The Remote Advantage: Your Glass Is More Than Half Full
The digital transformation of accounting firm work has finally arrived, though under the significant duress brought by the pandemic.
Two surveys of American workers conducted in April and May by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, across the economy, about half of workers employed prior to COVID-19 are now working from home. The good news: the survey also found that those in management, professional and related occupations – such as accounting firms – were more likely to see large shifts toward working from home and had fewer people laid off or furloughed.
“Not ready at all” for remote work, at first
For many accounting professionals, the unprecedented combination of changed routines and new demands was stressful and disruptive. According to an Accounting Today survey, 62% of small to midsize firms reported that supporting remote work was “a challenge,” “a struggle” or that they were “not ready at all” to do so. But in most cases they rose to the challenge by enlisting IT help, moving to cloud-based applications and adapting new processes to handle mail and paper from clients.
Glass more than half full – seeing opportunity in adversity
On the bright side, firms found new opportunities in the disruption brought to business clients and the economy by COVID-19. Many accounting clients – particularly small businesses – asked their accountants for online assistance, virtual meetings and crisis management advice almost immediately. These businesses needed help to navigate complex new legislation and secure critical financing to stay afloat. Many firms saw increased demand for cash flow management, forecasting and budgeting. Entirely new services came into being, in support of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and/or Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and accountants are trusted advisors uniquely qualified to assist clients with these challenges.
There’s a silver lining – it’s in the cloud
Continuing with the metaphors, those who were already using cloud applications for accounting, tax, practice management and automated payments were best able to respond to these emerging client needs. Accountants working in cloud applications have access around the clock to files and documents and can provide bookkeeping, tax preparation, budgeting and reporting from home or any remote location.
A second wave of firms may have used one or two cloud applications in the past. When the pandemic hit, they then rapidly ran the drill of moving internal applications to a full cloud model to allow employee access from home offices.
Is your firm’s future in the cloud?
Eight months later, most have settled into some fashion of remote work mode. Will it last? Will the industry remain in remote work mode after the COVID-19 threat ends? (And yes, it will end.)
There’s no going back
Our observation is that firms that pushed through the transition to remote work will not be going back to the old model. The benefits of remote work outweigh those of working only in a physical office space. These benefits – accessibility, flexibility, client service and robust security – have been in measured adoption for years. The pandemic simply accelerated the transition.
At AbacusNext we are talking to firms every day. We took a particular interest in the industry reaction to the pandemic and conducted a study of firms’ experiences in transitioning to a new mode of working. The study report offers five reasons accounting firms that embrace remote work will deliver more value to clients and uncover more opportunities.
The top two reasons to embrace remote work:
- The cloud frees accountants from the confines of the office, as well as the burden of manual processes and paperwork. Another way to say this: the less time accountants spend on paper filing and manual work, the more time they have available to understand their client’s industry and business challenges and to offer strategic advice and new services.
- You’ll become more available to clients, whenever and wherever they need services. Clients are at home, managing their employees remotely, holding meetings on Zoom and later ordering dinner for delivery online – more than ever before. Their comfort level with virtual life has increased, and these sticky new habits won’t change. Most will appreciate or even demand a digitally driven accounting firm that can communicate and share information online 24/7.
Learn more about these and three other remote advantages that firms report are helping them survive and thrive in the new virtual world.