Ernst & Young (EY), a global leader in consulting, transactions, assurance and tax, has experienced many changes to the way its Dallas office operates since the start of the pandemic this past March. The biggest change: business travel.
The business travel industry is estimated to have lost $518 billion since March, according to Global Business Travel Association.
Staff members typically travel around to different EY offices’ clients to perform inventory counts, but these paying-your-dues-like tasks work more strangely now than before.
Remember how Santa makes his list and checks it twice? Well, the “checking it twice” task is left to EY staff. Inventory counts ensure businesses accurately report their financial reports to consumers each quarter. EY staff act as Santa’s little elves, traveling during the global pandemic to – yes – count things. Aren’t you glad you didn’t major in accounting?
Katharine (Katie) Camp, 22, is one of Santa’s elves. She graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in May 2020 and received her job offer from EY last December. She waited and waited to receive her start date as EY’s newest Assurance Staff, but the pandemic kept pushing it back – from the beginning of 2020 all the way to September.
“Santa” is no other than Cesar Garcia, 26, who started as one of the many other elves in August 2018 but was promoted to Assurance Senior this year.
Cesar “Santa” Garcia tells his elves – staff members – which clients of which EY locations to pay visits to to conduct inventory counts. Katie the Elf knew inventory counts were part of the job when she received her offer, but once COVID happened, she figured she wasn’t going to be traveling as much as she had expected, she said.
While leisure travel was down 50% year-over-year in Aug., corporate travel was down 88%, said a recent research note from Bank of America analysts.
Way back pre-COVID, Katie was looking forward to attending happy hours with colleagues and laughing it up at elaborate EY holiday parties. “Every college student envisions their first job out of college to be very exciting, and they look forward to becoming friends with coworkers,” Katie said.
But that dream came to a grinding halt once COVID made its way overseas. “I was really looking forward to hanging out with coworkers, but I haven’t been able to do that. I never got to do that; I attended a Baptist school. I haven’t ever even been inside the Dallas EY office or met any of my coworkers.”
Once Katie finally got to start her dream job at her dream company this past September, she was asked about her comfort levels regarding doing anything in-person.
“EY asked everyone who was comfortable with in-person inventory counts to partake, depending on family situation and health,” Katie said. Everyone realizes inventory counts aren’t “the most fun tasks, but they still beat staying in your room.” Traveling around the state is her “only way to get experience outside of my house for right now.”
“I like being able to show the company how I’m still willing to put in the work, do what needs to be done and get to know the clients in-person,” she said.
Katie’s first inventory count took her to West Texas. She drove a rental car although she was expecting EY to allow her to fly, but the client’s safety personnel preferred she drove. “I was doing a count for the EY team out of the country in Canada.”
She said how the company is really trying to keep employees as local as possible, avoiding as much contact with others as they could. Staff members could be assigned to work for any EY office from around the globe, but now are being assigned to accounts based on geographical location.
Approaching her third inventory count, Katie is beginning to feel the impact of the pandemic. “During the orientations, employees always mention that they’re following health and safety protocols.”
“Staying in hotels is the strangest. It’s a little lonely,” Katie said. “It makes traveling a little awkward – being around other people for the first time in a long time and not being able to socialize with anyone at the hotel bars or restaurants.”
While Cesar’s elves are off conducting these tasks, he works from home and overlooks engagements. His job as an Assurance Senior requires him to manage downward and upward, update executives on the status of clients and “double check inventory counts and financial reports clients show to the market,” Garcia said.
“Before the pandemic and my promotion, I was going on inventory counts all over the state. One even took me to Alaska!”
Now, Garcia says, overlooking inventory counts is a little bit of a struggle. However, “it’s proven that, as a firm, you don’t need to be together, working elbow to elbow, constantly to still get close to your teams.”
Garcia used to visit clients’ offices every day, but now he has to jump on calls or schedule virtual meetings to answer client questions.
Bill Gates, Microsoft Co-Founder, has even inserted his opinion on business travel during the Nov. Deal Book online summit hosted by New York Times. “My prediction would be that over 50 percent of business travel and over 30 percent of days in the office will go away,” Gates said.
Now, Cesar tends to sit on Zoom meetings with clients and just sit in silence – cameras on, microphones off – while working “just to act like you’re in the same room.”
“It feels a little distant and hard to not be working with people,” Cesar said. “I can’t meet my new staff, so it’s a little upsetting. We still do the same great work, but it just feels different doing the same things but virtually.”
“I miss traveling to visit with my clients and meet my staff on inventory counts.” The pandemic can’t end soon enough, said the EY Assurance Senior.