Returning To Work – Planning For The Big ‘Back To Office’ Transition

By Paul Saunders, MD of Legal Eye

We are existing in a time where the property market is probably the most challenged in living memory. However, developments over recent days may indicate that lenders, developers and property professionals are doing their part to rebuild and kickstart the market.

Nationwide recently increased its mortgage lending loan-to-value to 85% having previously temporarily withdrawn new customer lending above 75% in response to COVID-19. HSBC have brought desktop valuations to 90% loan-to-value giving them an aggressively competitive offering. Taylor Wimpey have been reported to be reopening some of their development sites also.

The British Association of Removers’ website quotes the latest data from a sentiment tracker from the Yomdel Property Sentiment Tracker (YPST) as showing that consumers are sending an overwhelming message to estate agents from deep within the coronavirus lockdown, say-ing “we’re coming back and we need to move” as they make contact via agent websites.

For the week ending 19 April, new enquiries were up strongly across the board from vendors, landlords, buyers and tenants, signalling that pressure from pent up demand for home moving services was pushing against restrictions from the four-week-old Government-imposed coronavirus lockdown.

So, what of law firms? How can they prepare and help the market to return to some semblance of order? In order to help and support the firms that we work with we have started to pull together a checklist of items to consider when starting to reintegrate staff and businesses back into the marketplace.

Considering how to assess risk when onboarding new clients and picking up part-completed transactions along with thinking of how new instructions are received and processed in a contactless way but whilst still ensuring that the risk of fraud is kept to a minimum.

Whilst there may well be many unanswered questions and things outside of our control, we have to envisage what it might be like and plan ahead for what we will need to do when restrictions are eased and then lifted:

  • For conveyancing firms they are likely to experience a surge in exchanges and completions currently stuck in the pipeline
  • A lack of or delay in responses from firms closed, or suffering from a similar deluge of exchanges and completions leading to an uplift in phone calls, emails and possibly in complaints;
  • Clients jostling for position in the queue, phones and emails to be answered quickly;
  • Agents and panels pushing to get completions through for their clients and for the sake of cashflow
  • Staff returning from furlough (rusty and sluggish), getting up to speed on files
  • Files not up to date, either because a skeleton staff operating during furlough has not been able to progress them, or the parties do not want to progress them or simply because files have been left untouched during furlough
  • Will there be an increase in new enquiries? Not just in conveyancing – family, wills and probate, employment, insolvency and commercial are already reporting that they are busier than ever – a situation that is likely to continue in the future.
  • Unusual and odd requests because other firms still closed / refusing to take work
  • Regulatory requirements, AML and cybercrime threats increasing as criminals seek to exploit how busy you are and that bpotentially every day could be as busy as the traditional Friday
  • Cashflow tight, reserves depleted, Furlough payments delayed, wage bill increasing as staff return from furlough, rent payments due, employment claims and unexpected additional costs such as those for extra IT support.

As part of your ongoing Business Continuity / Disaster Recovery Planning some of the issues you might be facing in the first few days / weeks back may include:

  • How will you manage a surge?
  • What can you do now in terms of training to get those furloughed back up to speed and mentally fit to return?
  • Will you be bringing everyone back into the office on Day 1? Or will it be a phased return? How will this be done?
  • What do you need to do in respect of furloughed staff, if you need them back sooner?
  • How will you ensure your team are safe (social distancing) and in opening the office, you minimise the risk of inviting COVID-19 into the office and it spreading amongst your staff, do you need a policy to make it clear to staff what they can and cannot do in the new environment?
  • What resources do you need in the office to support staff still at home and dealing with any surge in activity?
  • What PPE do you have left? Do you need more? You may need to order it now, for delivery in time for any return?
  • How will you deal with callers to the office?
  • What about cashflow as you take back the payroll of those returning from Furlough?
  • Have you communicated with key bodies such as your insurer and regulator/s to protect your business?
  • Do you make a decision that you can run your business in the main from home working and therefore do not need the expense of a large office?

There are more questions than answers at this moment, but now is the time to address them.

From a risk perspective, having a policy for your firm on how to handle clients post COVID may help give some clarity. We are producing a training module on the Legal Eye Academy to help.

We are also offering a “return to business” product to help firms look with a gap analysis of where a change in behaviour or process may help expedite the return process and the pace at which it can be conducted.

Please contact Paul Saunders on [email protected] for a further discussion or email [email protected] to register for further information about our ‘return to work’ support services and for our upcoming ‘Return to Work’ webinar.

This article was submitted to be published by Legal Eye as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Wills and Probate. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Wills and Probate.

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