Suddenly virtual: When working remote becomes necessary
As you read this blog post, are you in a business office, surrounded by colleagues? Or perhaps, like increasing numbers of people worldwide, you are working at the kitchen table or in your home office.
The coronavirus outbreak has rattled the global economy, impacting virtually every industry, particularly in face to face consumer industries such as retail, entertainment and travel. In the last few days alone, several prominent tech companies including Microsoft, Twitter, and Amazon have urged employees to work from home and put strict limits on employee travel.
Business advisories, law firms, accounting firms, and other professional services organizations are relatively fortunate. As information-based businesses, firms can put plans and systems in place that allow them to mitigate the business impact of a pandemic.
How well your firm navigates economic shifts may rest in part on the accounting firm technology systems you have in place for supporting remote workers and working digitally with clients. As we talk with firms facing the economic, technical and practical challenges of this new age threat, we recommend these ‘survival tactics’:
Advocate for client safety
Firms should communicate to clients concern for their safety and well-being. Request that clients postpone any planned in-person visits, particularly those that are in elevated risk categories. Offer a web portal or digital file transfer site to share documents. Encourage the use of electronic signatures, cloud applications, and video conferencing to hold virtual meetings.
Actively encourage employee safety
Be aware of “presenteeism” – the compulsion to be at work, even under threat of illness. In tax season, for example, accountants may feel pressed to spend long hours at the office. To reduce the risk of spreading infection, firm owners can encourage employees to work from home, and offer the tools they need to be productive when working remote.
Shift from in-office to a virtual workforce
- Identify work that must be done in the office. If there are tasks that can only be done in the business office, decide who will cover that work. Reprogram phones, if necessary, to forward calls to employees’ home office or cell phones.
- Check and assure home connectivity for employees. Confirm that employees who will work from home have a quality internet connection. Some may require service upgrades.
- Assess the need for devices. For optimal security, firms have ideally avoided BYOD, and provide laptops and company cell phones for remote use. Expanding the number of remote workers may require provision of additional firm-owned devices for some employees.
- Assure access to online communications tools for all employees. There may be need for additional employees to have remote access to shared document stores, conference call and virtual meeting sites.
- Confirm that employees have access to core firm applications. Accounting firms using OfficeTools Cloud virtual accounting practice management software, for example, will have instant access to clients, projects, phone calls, time entries, and notes while working from home. Similarly, firms using OfficeTools WorkSpace in Abacus Private Cloud can seamlessly shift employees to a “WFH” (work from home) model with full access to case management, time & billing, and accounting operations. The Mobile App for OfficeTools WorkSpace also brings increased access to calendars, contacts, tasks and matters, wherever your team is working from.
Looking ahead: Consider moving on-premise applications to a hosted model
If your firm does not yet have a contingency plan to maintain operations in the event of the next outbreak, earthquake, or weather related disruption, the Coronavirus is a wake-up call to build that plan.
AbacusNext securely hosts Office 365 and hundreds of business, legal and accounting applications in Abacus Private Cloud. Making a strategic move to cloud hosting will mean that your applications are available to employees anywhere, anytime and from any device. In the event of a pandemic, your response plan kicks in and there is minimal disruption in business. And when the immediate danger lifts, having applications in the cloud eliminates IT effort, reduces operating costs, and improves productivity going forward.