I can remember it as if it was yesterday even though it was a Saturday in February or March 2003. One of our trainees, Emma Finlay (now Emma White and more significantly now our deputy Managing Partner) was standing in a big clear plastic sack jumping up and down on a load of shredding. 

Now before you think this was some weird team-building exercise, I better explain. 

Up until a few years ago, we used to gather all the accountants together on a Saturday during our “quiet” period to work on a particular project. Most years it was about developing a new service or systems. 

But in 2003 we decided that this would be the year we’d go “paperless”. Well actually it was more like “less paper”. 

We were looking to be able to work remotely and be able to access documents easily rather than rummaging through files. We’d already worked out that for this to work we needed to have two screens on every computer. 

That was step one. If you only have one screen on your computer then you’ll never be paperless. It’s impossible to draft a reply to a letter with only one screen. You need the letter on one screen and the reply on the other.

Step two was getting rid of what we didn’t need. 

We made a decision to get rid of any files for businesses we no longer acted for which were over six years old. A big truck from a confidential shredding company turned up in the car park and took them all away leaving a certificate with us to prove what they’d taken. 

All the other files that weren’t current but were still needed went into boxes, were indexed and were sent to a storage company.


Step three was the scanning of our existing paper. As we went through the files, we stripped out everything that was already on our system and then started scanning the rest. 

Everything we didn’t need went in the shredder. Bag after bag was filled until we realised that we were starting to run out of bags. Hence the sight of a future partner taking matters into her own hands when she realised that we could get about three times as much into each bag with a bit of brute force.

I guess that day was when we started preparing for Coronavirus even though we didn’t know it. 

It was also the day I stopped popping into the office most weekends. 

Readers of previous articles may well recall my paranoia about not having an up to date “to do” list first thing on Monday morning. To achieve that, I used to pop into the office at some point each weekend. When we were in Longfield and I lived in Aylesford that was a 25-minute drive there. And 25 minutes back. One day I got to the office to realise my office keys were still at home. Grrr. 

Our filing system for documents has not changed much since those days. It’s fairly easy to navigate if you know your way around it and it incorporates the best idea that anyone has ever had at A4G. 

A member of our team who worked for us back then called Mike Smallwood (if you know him say hello from us) suggested that if all files had the date at the start in the format YYYY.MM.DD (e.g. 2020.03.13) they would appear in date order. Simple!

At this point I should let you in on a little secret. 

My memory is not good enough to recall all aspects of your affairs.

Sure, I remember the big stuff. The tax enquiries, the business sales, the divorces. Oh and I also remember all the funny stories. To one of my clients who agreed over a beer that I have the rights to the book of all the hilarious stuff he’s been involved in, I am holding you to that.

But the detail is too much to recall. 

So when you call me at the office and we are in that two minute catching up phase of the phone call, I will usually have surreptitiously have opened your file on my PC in readiness for the question.

We’ve also been aided in our preparations by having an office at the highest point in Kent. Those who live in West Kingsdown know it has its own weather system meaning when it snows heavily its pretty much inaccessible. Several years ago, we were unable to get to the office for three days apart from the intrepid local who strapped tennis rackets to her feet (well in my imagination she did anyway), got to the office and made sure all our technology worked ok whilst answering the phones.  

After three days of working like that I was climbing the walls. I could never have imagined that in the future I’d do it for seven weeks (and counting)

So why is this all relevant now seven weeks after lockdown began?

Because there are a lot of businesses out there that are not ready for the new normal. 

A lot of businesses who can’t access their paperwork from anywhere in the world. A lot of businesses whose offices rely on people sitting less than two metres apart. When the world starts again, your office will not be able (allowed?) to work the way it did before. 

You may well find that as work picks up, the social distancing rules likely to be imposed under Health and Safety as a condition of re-opening your business means that some of your staff will be working from home for a while or alternate days. 

And that’s when paper will be the enemy. Because paper can only be in one location and you are going to need it to be in several.

Your customers are going to expect when they’re talking to your staff that your staff can do their job the way they did it before all this started. 

So if you’re bored and haven’t been to the office for a while, take a drive to the office tomorrow and look around. Is your scanner up to it? Is your online filing system easy to negotiate? Are your accounts in the cloud? Get these things right and you’re halfway there. 

If your business has survived Coronavirus it would be careless if it were killed off by too much paper.

Despite it being Bank Holiday tomorrow look out for our thoughts from the weekend. 

Contact me today!

Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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