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Over the last few months at Real Strategy, we have been interviewing designers, architects, and human resource professionals about the future of remote working, hybrid spaces, and what a return to the office might look like post-COVID. This week, we caught up with Kathryn Hancock (CHRL) and Jim McConnery (CPA, CA, TEP) of locally based accounting firm Welch LLP to discuss their experience managing people and space during the pandemic.

In Kathryn’s role as Director of Human Resources, she oversees the HR department as well as the overall human resource strategy at Welch. Jim’s role as a Managing Partner primarily has him handling tax and estate planning and support in addition to his management responsibilities. We were really curious to learn more about Welch’s back to work plan and share Kathryn’s and Jim’s insights with our readers.

Kathryn Hancock (Director of Human Resources) & Jim McConnery (Managing Partner) at Welch LLP


Leadership and communication

The first topic we covered was the importance of effective communication from leadership during a crisis. Welch was prudent enough to have had a Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Committee (DRBC Committee) in place prior to the pandemic. The committee’s role is to monitor all available news, research, operational factors, and make potential policy and risk mitigation recommendations to leadership.

The purpose is simple: account for all factors involved and streamline the decision process. Jim and Kathryn attribute this committee and process for keeping Welch nimble and safe throughout 2020 by enabling the organization to provide ample resources and steward their staff in Ottawa (roughly 200 people) with timely communication during periods of intense stress.

“This centralized committee has been particularly important for Welch over the past year with COVID-19. It’s been a big win for us because the team can quickly vet the situation, come up with options on how to adapt, and get the needed approval from management.” — Jim McConnery (Managing Partner, Welch LLP)

Effective communication is the key to fostering trust in leadership and helping people feel safe during times of uncertainty; which at Welch, meant almost daily communication. The correspondence gave updates, set expectations, and sometimes would just provide reassurance. Seeking to encourage proactive dialogue, Welch also made a point to have management engage personally with staff on how they were coping with the loss of connection during the pandemic and other unexpected challenges.

“You might not know anything new but you still have to make the connection between what’s happening and how it impacts our staff. We have more than 20 Partners with leadership roles and they all have to be on the same page. It’s better to plan, anticipate, strategize, and provide ongoing reassurance rather than getting asked how something new impacts the organization… and worse, not having an answer.” — Kathryn Hancock (Director of Human Resources, Welch LLP)

Jim and Kathryn also brought up how, before COVID-19, Welch held regular firm-wide town hall meetings where up to 150 staff members would gather to socialize and share ideas. Once COVID-19 hit, these meetings went virtual becoming another tool in the firm’s communication strategy to engage with and receive feedback from staff. It was the perfect forum to share insight, positive news, and celebrate achievements.

As a result of efforts like the DRBC Committee, timely communication, and virtual town halls, whenever there was a public announcement concerning COVID-19, Welch was able to reach out in less than 12 hours with information and answers for its entire employee base! Make sure to join us next time for the second part of our interview with Welch LLP where we discuss the iterative and flexible approach they ended up taking to office re-entry.

Real Strategy Advisors has also been a strong proponent of human centric office space policies regarding employee work-life balance, mental health, and wellness. We can help consult on workplace strategy and come up with custom tailored solutions so your employees and office culture don’t suffer under “the new normal” — contact us today!

Welch LLP is a full-service Chartered Professional Accounting firm based in Ottawa that provides a range of accounting, tax, advisory, and other specialty services to private, public, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Home to more than 300 staff across 12 offices in Ontario and Quebec, Welch LLP provides industry specific expertise with a focus on relationship-driven client service.