Is Remote Work Worth It? A Look at the Pros and Cons for Accounting Firms

Everybody wants it. Millennials demand it and Boomers secretly crave it.

What is it? Remote work.

Remote work is one thing that simultaneously excites and terrifies executives at businesses large and small. For accounting firms, remote work remains a hot topic because of the competitiveness of the marketplace and the high overhead of keeping a firm running.

For those still on the fence about whether remote work is a viable option for your firm, we’ve put together a list of pros and cons regarding remote work, so you’ll be better equipped to decide whether it’s a good fit for you and your business.

Pros of Remote Work for Accounting Firms

The many positives connected with remote work for accounting firms relate to recruitment and retention, technology and innovation.

Wider hiring pool

When you’re searching for a newly-minted CPA to add to your team, firms who don’t offer remote work are constrained by their geography.

Depending on their market and their competitors, firms may have a limited pool of CPA candidates to choose from when adding to their staffs. However, by offering remote work as an option, a firm can take its hiring search nationwide and secure the best possible, location-agnostic candidate.

Improved retention

Once you’ve found a good candidate for a job, you certainly don’t want to lose them. After all, you’ve invested valuable time and resources in training them and developing their potential.

However, when employees make necessary lifestyle changes, including marriage, children, continuing education, or other choices that might create a need for relocation or flexibility, allowing remote work makes it possible to key high-performing players as a part of the firm’s team.

Ability to specialize

When you’re looking at business operations from a local perspective, you’re probably limiting yourself too much. When you expand your horizons by offering customized solutions, you also expand your reach from a sales perspective.

Instead of serving only the clients in your local community and offering every conceivable accounting service to them, why not give yourself the opportunity to strike out and secure new clients over a greater geographic range, and hone your services to a handful of your most skilled offerings?

You can even promote this specialized slate of services to your existing clients in an effort to build their overall business with you. If you offer it with fee financing as a payment option, you may see them eager to invest in your specialized offerings where they may have been hesitant in the past.

Flexibility to offer flexibility

When everyone’s working in the same location, flexible hours can be tricky to pull off. After all, it can be a drain on morale to have some colleagues show up and 11 and others leave at 3.

Even though these team members are still shouldering their full portion of the burden, the optics of the situation may lead to bad blood between colleagues, which then affects everyone’s morale.

Flexible hours can be out of sight, out of mind with remote work because a move to this work format requires a conscious culture shift. Your attitude, and your employee’s attitudes, must transition to a results-based culture rather than one built on the amount of face time each team member puts in.

Benefits to the environment

Anything that keeps additional cars from accumulating miles on the roads can be beneficial to the environment. Another less often-heralded environmental impact of remote work is the fact that you learn to do more paperlessly, because you’re communicating through technology with people in other locations.

And, most impactfully, working remotely gives you an opportunity to look for technology that facilitates the work and increases overall efficiency, which is great for the environment.

As an example, taking payments online instead of collecting and processing checks in a physical location, reduces time and stress for your staff, converts a location-based role to one that can be performed anywhere, and improves your overall efficiency at the same time.

Boomers stay engaged

Millennials aren’t the only ones pushing for remote work options. Many Boomers would relish the opportunity to remain connected with a firm and continue to offer their services; however, they don’t necessarily want to spend their golden years tied to a desk.

By offering remote work and flexibility as an option, you keep their valuable wisdom and institutional knowledge connected to the firm a little longer. At the same time, they’re able to continue contributing on a schedule that fits their latest life stage.

Business continuity

Weather, national crises, network failures – many contingencies can trigger an interruption of business as usual. If the interruption affects your traditional office building, you and your team are out of luck until conditions return to normal.

With remote work in play, however, you can continue to keep some staff up and running through almost any crisis, which is comforting for both you and your clients.

The same goes for clients. When you provide technology that allows clients to connect with you even when menacing weather or other issues loom, you’re more likely to retain your relationship with them and even strengthen it.

Cons of Remote Work for Accounting Firms (and How to Mitigate Them)

Everything’s not always rosy when it comes to remote work, though. There are some noteworthy issues that can pop up, and if you’re considering this opportunity at your firm, you may want to get ahead of some of these common pitfalls.

Burnout

Employees who don’t clearly delineate between home and work may end up feeling like they’re always on. When employees have constant access to their work information, accounts and devices, they may not consciously take time to renew and refresh themselves.

Solution: Start from the top and set a good example for your team. If you don’t want them to respond to emails at 9:30 p.m., don’t email them at 9:15 p.m. Show them you put your money where your mouth is when it comes to avoiding burnout.

Slackers

Company leaders sometimes fear a bad apple employee will take advantage of a remote work situation. Many managers and senior leaders have this vision in their head when they think of remote workers – someone parked in front of their computer screen but giving half their attention to daytime talk shows, wearing pajamas and voraciously snacking.

Solution: Set specific, documented guidelines for work attire and behavior, and counsel employees if they choose not to follow them. Make sure employees know the option to work remotely is a privilege, not a right. Also, screen your employees in office if possible. You can observe their work ethic and determine whether remote work would fit them before investing in the technology setup to make it possible.

Security

If remote employees are not in your building, on your system, you may feel worried about how you can keep your employees safe. However, it’s actually more likely that a breach will occur from an employee who occasionally sends a few messages from home than from an employee who is trained on proper expectations for remote work.

Solution: Invest in the technology needed to make your business sustainable regardless of where employees are working. With the number of breaches and threats that take place on a daily basis, it makes sense to review this area of your business anyway.

According to an XCentric (provider of IT services for accounting firms) interview with a remote client team, one particular firm has made a success of remote work by committing to keeping 100% of their efforts in the cloud and under tight security.

“Fairness”

Some employees may feel slighted if they’re not in the first pool to be selected for a remote work trial. However, you don’t have to make every perk equal for everyone in order to make it fair.

For example, your office receptionist needs to be at her desk. A big part of her work revolves around greeting visitors, managing calendars and keeping systems running smoothly.

Back office employees don’t face the same constraints, and can benefit from the option to be remote.

Solution: Set expectations for remote work and offer the option only to employees that need it. As a side perk for you, many employees say they’d actually be okay with less pay in exchange for more freedom to work on their own terms.

While you shouldn’t jump to cut salaries for remote employees, it’s nice to know you’re actually building their loyalty at the same time that you’re retaining their great work. Also, make sure you provide suitable benefits for other staff members to show your appreciation for them if remote work is not a possible option.

Social needs

Working remotely can be extremely isolating for team members who thrive on each others’ energy to sustain their work efforts. Workers may feel out of the loop or may be just plain lonely in these settings.

Solution: To mitigate these feelings, encourage team members to connect in both literal and figurative ways. Provide them with resources like chat tools and video conferencing when necessary for meetings. Give them the option to meet in person or work from a physical office occasionally. Encourage participation in industry-related organizations where appropriate.

Bottom Line: Is Remote Work Worth it for Accounting Firms?

It seems counterintuitive that spreading out your staff to various locations can help business grow, but here’s the thing: you’re giving employees what they crave, while at the same time offering opportunities to grow as part of your firm.  

Advancing technology has made remote work possible, but like anything else, it’s just a tool. The success of remote work within your firm completely depends on the culture you’ve built and the vision you have for the being a tech-savvy, forward-looking firm future.

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