Chapter 1: How accountants and bookkeepers can adapt to working remotely
The COVID-19 lockdown has suddenly forced businesses to accept remote work arrangements (at least temporarily). For accountants and bookkeepers, now’s the time to take action.
As the lockdown goes on, more businesses are having to adapt to remote working environments and home offices. Those that don’t yet have remote working measures in place are now pushing hard to get up to speed.
Bookkeepers and accountants are also in demand, having to continue supporting their clients under changing working conditions, uncertain economic conditions and while trying to digest information regarding the release of the cash flow stimulus packages announced by our Government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced $214 billion worth of economic stimulus packages to date to help the Australian community try surviving the rapid downturn caused by COVID-19.
In New Zealand, the situation’s the same, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing $12.1bn NZD in stimulus several weeks ago, with more changes arriving regularly on the NZ Government’s specialist COVID-19 support site.
Business owners will be dependent on their accountant and bookkeeper to help them gain access to eligible stimvideo c,onferencing changes for the future in order to come out safely on the other side.
This is the time for forward planning and cash flow forecasting (if you haven’t done so already), while also getting used to working from home.
A view from the other side
Melbourne-based bookkeeping consultants 2 Peas Pty Ltd has been busy implementing new ways of working with changes to video conferencing, staff training and dealing with clients.
With tools like Zoom, TeamViewer and Microsoft Teams now being crucial to managing meetings, it’s clear every business will have to adjust.
“We have been interacting with our clients, colleagues and staff like this for a few years now especially when dealing with remote, interstate and overseas clients,” said Pam Madytianos, director of 2 Peas Pty Ltd.
“This is second nature to our business as we have been working this way for a while.
“During the crisis we have helped clients get remote who were resistant to do so, and they are now loving the new norm.”
2 Peas Pty Ltd isn’t the only one. Many accountants and bookkeepers have been working remotely for a few years now and as a result, are quickly able to use technology with their clients in order to service them much quicker without disrupting workflow.
Threenline and cloud-based software applications can be cost-effective, as well as easy to use.
“We extend our services by helping and supporting accountants and bookkeepers struggling to keep up as well as those struggling to adopt remote systems,” said Madytianos.
“We have always worked closely with other partners extending our service offering to drive additional services to them as well as their clients. This is what community is all about.
“We do not need to view each other as competitors but rather allies, especially at times like this.”
Contact your IT person as there are many ways to protect your business from hackers and attacks. If you don’t adapt to remote systems to continue running your business, you may risk your opportunity to stay afloat.
3 things to consider when working from home
1. Effective communication is pivotal
Challenge: One of the issues highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic is the fact that important information can sometimes be misinterpreted as it moves through the media landscape.
Opportunity 1: Now’s a good time to develop a good sense of where to go for the most current information. We recommend starting with official such as the ATO or IRD depending on your jurisdiction. You’ll also want to identify commentators or publications that provide clear guidance that’s well researched.
Opportunity 2: It’s also the ideal time to assess your internal communications channels. How do you and your team stay up to date with information, and how do you share learnings and experience between yourselves and your clients? All the technology currently exists to streamline these processes for remote work.
2. Health, motivation and productivity are closely linked (and it will begin to show)
Challenge: The general health and wellbeing of yourself, as well as your coworkers, may be more vulnerable than usual under lockdown, without even taking into account the potential for direct coronavirus infection. As these things underlie motivation and workplace productivity, business activities could also be impacted.
Opportunity 1: When it comes to physical wellbeing, workouts and exercise in all forms is often enjoyed as a social activity. There are innovative ways that you can encourage activity during meetings (like stretches or taking a call while going for a walk) or in more social settings (home office yoga class, anyone?).
Opportunity 2: Small business owners of all kinds have an opportunity, if not an outright obligation, to show leadership on issues relating to the mental wellbeing of their staff, as well as suppliers, business partners and even customers and clients. For some inspiration on ways to promote positive mental wellbeing at this time, visit the Smiling Mind at work site.
3. The technology exists, but is it secure?
Challenge: Technology is a double-edged sword — there’s no getting around it. The very tools we use to facilitate near-instant communication between people in opposing corners of the globe are also the ones that ppose a risk to our privacy.
Opportunity: You can take a front foot on cybersecurity by learning the measures everyone should take to protect their data best while working from home. Next, use your improved internal communications processes to share the information and shift behaviours.
Chapter 2: Remote recruitment: When you need to hire without shaking hands
Recruitment is one of the many business functionalities that needs to be done differently in a COVID-19 world. Here are some ways keep your hiring efforts up to scratch in a remote work setting.
Hiring new staff has traditionally been a process that business owners have preferred to conduct through in-person interviews.
