18th December, 2020
It’s fair to say that 2020 has been a surprising year, to say the least. And with huge numbers of people working from home for weeks or months at a stretch, many workplaces have seen fundamental changes.
Accounting is one of the industries that has been deeply affected. Remote working has disrupted things … but not necessarily in a bad way.
Here are a few of the key ways in which remote working has transformed accounting.
While there have always been online courses for accountants, shelter-in-place orders mean that a lot more learning is taking place online than before.
With universities shifting teaching online, many would-be accountants are studying from home. Plus, PMP (project management professional) training is increasingly being taken up online rather than in face-to-face classes.
For students, this can be both a challenge and an opportunity. Studying remotely can feel quite isolated at times. But, the proliferation of online courses opens up training to more people who may have been unable to take up face-to-face courses due to price, location, or accessibility issues.
Many accountancy firms feared that employees would not be as productive when working from home. In reality, employers have often been surprised in 2020 to find that their team members are actually getting more done from home, without the frequent interruptions that often go hand-in-hand with working in the office.
“My company’s experience remotely closing the books in the first quarter demonstrated that finance and accounting staff productivity was just as high as it was previously, if not higher. In fact, we were able to close our books at period-end in a scant three days.”
It’s important for managers to resist the urge to micromanage employees who are working remotely. Of course, you should make sure that your employees know how to get help and support if they need it – but you don’t want them to feel like you’re watching their every move.
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In the office, you may have had an IT department responsible for setting up computers with antivirus protection, for maintaining a firewall, and for reminding your staff about best practices when it comes to creating passwords.
With staff working from home, there are new cybersecurity challenges. Your employees may well be using their own devices, and their internet connection is likely to be unsecured and vulnerable.
Accounting firms are increasingly realising how crucial cybersecurity is and opting for solutions like software with 2FA (two-factor authentication) to help prevent security breaches.
Many accounting firms have found themselves bringing forward initiatives that had already begun before coronavirus.
As CPA John Beauston, quoted here, explained:
“We have a very secure environment for remote work, and we were already scheduled in the next 24 months to move to laptops. But we pushed up our deadline. We want our teams to be able to pack up laptops and have their big monitors already at home to plug in and go.”
Other companies are introducing initiatives such as equipment budgets for people working from home, flexitime policies, new communication tools, and more.
Your firm has likely seen many or all of the above changes during 2020. Here are some key things to note as we go forward:
Recognise that remote working is here to stay. It’s become increasingly clear over the past few months that coronavirus isn’t going to suddenly disappear anytime soon. Plus, now that remote working has been shown to be possible, and workers are used to working from home, many will want to continue doing so – at least part of the time.
Look at what’s working well … and what isn’t. Some changes may have improved team morale, individuals’ productivity, or your bottom line. Other changes may have been unpopular or simply unnecessary. It’s worth looking closely at the impact of the changes you’ve needed to make. You might also run an anonymous survey of employees to get honest feedback on what they’re finding helpful and what they’re not so keen on.
Consider how these trends will impact your future real estate usage. If remote working is going smoothly for your firm, you’re unlikely to ever need everyone back in the office at once. Some firms have decided, as a result of coronavirus, to go fully remote. You may need to keep up office space for meetings with clients or for housing crucial infrastructure like servers … but you might find that you’re able to cut back and significantly reduce your overheads.
Accounting, like so many industries, has been transformed by COVID-19 in 2020. While many of us might wish for life to “go back to normal”, it’s clear that many changes are here to stay – at least in some form. Embrace that, and look for ways to make sure that you keep the best practices and new tools going forward.