for them than having to come into the office – I think this just goes to show that we’re all different.

"Having the option to work from an office since they reopened last summer has been very important to me."

I’m grateful that our offices remained open during the second and third lockdowns. This was important to me and each time we entered a new lockdown or government measures were tightened, I waited with some trepidation to see whether our offices would close again like they had in March 2020. It was a great relief when they did stay open, although obviously I challenged myself as to whether I really needed to go in.

During the full lockdown in January 2021, I reduced my office visits and generally limited myself to one day a week in one of the office. I would mainly go in to print and scan documents that I found really hard to review electronically, or for hard copy accounts that were coming in via the post.

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As a director in the business, I felt it was more appropriate for me to go in and do some of these tasks rather than expecting other members of staff to do this on my behalf, potentially putting themselves at risk and knowing that some of them had vulnerable family members to consider, too. I was also conscious that due to very low numbers going into the office that on occasions if I went into the office for a day, it could stop others going in who were really struggling to work from home.

I now work from an office two to three times a week which has helped me connect with my team and separate home from work a little more. I have also been taking the bi-weekly lateral flow tests to be as sure as I can that I am not passing on the virus to those around me, either in the office or amongst family and friends.

I was both apprehensive and excited about the easing of restrictions in England on 19 July. On one hand it is great to get back to some sense of normality and do some of the things that I have missed over the past 17 months. On the other hand, I'm also mindful that we need to protect each other and be sensible as to what precautions we continue to take after this point. We need to respect our colleagues who haven't yet had their second or even first vaccines.

I have been surprised by how little impact the pandemic has had on my relationships with clients. We have met virtually and often the lack of travel time has enabled more of the team to join these meetings. Undertaking remote audits has become very slick and some of my clients are happy for us to continue performing the audit remotely which demonstrates how well the teams have adapted to this way of working. I still feel that we are having to pedal harder in order to provide the same level of service – part of that is because our team is not able to collaborate in the same way together, despite great virtual tools.

I’d encourage people to think about what will work best for them. For anyone who hasn’t been into the office since we initially closed in March last year, I would encourage you to talk to colleagues who have done so. At present, we’re not asking people to work from an office unless they are comfortable to, but the option is there if they need to. I would encourage people to think about what a trip to the office will do to make their job easier, more fulfilling or help the team they are working with. Certain days tend to be a little quieter, so if you are nervous then perhaps try booking on a quieter day.

If the past 17 months has taught me anything, it’s just how adaptable we are. When we first went into lockdown in March 2020, I can recall conversations with colleagues, friends, and family where we thought we would be out of the pandemic within a couple of months and the idea that we’d still be talking about the pandemic at Christmas seemed a very pessimistic thought. However, 17 months on, I think it’s hard to predict what the next six months will bring and I suspect we will all have to adapt to changing circumstances.

"If the past 17 months has taught me anything, it’s just how adaptable we are."

This experience has shown me that we can all adapt quickly to circumstances we could never have predicted. It hasn’t been easy for us all to do our jobs, but I’ve been impressed by the resilience shown by our teams. I take my hat off to those colleagues who have been balancing work with home schooling, looking after young children or caring for families – I can only imagine what pressure that has put on people as well as the emotional challenges of those who have sadly seen loved ones suffer from the virus and worst of all lose family or friends to the pandemic. I count myself very fortunate that my loved ones have remained safe and well, knowing that so many people have been affected.

For me, being able to spend time away from home has been a great way to relax and get away from the pressures of work. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some trips away despite the pandemic – trips to the Isle of Skye and then Italy last September and breaks in Northumberland and the Isle of Skye earlier this year. You don’t realise how tired and worn out you are until you stop and it’s really important that we all take a break.

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