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Switching To Remote Work: What Our CPA Firm Is Learning

Coronavirus has forced businesses all over the world to switch to work-from-home setups with brief notice. As our accounting firm transitioned to remote work, we pondered how to avoid delaying any client work while protecting our employees and complying with official health regulations.

Early on, in the beginning years of our firm, we had invested significant resources into making sure our firm used technology to safeguard the financial data of our clients while allowing our staff to work as a team. Adopting a process-driven approach and carefully vetting our firm’s technologies let our staff work efficiently on client work and allowed our clients to receive superior, more personalized service.

However, as our firm transitioned to remote work operations this year, I had some anxiety about working from home. Although I trusted my team to continue doing their best, I was nervous about our ability as a firm to adapt to the new environment. But my team adapted seamlessly and never missed a beat in serving our clients promptly and accurately.

Communication has become more critical and personal

Adapting to a work-from-home setup has made communication vital for our team. There have been so many professional challenges thrown at us because of COVID and the various programs that Congress and the SBA has enacted, so it took a lot of collaboration to keep the team on the same page and delivering a consistent message to our clients.

Each workday, our team has a morning check-in over Zoom that lets us sync up with one another on everything from our weekends to our client work. To help all of us stay connected and on the same page, we made it a company policy to chat over video instead of chat or email.

Maintaining our morning check-in over Zoom and opting for video chats over Meet has helped our team stay connected. It’s also given us the opportunity to make small talk with each other so we can bring empathy and understanding as we’re working together.

Adapting to work-from-home isn’t easy, but it is possible

As we’ve adjusted to remote work, we’ve each experienced varying challenges as we adapted. Because of our firm’s investment in technology early on, some of our staff (specifically, Christine, Riccardo, and Maggie) have said that the transition to a home environment has been seamless since working from home is identical to working in the office. Maggie discovered that working from home has let her reconnect with her tight-knit circle of old friends, which has helped her better balance her time between work, family, and community.

Personally, I’ve found that working from home is fun, but maintaining work-life balance is more difficult. I work 2-3 days a week at home and 2-3 days per week in the office. I’ve discovered that my work-from-home days are more focused on client work. There are fewer distractions, and I can focus better on the detail-oriented work. Also, when I work from home, I start earlier and work later since I can just walk downstairs, plug in, and get to work.

Ana Hernandez, one of our accountants, initially felt like she was getting more done from home since she could skip the daily commute. However, she later found that, as workdays got longer and longer, she preferred the in-office experience. 

For example, Ana found that she enjoyed being able to walk to her manager’s office and ask questions instead of having to set up a video call. This preliminary work meant that asking questions has been slightly more challenging than it otherwise would be. Now that the novelty of remote work has worn off, Ana’s found that taking breaks more frequently has helped her stay productive and efficient.

Watching my team adapt and transition without skipping a beat has helped me realize that a hybrid combination of working from home and in our office will be the future of MBS for local employees. Learning on how to manage a remote team has also opened up the possibility of adding non-local team members to MBS.

We’re learning more about ourselves and each other

Being at home and on our own has given our team plenty of opportunity for self-reflection as we learn more about ourselves and our individual work preferences. Maggie has re-confirmed her preference for working on her own. She’s appreciated the remote work setup since she’s able to take frequent breaks and check on her chicken flock.

Christine has realized that she prefers being in the office with the rest of us instead of on her own. She’s also realized that what she most enjoys about her work is the constant challenge of learning something new every day. At home, she has windows in her office which allow her to enjoy the sunshine all day. To keep herself motivated throughout the workday, she’s learned to take smaller breaks more often compared to when she’s in the office.

Edie and Riccardo have realized that maintaining a structured environment on your own requires immense self-discipline. Edie has learned that listening to music helps her “get in the zone” and power through her workday. Riccardo has enjoyed being able to spend more time being around his family at home. He’s also learned that streaming tv, exercise, prayer & meditation can be very helpful in staying positive and focused on what really matters.

Personally, planning out my day has helped me keep my days from running off the rails. Listening to music and frequent check-ins with my team have also helped me stay focused too. Another benefit of working from home has been the ability to spend more time with my family – my kids have really enjoyed having me home.

Ana’s realized that being alone in a closed room constantly can be emotionally draining. To help herself stay productive and motivated, she’s made a point of taking her breaks on time, taking walks outside often, or making quick calls to a family or friend throughout the day.

Staying “in the know” is paramount

Keeping the productivity up this year has been difficult given changing deadlines and new rules to digest on an almost weekly basis. As Ana noted, “Adapting is one of our greatest accomplishments. Communicating and getting things done has a whole different meaning while working from home.” Though we’ve always tried to emphasize ongoing learning within our firm, working on our own (and during such a turbulent, changing time) has made self-directed learning even more critical.

Being our Business Administrator, Christine enjoys learning about trends within the Administrative and Human Resource fields and anything else that helps to streamline processes and procedures. Some of her favorite places to learn are the Society for Human Resource Management, CPA Firm Management Association, National Newspaper Association, International Association of Administrative Professionals, and the American Society of Administrative Professionals.

Riccardo enjoys learning about the latest tech or reading about psychology through podcasts, audiobooks, and articles. He’s found the Cloud Accounting podcast, TaxGirl.com, Journal Of Accountancy, and Twitter to be goldmines for getting valuable insights for working better.

Other sources that our team has found helpful have been:

  • Spidell
  • Thriveal
  • Accounting Today
  • CPA Practice Advisor
  • CalCPA
  • Firm of the Future
  • Intuit’s Tax Pro Center
  • NPR
  • TED Talks

Staying diligent and prepared…

My team continues to impress me with their adaptiveness and productivity in these challenging times. We went fully remote over the course of a week and I feel like we didn’t miss a beat overall. Accounting takes a lot of self motivation and discipline, especially when you’re working from home. Every member of our team has stayed focused on the job and taking care of our clients, so we’ve continued to deliver client deliverables on time.

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