School, parties and intimate lunches have been legitimately on hold in some states for months, in the interest of public health and safety. Other activities have been voluntarily surrendered by some for no good reason.

Among them is business building.

While COVID-19 has sadly destroyed many businesses in sectors like hospitality, arts and tourism, the financial services sector has remained relatively unscathed.

Yet some businesses have been using lockdown as an excuse for taking their foot off the pedal. This mentality opens the door for more passionate, opportunistic entrepreneurs to take ground while the competition patiently waits for conditions to normalise.

While restrictions are now being eased in some states, there is no guarantee that life will ever return to normal. Even if it does, the risk of future setbacks is real.

The longer this uncertainty remains, the more likely it is that society will permanently adopt new ways of doing things, such as wearing masks, working remotely and online shopping.

As such, business owners need to change their mindset and get a sense of urgency about building their businesses.

AZ NGA has been on this journey too. As investors and business partners in accounting and financial advisory SMEs, COVID-19 restrictions put the brakes on deal flow by making it harder to gather intel, travel and meet people. At least that’s what we initially told ourselves to justify a lull in inquiries and activity.

However, a number of the underlying accounting and advice businesses in the AZ NGA network were thriving under the same operating conditions.

The leaders in these businesses were not complaining about challenging market conditions.

They saw COVID-19, including the government’s maze of relief measures, as an opportunity to reinforce the value of professional advice, help clients get their insurances and financial affairs in order and facilitate access to COVID-19 support payments, entitlements and business grants.

Similarly, COVID-induced business disruption such as changing work patterns can be seen as an opportunity.

Working remotely may have initially stifled business development, relationship building and collaboration but, for many, it has also led to greater flexibility, job satisfaction and productivity.

It has forced people to be more creative about how they go about their business.

According to the Australian Productivity Commission’s September 2021 research paper: Working from home, COVID-19 has blurred the lines between professional and personal.

Approximately 44 per cent of all employees currently work from home and it is “unlikely” things will return to pre-pandemic levels of 20 per cent, according to the report.

This blurring of the lines has enabled people to achieve that elusive work life balance.

Without the need to commute to the office, many people have clawed back a couple of extra hours every day to spend on a variety of activities including family time, exercise and gardening.

Despite early predictions that the sudden, widespread shift to working from home would see productivity slip and harm the nation’s economic output, the evidence shows that productivity has held up or improved, according to the Productivity Commission’s paper.

In fact, the average workday is 8 per cent longer, or almost 49 minutes, than pre-pandemic levels.

While the long-term impact of working exclusively from home is predicted to include loss of innovation and reduced opportunities for promotion and career advancement, in the short-to-medium term there is little downside for financial services businesses.

That said, there will be winners and losers from this period.

The winners will be the accounting and advisory businesses that embraced change, ramped up activity and chased opportunities, despite the uncertainty.

They will emerge with stronger, more resilient businesses and momentum heading into 2022.

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