The belief has always been that meeting a candidate in person allows the recruiter to get a sense of the candidate’s personality through body language and eye contact and tap into their own gut feelings about the quality of the person being interviewed.
Due to the restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, business owners who are still seeking new talent have been forced to abandon traditional recruitment methods and conduct interviews remotely.
Adapting to new trends and changes in pace is never easy, and with the concept being completely new for many business owners, the remote recruitment learning curve can be quite steep.
So for those who aren’t quite sure how to go about hiring in a remote work setting, here are some ideas from a couple of remote recruitment experts that can help you master the ability to interview and bring on new candidates from afar.
Choose the right software
Video recruitment technologies are a dime a dozen. Each platform has its own benefits that can appeal to different types of companies and organisations.
Making sure that your organisation chooses a video recruitment technology that suits its specific needs is an important part of developing an effective remote recruitment strategy.
There are so many to choose from, so we would recommend scheduling live demos with a handful of them and exploring which one can work best for your interview process.
After finding a video platform that can be tailored to your organisation’s needs, we also suggest that users skill themselves up on how to maximise the platform’s use.
Train yourself so you know how to use all the platform’s bells and whistles, and make sure you’ve gone through a few tests runs before using it for your first interview.
“Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to the platform’s support team. That’s what they’re there for.
Create the right interview environment
While the candidate in question could theoretically be anywhere in the world, it’s important to try and simulate an in-person experience as much as possible when interviewing them remotely.
We believe that a big part of running an effective online interview was treating it like it was happening in person, and the ability to achieve that ultimately comes down to the environment in which the online interview is held.
As the interviewer, your video background and environment needs to be quiet and simple.
Arrive to the virtual meeting room early, dress appropriately and make sure there is nothing on your side that can distract you or the candidate.
In place of keeping the interviewee engaged for an extended period of time through energy and chemistry generated in person, we suggest that the interviewers who find out-of-the-box ways to use the features of the software do achieve this result.
Avoid allowing your video interviews to become static places with two people’s faces sitting glumly on a screen. Ahead of the interview, encourage to candidate to prepare slides and documents that can be shared on screen.
As the interviewer, use the opportunity to leverage the online environment to show off your brand in innovative ways.
Doing this has the potential to engage the candidate more than you might have done in person.
Keep your recruitment team engaged
The quality of your company’s hiring and onboarding processes is ultimately in he hands of your recruitment team’s hands, and while keeping them engaged is always important, doing so in a remote working environment is crucial if positive results are to be achieved. Dye, chief executive and founder of Referrer.io, shared his thoughts on keeping remote recruitment teams engaged, and according to him, a great way to do so is through gamification.
“Gamification has proven to be an effective method of keeping recruitment teams engaged while working in a remote setting,” Dye told The Pulse.
“By creating points, badges and leader boards for recruitment related activities, you’ll find your recruitment teams to be far more engaged in their work, which will lead them to come up with effective results regardless of where they’re working from.”
Preparing for the transition
Even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organisations had been flirting with the idea of changing many of their existing practices to become remote-friendly, and recruitment was one of those practices.
In many ways, remote recruitment has advantages that make the process far more effective than it is in the flesh. Some of the tech solutions out there can help recruiters make unbiased decisions, they make the process more efficient, and create an environment that offers unique insight into the candidate’s communication skills.
But, the fear of being unable to get a true sense of the candidate’s capabilities remotely had been preventing the practice of remote recruitment from becoming mainstream.
During COVID-19, we are being given the unique opportunity to learn how to master the ability to hire and onboard new staff remotely.
By taking the steps outlined above, you can get integrate remote recruitment into your regular business process, and when the storm finally passes, you’ll be equipped with all the tools necessary to enjoy the many benefits that remote recruitment has to offer.
Chapter 3: The future of working remotely
What does it mean to run an office in the cloud? Will we still need physical office spaces in the future?
A few decades ago, the term working remotely would’ve conjured images of lonely lighthouse keepers or arduous months spent on offshore oil rigs.
Now when we talk about remote work, we’re referring to the growing phenomenon of workers who perform their roles from home while communicating with their employers, colleagues and clients via phone or email.
As suburbs creep farther from cities and commuter traffic crawls along clogged motorways, remote work has been heralded as the solution to improving employee morale and productivity while simultaneously reducing operational overheads.
However, it seems not everyone is convinced it’s a good idea to let large segments of their workforce stay at home (who knows, in their pyjamas?) every day.
Many well-known businesses are instead channelling their efforts into creating workplaces that their employees are actually excited about showing up to each day.
For these organisations, collaboration and innovation are paramount, and they believe their organisations are more successful when their employees are able to share ideas with each other face to face.
