Among the countless number of things that the pandemic of 2020 has changed, one of the biggest shifts is where people now get their work done.  If you can get your work done remotely, a lot of companies are not only happy about it, but are requiring it.

Due to everything happening in the world, working from home may become the new normal for more people than ever before, whether you like it or not.  To add to the push for more remote work, more employers are being given the opportunity to see that productivity isn’t suffering and that the overhead costs for large offices might be unnecessary now and in the future.

Among the many large companies riding the large wave of a remote workforce are:

  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told employees in an email in May, that they could keep working from home indefinitely, even after COVID-19 lockdowns end
  • Google has extended its work-from-home policy for the remainder of 2020
  • Salesforce will let employees work from home for the rest of the year, even after offices have reopened
  • Nationwide insurance announced a permanent transition to a hybrid work model 

For the accounting industry, remote work has been a hot topic over the past few years, especially with technology like Quickbooks Online, Xero and other cloud-based programs making it possible to do your client’s work and have meetings, all from the comfort of your home office.  While accountants are definitely no stranger to remote work, there is still some resistance to the idea.

As with all change, especially in an industry that only a few decades ago was using 12 column paper to compile financial statements, there will always be resistance.  But if accountants want to keep the lights on, whether those lights are in a traditional office space or a home-office space, we need to embrace remote work.

Accepting this new direction for both employees and employers will require some adjustments, especially a mindset shift.  But if history has taught us anything, it’s survival of the fittest; either get on board the remote work train, or get left in the dust.

There really is no way to know how long this pandemic will be around, whether we will be quarantined again or whether remote work will be the new norm.  But what we do have control over is how we show up to do our jobs and how we can lead the people we employ.   

Whether you are an accounting employee or employer, there are things to consider and to put into place to make the transition as easy and sustainable as possible.  Just know that 2020 can be the beginning of an exciting new era in the accounting industry, so why not embrace it and benefit from it as well.

This week I’m going to discuss remote work tips if you are an accounting employee and how to manage remote workers if you are an accounting employer.  

Remote work tips if you are an accounting employee

As an accountant and a mom, you’ve probably already been struggling with the idea of balance, trying to set clear boundaries around your personal and professional life.  When you add a stay-at-home mandate for yourself and your children, life can seem completely out of balance and overwhelming.

Whether you’ve been able to work remotely in the past or not, this current pandemic has probably changed things for you in many ways.  Having the flexibility to work remotely when your children were in school was one thing, but now having to manage your productivity, your client responsibilities and your family obligations from home can weaken even the most organized accountant and mom.

Thankfully this shift to remote work does not need to be so challenging and overwhelming.  While there are plenty of tips suggesting the best technology to use and the best at-home set up to have, the tips I’m going to share are more about the mindset shift that will make remote work easier and more productive.

As someone who has worked remotely for many years, I can tell you firsthand that your mindset matters so much more than you realize.  What you do and how you do it is completely predicated on what you think and how you feel about it all.

Here are some of the tips that I, and other accountant moms, have discovered to make remote work, work for us:

Being flexible 

Accountants naturally lean towards structure and predictability, however, not physically going to an office, working a certain number of hours and then returning home to manage your family, can make it challenging.  The lines between your work life and family life have probably become more blurred than ever.

The best way to handle this is to adopt a more flexible attitude towards the lack of structure and predictability that often comes with remote work.  Having a more flexible mindset will create a less stressful environment for you and for everyone at home with you.

The “rules of the house” when you were physically going to an office might need to be readdressed and renegotiated.  Whether it’s the amount of screen time you now allow your children, the time of day/night you punch the work clock that now suits your family’s unique circumstances, or the division of duties in the family; if what was in place before doesn’t work now, then changes need to be made.

I found that I am the most alert and productive earlier in the day so I now sit down at my computer at 7 am when I am working remotely.  It helps me to get a lot done before clients start emailing and bosses start needing something.  I’ve also gotten some great advice about speaking up about what I need for support, whether it’s from work or from the people I live with at home.

Willing to seek advice

Since we tend to see things a certain way and then put that on a rinse and repeat cycle in our minds, many accountant moms have found it helpful to ask other working moms what they’ve done to manage this “new normal”.  Having different ideas about how other working moms are navigating the blurred lines of work and home, can then become a possibility for you as well.  

Remember, there is no shame in asking for help.  I’ve heard suggestions ranging from the idea that if both parents are now working from home, alternate which parent will prepare each meal and eat with the kids so the other parent can take that time to work, to having a white noise machine in the space you work in order to lessen the “mommy mind” that is always on high alert, to moving to a separate space in your home to take a break or eat lunch.

I had some great advice from other accountant moms when my children were younger about saving certain toys or videos for when it was “Mommy needs to work” time.  These specific items were only brought out when I needed focus time and my children were thrilled, instead of dreading, when I announced that it was my work time.  They used to ask me when I was going to get my work done so they could play or watch the coveted toy or video. 

You are not alone in your struggles and the more open you are with other working moms, the easier it will be for us all.  Being a strong and capable woman is great, but being vulnerable and asking for advice is even more powerful which is why CPA MOMS has built the community we have, in order to help you come out of the shadows and get the support you need and deserve.

Obstacles versus strategies

Whenever you have a goal in mind or a change you want to make, your brain will automatically resist.  It naturally doesn’t want you to have to expend energy and leans towards immediate gratification, as opposed to being patient and waiting for future success.

