There was a time when accountants only worked in offices, relying on desktop accounting software and on-prem management systems. Accounting was the archetype for a 9-5 job, with rigid structures and routines. It used to be a commonly held belief that high levels of productivity required supervision or even surveillance.
But those days are a thing of the past.
As digitalization continues to disrupt sector after sector, the finance and accounting industry is seeing a massive shift in working conditions. Technological advancements and cloud-based accounting systems enable accountants working from home to produce results just as good as those in office settings.
The World Economic Forum also points to workplace flexibility as a crucial topic in the future of work, and an increasing number of businesses are discovering the upsides of this new way of working.
Younger generations in particular want more freedom and have come to expect a different level of flexibility and autonomy.
Remote work is here to stay, and with COVID-19 the transition went from optional to imperative. Today, more accounting firms than ever are embracing remote work and leveraging the benefits.
Remote work gives you access to top talent
Finding skilled employees in finance and accounting can be difficult. Widening the candidate search to include remote candidates is an efficient way to get a larger pool of talent to choose from and a competitive edge.
Allowing remote work is also a way to become a more attractive workplace for local talent. 88% of people who work remotely would recommend telecommuting to their friends, and only 20% of employees working from home would prefer to go back to working in an office.
Leading accounting firms are adapting to the remote trend, and according to a 2018 survey by Convergence Coaching, 43% of CPA firms offer their employees the option of working from home.
Other benefits of remote work for accounting firms
Alongside talent acquisition, the benefits of remote work for accounting firms are numerous, both for the employer and employees. From a business perspective, Forbes lists the following five proven benefits as the most important:
- Productivity: Remote workers are 35-40% more productive than their office colleagues, and have an output increase of more than 4.4%.
- Performance: With more autonomy and location independence, employees deliver results with 40% fewer quality defects.
- Engagement: With increased levels of productivity and performance, remote workers are typically more engaged with 41% lower absence rates.
- Retention: Teams showed an average of 12% turnover reduction after remote work is offered.
- Profitability: Companies save an average of $11,000 yearly per remote worker, translating to a 21% higher profitability.
Help your team transition to remote work
As we've seen, there are many reasons to give remote work a go in your accounting firm, even after the pandemic has passed. But what does it take to succeed?
While the benefits of working remotely for accountants are numerous, some challenges come with it too.
Not being able to meet your team members or clients in person has its downsides, and for your company to thrive in this new situation you need processes that facilitate connection – even from afar. Here's how to handle these challenges of remote work.
3 common challenges of remote work for accountants – and how to handle them
1. Not meeting your clients in person
Cutting out 1-1 time with clients can make it seem more difficult to build a relationship. It can also increase the risk of misunderstandings.
Solution: Whenever possible, opt for video calls to make your meetings more personal. Keep a clear agenda for every meeting and always send a follow-up email listing what was discussed and decided.
When everyone is working remotely, communicating every little detail in writing is key to achieving goals and delivering excellent customer experiences.
2. Managing a remote team is difficult
Managing a team without meeting your team members will always be different from when you all work in the same space. Team-building, motivational activities and planning need to happen in a different format.
Solution: Make sure to book regular team meetings and one-on-ones with your team members. As with your client meetings, use video whenever possible.
To learn from another industry, software developers often start their day with a daily 15-minute standup meeting; a habit that lends itself well to all kinds of remote teams. The standup (which, when done remotely often is a sitdown) is a great way to check in with your team, give each other a boost of energy and sync around your projects.
Also, do remember to plan some time together that is not work-related. This can make up for the lack of office banter that would have taken place by the coffee machine were you all in the same space.
Virtual happy hours and video games are both fun teambuilding activities that can work wonders for motivation and morale.
3. Customer service and internal comms can get messy
With no receptionist to guide visitors and clients to the right person, you risk having clients calling the wrong number or be left hanging.
Solution: Integrate all your applications and contacts to enrich the data in every app and help your team know exactly which client is calling.
A robust PBX (Private Branch Exchange) or VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) system that's integrated with your CRM system and other applications can also help you ensure everyone who is calling your business has the best possible experience.
Cloud-based tools make remote work easier for accountants
To fully enjoy the advantages of remote work, having the right tools in place is essential. With the right tech stack, your team will be able to transition seamlessly between the office and remote work and between different devices.
- Communication: Slack and Zoom are great tools for communication and video meetings. To quickly set up local numbers and call anywhere in the world, also check out VoIP tools (Voice over Internet Protocol) like Aircall or RingCentral.
- Collaboration: To keep your team aligned and in sync, you can adopt a cloud-based tool for collaboration and project management. Trello is a popular Kanban-style application, while Monday and Asana are more classic project management tools.
- Business management: To be able to work remotely, you'll need a cloud-based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system that your team loves. We've listed some of the best CRMs for small businesses here. For the best results, make sure to connect your other apps to your CRM.
How will your accounting firm thrive remotely?
There are numerous upsides for accounting firms who choose to embrace remote work, including higher productivity, performance, engagement, retention and profitability.
But to be fully able to reap the benefits of remote work as an accountant, it's vital to be proactive and aware of the challenges that come with a new way of working.
By using the right cloud-based technology, and making sure all your applications and systems are integrated, you provide your team with the tools to succeed. Other critical success factors include a strong focus on regular communication, video meetings and remembering to take the time for some social banter now and then.