The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has certainly sped up the adoption of remote work in recent weeks. But the virtual workplace has been gaining traction for years, with as many as two-thirds of US workers performing job duties remotely at least some of the time in 2019. While remote work has proven to boost many hard-to-impact metrics like productivity and profitability, the learning curve can be steep for companies trying it for the first time.
Remote work is not a perfect way of working. But frankly, neither is an open office or a maze of cubicles. Instead of assuming there’s one right way for your accounting firm to operate, you’re better off spending your time carefully assessing the upsides and downsides of each arrangement.
We’ve already explored the proven benefits of remote work. Now, let’s take a look at three common challenges accounting firms can anticipate when expanding a workforce remotely or adopting work-from-home days.
Remote work challenge no. 1: An always-on mentality
Are your employees really working in sweatpants? Not likely. In fact, a 2019 State of Remote Work by OWL Labs found “very little difference” between remote and on-site workers in the U.S., “indicating that remote workers don’t fit into the pajama-clad stereotype.”
Working from home is no longer code for a vacation day; in fact, the opposite is often true, with remote workers finding it difficult to “turn off” and stop working at the end of the day to the extent that remote workers work an average of 16.8 more days every year.
Your first challenge is to set clear boundaries around working hours for your employees so that remote workers don’t burn out.
Remote work challenge no. 2: Inadequate business technology
One reason remote work is so popular is that business technology has advanced significantly over the past 30 years. When employees work from home, they’re not sitting at an empty table next to a rotary phone. They’re connected to the office and their coworkers in every way they’re connected in the office – through computers, smartphones, apps, video, calls, and email.
However, that’s assuming you’re doing your part to update your outdated technology and processes. A 2019 International Workforce Group (IWG) Workplace Survey found that while employees are ready and willing to work hard from their home office, many businesses aren’t providing the required cornerstone technology to facilitate flexible remote work:
- 19% of companies are concerned about a lack of remote cyber security systems
- 41% of companies are concerned about the need for greater data security for specific departments
- 45% of companies are concerned about giving employees access to secure printing and scanning facilities
- 34% of companies are concerned about building flexible and customizable firewall rules
It’s critical that you prepare for a remote workforce by transforming your manual processes into automated digital processes, and providing a secure digital environment for your employees to remotely process private client data.
Remote work challenge no. 3: Building company culture
A big part of building camaraderie and company culture comes from in-person interaction. Traditionally, firms have been able to build culture simply by working with and seeing each other every day. When you move your workforce offline, either full-time or part-time, it can seem like you’re completely removing that part of the work experience.
It’s true that collaborating remotely can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. You must simply embrace this for what it is – a challenge – and actively build internal processes to address it.
For example, many companies with a remote workforce institute a “video on” default, which indicates all meetings are to be conducted via video technology unless there’s a particular reason not to. This allows your team to push through awkwardness of being on camera and get those critical non-verbal communication signs as they talk. You can also look at how you can move forms of in-person interaction online, such as internal chat apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams to replace watercooler conversations.
Keeping your future in focus
Remote work is the future of work for professional services and knowledge workers. We hope that exploring these three common challenges helps you assess whether or not you’re prepared for it. Because while remote work may not be perfect, it’s how firms of the future will operate in a global, interconnected, and competitive landscape. Talk to us today to see how your firm can go virtual with Abacus Private Cloud.