For this reason, you need to get clear about the obstacles that your brain is telling you will make what you want, an impossibility.  When you add the fear of this pandemic to the overwhelm of trying to balance work and family, your brain is going to be on high alert, showing you all the proof it can of obstacle after obstacle that will get in your way.

This is why you need to know the obstacles, and then turn each one into a strategy.  It can be helpful to imagine a future moment where the obstacle is no longer an issue and ask – what was the solution?  What did you do to solve the problem?  Who was helpful in finding a solution?

For example, in the future may imagine your clients or your employer being so grateful for your hard work and productivity.  What did this future version of you put into place to make your clients or employer so appreciative?  Was there more frequent communication than before?  Did you decide to hold yourself accountable in ways that you hadn’t done before?   

One helpful strategy that someone shared when they felt the lines being blurred between work time and family time when working remotely, was to set up an online scheduler for clients to book appointments.  This way you are in charge of the blocks of time available for work, clients, family and yourself.

Obstacles can become strategies when you change the way you look at them.  Whether it’s work challenges or family challenges, nothing needs to derail your goals or your dreams for your career or your family, especially when it comes to remote work.

How to manage remote workers if you are an accounting employer

It can’t be surprising that with this pandemic and the mandatory shift to working remotely for most accountants, that employees would prefer to continue this arrangement.  For most employees, the upsides outweigh the downsides, especially when it comes to not having to deal with the time and cost of commuting, as well as health concerns and having children at home.

For accounting employers who haven’t accepted the remote work movement, and even those that already have, there is still a paradigm shift that needs to happen.  If you don’t want to lose your talented pool of employees and the investment you’ve made in them, you will need to be more open than ever to remote work becoming the new normal for many accountants.

For those accounting firms and companies who haven’t gotten on board yet, don’t despair.  This current pandemic offers an opportunity to make some changes that can make your business even more valuable than before and help you attract highly qualified talent that is looking to work for a company that has adjusted to this way of working.

The biggest struggle that accounting employers have with adjusting to a remote workforce, is the long-held belief that “If I can’t see my employees and what they are doing, then how can I trust they’re doing their job?”  Thoughts about how you can’t manage your people’s performance and hold them accountable, is usually the biggest obstacle getting in the way of accepting this new normal.

Thankfully that belief is just a lie; you’ve just gotten used to “seeing” people in your office working so you get placated.  But let’s face it, you don’t really know what they’re doing; just because they’re in the building, doesn’t mean that they’re being productive.

In order to make what could be a very productive and profitable shift towards a remote work environment, you need to address your mindset.   It’s invaluable to become aware of the thoughts you have about managing people when they’re physically in the office versus when they’re at home.

One of the biggest hurdles I’ve seen for accounting employers is changing old beliefs, because performance doesn’t need to have anything to do with location.  You can and should have a plan in place that helps your employees to be held accountable for the work they get done, no matter where they work from.  

By changing your mindset and putting a plan in place to better manage your employees, you can feel better about this remote work shift and become even more attractive to future talent looking for a supportive, modern environment to work in.   If you choose to, you can see how virtual employees allow you to do the work of the business, without all the other distractions.

Here are a few suggestions to help make this work for you, your business and your employees:

Have clear values

You set the tone for your business so you need to be very clear about what’s important to you and communicate those values to your employees, especially now.  Do you value trust, integrity, accountability, fun, continuous learning, diversity, quality, teamwork, etc?  If you haven’t done this already, choose your top three values for your business and get clear about why they matter.  Have you shared your business values with your employees lately?  Now is the perfect time to figure them out and let your current and future employees know.

Performance expectations

Your employees are not mind readers, nor should they be.  You need to have clearly defined performance expectations that drive the behaviors of the people who work for you, especially if they’re working remotely.  Get clear about the behaviors that you expect and communicate them.  Ask your employees what obstacles they may anticipate and help them strategize ways to overcome those obstacles.  Whether your employees are experienced at working remotely or not, if they have children at home full-time now, they probably need more direction and support than ever before.

Clearly defined roles

When employees work in the office, lines can get blurred when it comes to the various roles that each person has.  With a shift to remote work, everyone needs to know exactly what their role is now, in this new environment.  Get clear about everything that previously needed to be done when employees were physically in the office, assign the roles and be clear about what’s expected of each employee in their individual role.  

Clear key performance indicators

It’s more important than ever that your employees know what they’re supposed to be doing, how and when it’s to be done.  They especially need to know how their work will be assessed.  If they’re performance was historically based on being “seen” by you and others in management, they need to know how that’s changed.  If the employee was historically in the office and is now working remotely, they will need clarification on how the key performance indicators may, or may not, have changed.

Frequent feedback

In order to help your employees and yourself be able to make the transition to remote work, don’t assume that it’s easy for them to work from home.  Be willing to give frequent feedback and have more open and honest communication than you may have had when they worked in the office.  Try scheduling consistent one-on-one weekly meetings to make sure you are all on the same page.  Don’t assume they’re living their best life working remotely.  They may be afraid to share their struggles.

Whether you are an accounting employee working remotely or an employer with a remote workforce, this transition offers you the opportunity to make positive changes that you may not have considered before the pandemic.  To become more valuable to your employer, or to add more value to your business, managing the remote work wave can be exactly what you need for success.

Summary  

  • Due to everything happening in the world, working from home may become the new normal for more people than ever before, whether you like it or not
  • Accepting this new direction for both employees and employers will require some adjustments, especially a mindset shift
  • Whether you are an accounting employee or employer, there are things to consider and to put into place to make the transition as easy and sustainable as possible