“Look at the guy on your left,” they told pilot recruits during World War II on their first day of training. “Look at the guy on your right. One of you won’t be here in three months.”

They were probably talking about washouts and crashes, not lay-offs, but the Wall Street nosedive begun last fall has, in turn, started to produce a lot of empty chairs in offices. Maybe in your clients’ offices, maybe your firm’s, and certainly at Practical Accountant. My longtime friend and editor was laid off in mid-January, a victim of arithmetic. We were a two-man shop, basically, and, my workload has increased.

How long would you phone your clients before you heard stories of similar victims in their companies?

Luckily, I suppose, a bolt hit me last fall. Our accounting news division here comprises four reporters and four publications. There’s overlap in our work: Practical Accountant does a write-up software story in the spring, and Accounting Technology does one for early summer. Accounting Today does a marketing round-up for June, and Practical Accountant does one for August. WebCPA’s Newswire continuously pumps out items we could plumb for our departments. Yes, each pub needs its own identity and, yes, stuff’s going to happen in the two months between the stories that will need to be covered, but still. I strategically thought/daydreamed that somehow we could cut some of that duplication.

I sat down with the other three reporters before Thanksgiving and hashed out what we like doing and what we hate doing. I had intended to analyze the results and work out how we could shift some responsibilities so that we’d be writing as often as possible about subjects interesting to us, thus probably doing a quicker and more thorough job for the reader, and making our own workday more fun.

The plan in fact mirrored a stated initiative by our publishing company: Do more and do better with less, the mantra of the still-employed masses these days. This company initiative, like many initiatives, needed a kick from outside forces to set it in motion. It got one in the form of the empty desk I suddenly saw when I looked to my left.

I sat down then with the entire staff of our department and doled out what needed to be done for our April issue. Everyone pitched in grandly: the editor-in-chief is writing one story; two other editors are writing another feature; everyone’s kicking in on our departments.

This example of cooperation for this company, for your clients, and perhaps for your own firm starts with some of the questions we asked: Who on your staff is doing what work? Who else on your staff is doing the same work around the same time? What do they like and hate to do on their jobs. Perhaps most important: What’s the background of your staff, or what were they doing before this job that gave them skills to facilitate your company/firm doing something new now?

Also, the crux of this idea doesn’t come in the days after the cutback, but in the long run. I knew it’d be no trouble getting people here to pitch in immediately. I am worried about when the compassion for my plight seeps away and I become a sort of office version of a public service announcement. The trick is to keep alive the momentum of this new way of doing business, to nurse the idea long enough for new teams to mix well to serve customers, readers and clients.

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