GGFL COVID19 Commentary Week #9 – Coming Up for Air (and a tax filing deadline reminder)
By: Josh Engel
We closed our office on March 19 and headed home to create work spaces for ourselves and begin a pandemic-imposed journey for which nobody had a road map.
It was, quite literally, a journey into the unknown.
Little by little we adjusted and re-adjusted, got video savvy and made concerted efforts to communicate with our clients and respond to their many questions and concerns.
Maintaining the high level of service our clients deserve and expect, while staying alert to the welfare of our employees were our twin goals.
Today, just two weeks away from the extended June 1 personal tax filing deadline, I’m proud to say that all our accounting staff and those supporting them, are working flat out to meet that deadline as we have always been able do.
As we gradually found our bearings in this world of remote communication and individual isolation, we have asked clients to adjust as we have adjusted.
Many have taken to filing documents electronically for the first time, some were already doing so.
We devised a system for those who prefer to deliver hard copies, asking clients to bring documents to our office during specific times and deposit them in secure containers.
We have then followed health advice and quarantined the paper for three days before allowing it to be scanned by the small number of employees who have taken on this work. We owe a special thanks to them.
We also owe thanks to clients who have responded with patience and understanding to our new, if temporary, reality.
It is usual for us to do a significant amount of audit and review work off site, at clients’ offices. We have also had to devise remote alternatives to those site visits.
In normal times, we offer advice, receive clients’ relevant information and file by deadline. We are familiar with the existing law and where the law has changed, we will have had plenty of time to study those changes.
During the pandemic, we have had the extra task of analyzing the constant flow of government financial support announcements that have usually been made without all of the key details we need to properly advise clients.
Along with everyone else in the Canadian accounting business, we have been learning on the fly.
We have clients whose businesses are hurting and who have been understandably anxious to know which of those financial support measures they might qualify for. We have tried our best to give clients the best advice possible but because those important details have routinely been delayed, we have not always been as rapid as we would like.
We have learned a great deal from this remote experience.
We know we can be nimble as a firm and make this remote work arrangement work well if we have to do it again, which we hope we won’t.
We also know that permanent workplace change will be a legacy of this pandemic.
We have started planning for a future return to the office. It is, to put it mildly, a complex challenge even for a relatively small office of 100 or so employees.
Some employees will want to return to the office, some will be happy staying in their now well-established home offices and others will want a mix of the two. In the early phase (at least) of a return-to-office we must have protocols in place to protect both staff and clients.
Remote meetings are not everybody’s favourite way of communicating but likely the communications tools we are using today will improve and appear quaintly old fashioned a few years from now. How many of us had even heard of Zoom before this pandemic?
As I mentioned, our immediate goal is the June 1 personal tax filing deadline and we urge all clients who have not yet done so to get their information to us so we can meet the deadline.
We can handle electronic filings quickly and CRA’s recent welcome decision to allow electronic signatures makes the process even easier. Although navigating new applications that make this possible has been a challenge for our staff and clients.
Paper filing obviously takes longer, especially with the required three-day quarantine for all paper arriving at our office.
There’s an incentive for those getting a refund: CRA has promised that refunds will be issued quickly in an effort to alleviate hardship many are experiencing.
We at GGFL consider ourselves fortunate. We’re busy, our staff is gainfully employed and after some early bumps in the road, our business is currently operating more or less as usual.
Let me repeat that we couldn’t have achieved this without the dedication of GGFL staff and the co-operation of the clients we serve.
I wish you all an enjoyable and safe long weekend and may the scourge of COVID-19 disappear sooner rather than later.
Josh Engel is GGFL’s Managing Partner.