The daily slog
Until now, commuting to work has been an unavoidable part of daily life. It’s been that way since the industrial revolution.
Before railways, workers would seldom live more than an hour’s walk away from their place of work. In most cases, they’d actually live and work in the same spot.
The term ‘commuting’ was coined in the 1840s as workers in the US were offered discounted or ‘commuted’ rail tickets to travel back and forth between their homes in distant suburbs and the cities in which they worked.
These days, millions of Londoners jam themselves into crowded carriages for quick trips on the Tube while LA residents enjoy the personal space of their own vehicle for torturous hours on gridlocked motorways.
In Australia, the average daily commute back and forth is just under an hour a day, and the majority of people complete that in their own vehicle.
Governments tasked with combatting the chokehold of traffic on city arteries are held continuouslyto task by constituents asking for more buses, trains and extra passing lanes.
It’s no surprise then that governments are frequently the champions of remote work arrangements.
As Prime Minister in 2012, Julia Gillard set a target for the Australian Public Sector to increase the number of workers who work remotely once a week from 4 percent to 12 per cent by 2020.
Across the entire workforce, it’s been estimated that around one in four people currently work from home at least once a week. It’s estimated that only 1 per cent of those actually have a formal agreement with their employer.
This suggests the majority of remote work is the result of individual arrangements between an employee and their direct manager, as opposed to concrete organisational policies.
For smaller businesses that need to carefully manage their overheads, having fewer people in a physical office can work to their advantage. They’re able to per centthese unique arrangements much more easily than a large enterprise.
A recent survey of business owners in the UK found that 59 percent of SME business owners believe remote working is the future of business.
While this may seem like a backwards step in terms of innovative HR policies, innovation and collaboration was at the heart of the matter.
For example, the separate divisions from Flickr and Yahoo Weather spotted an opportunity to integrate elements of their apps, simply through informal conversations around the office.
It’s this kind of innovation that CEOs across every industry are desperately trying to incubate, which is why so many are focusing on building the innovative workspaces that better foster collaboration and the sharing of ideas.
If these walls could talk
Office spaces have come a long way from colourless cubes of computers and conference rooms in recent years.
Google has lead the way with their creative and downright zany office designs with everything from putting greens, basketball courts and Segway tracks taking pride of place in their original Mountain View office, aptly titled the Googleplex.
Google’s approach is now commonplace for enterprises whose business model relies on innovation, as they seek to maximise the number of chance encounters their employees have with each other away from their desks.
While digital communication tools have made it easier than ever to connect with colleagues from anywhere in the world, it seems technology has a long way to go before it can do away with physical spaces and human interaction as proven tools for improving productivity and morale.
5 tips for keeping remote staff motivated
So you want to offer your workers the chance to operate remotely but you’re unsure if you can Fiverust them to do the right thing? The answer is a combination of tech and good management practices.
The concept of flexible working continues to merge into mainstream workstyles, and as a result, delegating work tasks to people working outside of a physical office space has become popular among small business owners.
While there are clear benefits to creating a business culture that’s amenable to workplace flexibility, there’s no denying that managing remote staff is far more difficult than doing so when they’re physically sitting in the office.
One of the key challenges of delegating these tasks to people who work remotely is ensuring that work is being done as it should be, while making sure that workers don’t feel micromanaged.
But, there are some ways through which business owners can ‘keep an eye’ on their remote staff, while staying away from becoming the dreaded overbearing and micromanaging boss.
1. Good communication
The key to a good relationship is communication. Remote working is no different.
According to Adam Stone, founder of Speedlancer, the biggest issue is not knowing if or when the remote worker is running late on completing their task before the deadline.
To ensure that business owners don’t end up losing sight of where the remote worker is up to, Stone suggests keeping communication channels open with “over-active and friendly rapport” as a sure-fire method to maintaining oversight.
By keeping the communication channels flowing with supportive and open discussion, chances are that your remote staff will feel more comfortable to keep you in the loop about their progress.
2. Avoid overwhelming your remote staff
If someone chooses to work remotely, there’s a good chance that they have other commitments that they need to stay on top of as well.
It is important to remember that when delegating tasks to an offsite worker, care must be taken to not overwhelm them by giving them too much to do in too short a short a timeframe.
When asked how to avoid making this mistake, Stone told The Pulse that it is better to hand-ball the work to someone else if you feel that your remote resource is being overwhelmed.
“Develop a healthy understanding of the remote worker’s capability and recognise when it is time to send the work elsewhere,” said Stone.
3. Use technology to track progress
Aside from the more common methods of communication that businesses tend to use (like emails, Slack channels, WhatsApp groups and so on), there are some great tech platforms that help business owners monitor the progress of their remote employees.
Suppose you’ve delegated some of your sales to work to someone working remotely. In that case, the use of Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs) like Salesforce can play a big role in keeping track of your employees’ progress.
For those who delegate technical work to people working remotely, platforms like Trello can be very useful in monitoring the status of technical projects and in keeping track of how employees are progressing with their particular tasks.
In the event that you’re delegating various types of tasks to people working in different countries, Stone suggested that the use of an online “concierge” service that manages the relationship for you can play a big role in keeping remote workers productive.
4. Always leave enough time
Delegating a remote worker task with an extremely short deadline is like booking a flight with a very tight connection.
When it comes to tight flight connections, even the slightest delay can significantly impact the teller, making it to their next flight.
Therefore, smart travellers will always leave enough time in between their connecting flights in anticipation for some sort of unexpected delay.
According to Stone, the same rules apply when setting up a remote workforce.
“Ultimately things do go wrong with a remote workforce but ensuring that crazy delays do not put someone out is most critical,” Stone said.
So, depending on what it is that you’re delegating, make sure that you give your remote workers ample time to complete the work while factoring in potential delays.
5. Keep staff incentivised
A good way to keep all of your staff motivated and empowered to work hard is by offering them various incentives on top of their standard wage/remuneration.
Having a good incentive system is particularly important for staff who choose to work remotely, as they need all the motivation that they can get.
Whether it be an increase on their payment if they finish the work before the deadline, a percentage of the revenue that they brought in, or even being offered a “day-in-lieu” if they meet certain targets – incentives are a great way to increase the drive and productivity of your remote workforce.
It all comes down to the result. Finding a way to keep your staff driven to work productively even when they’re working from afar will ensure that the business’ results will remain at a high standard regardless of where your employees may be.
Remote work is working
Charles Darwin famously said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
This statement not only relates to the ‘circle of life’ in nature, but proves to be a cornerstone ethos of any successful, growing business.
Getting flexible for productivity
Along with technology advances, we’ve seen an increase in demand for flexible work conditions and a move away from the traditional nine-to-five in many industries. As well as choosing their own hours, employers are experiencing an increase in employees who ask to work remotely.
It comes as no surprise to anyone who has a long commute or who catches public transport that working remotely is listed as the one of the top preferences for professional service employees. Yet, each day, thousands of Australians journey to desks across the country to fulfil their eight-hourwork’ requirement to receive their pay cheque.
According to a Sure Payroll survey, 65 per cent of employees think that a flexible and remote work schedule would increase their productivity, yet only 19 percent are allowed to work remotely. Overall, 86 percent of all employees prefer to work alone in order to reach maximum productivity.
So if we have the technology to support remote working, what’s holding us back from moving to remote working?
The importance of trust
According to The Guardian surveys, the many employers don’t allow their staff to work from home because they don’t trust them. The thought, “If I can’t see you, how do I know you’re working?” rings true with the vast majority of employers.
Unfortunately, this logic is flawed. Every week, employees spend an average of 20 hours online, five of which are used visiting non-work-related sites. This doesn’t include distractions such as mobile phone use, office ‘gossip’, social media use, snack breaks and disruptive co-workers.
Seventy-six percent of employees surveyed by Sure Payroll said that they’d be motivated to use company technology that allows employees to check their job performance and productivity, taking away any doubt or concern an employer might have.
Getting it right for your team
It’s not only employers that have reservations about remote working.
More than a quarter of employees believe that their overall work performance is measured predominantly by how much time they spend in the office. Many employees feel that they need to be physically visible to their employers to demonstrate the fact that they are working hard.
On the other hand, there are also those who don’t want to work from home and perform better in a team environment. For some, working remotely leads to feelings of isolation, distraction and lack of engagement, which is detrimental to overall work performance.
The end goal for any business should be to find out what works best for you and your team. There’s no magic formula or algorithm for increasing employee satisfaction and productivity, but if you make it a focus of your business, good things will follow.
Whatever your strategy, the remote working revolution is taking off around the world. Persistent advances in technology and the digital globalisation of the world mean that our views on what a ‘work day’ is must adapt to survive.
Chapter 4: How remote working has transformed accounting
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.
1. Online training courses are even more popular
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.
2. Employees may well be more productive
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.
As Marc Huffman explained:
“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.”
Managers need 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.
3. Cybersecurity is more important than ever
In the office, you may have had an IT department responsible for setting up computers with antivirus protection, maintaining a firewall, and 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.
4. The pace of change has accelerated
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.
5. What does this mean for your accounting practice?
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 disappear anytime soon suddenly. 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 crucial housing 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.