As the Government lifts lockdown restrictions, accountants, like many other businesses, are reviewing their working practices to prepare for a return to ‘normal’. Balancing the needs of clients with the safety of employees will be a key consideration for most organisations. Covid-19, while devastating in many ways, has also pushed many into making positive changes that they may have been reluctant to previously.
But what exactly will the post-Covid work environment look like for accountants?
Pre-Covid, some accountants were reluctant to introduce technology into their businesses for several reasons: fear of the unknown, not understanding what the benefits are, or an unwillingness to learn a new way of working to name a few.
The pandemic showed us that technology is a necessity, not a luxury. We’ll likely see accountants investing in technology as they build resilience and reevaluate their strategies.
Before the virus hit, the Government’s Making Tax Digital initiative had forced firms to introduce technology. The initiative to digitalise the tax system and make it easier for people to get their tax right accelerated the move to cloud accounting. Without digital knowledge and skill, accountants would be unable to deal with their clients’ tax administration.
Add an enforced workplace shutdown into the mix, and technological transformation rose to the top of boards’ agendas.
Having resisted it for so long, many have been surprised by the benefits technology brings to the workplace.
Self-service client portals: improve client satisfaction as they can submit and obtain information at their convenience.
Electronic signature submission: provides a secure and fast way to receive client agreement to accounts and contracts.
Practice management tools: provide transparency over workflow, a central hub for documentation and audit trails for compliance purposes.
Collaboration and communication tools: improve client communication, keep track of workflows and boost staff engagement and participation in cases and projects.
A hybrid approach to the workplace
Before coronavirus, remote working was a perk offered to senior staff rather than a widespread working practice. While highly sought after, many organisations resisted introducing it to all employees. They thought productivity would drop and were wary of the cost of investing in the infrastructure needed to work remotely.
For accountancy firms, remote working has been the only way they could continue to do business during the pandemic. Now they must consider what part it will play in the future workplace. Employees are unlikely to want to lose the benefits of remote working. Flexible working hours, reduced commute times, cost savings on travel and incidentals and more time with the family have increased employee engagement and satisfaction.
Adopting a hybrid approach, where employees can work in the office or at home flexibly is likely to suit most accountants. It would satisfy employees who don’t have a suitable workspace at home or prefer to work in the office for social interaction purposes. It would also benefit those who need to work flexibly, for example, because of childcare.
Benefits to employers of a hybrid approach include:
- Improved staff productivity as people can work without interruptions when they need to
- Reduction in rent and associated outgoings from running a smaller office
- More engaged and happier employees
- Reduced carbon footprint
- Improved client service from staff working flexible hours
- Increased resilience as the infrastructure is in place to move to full remote working in the event of a crisis
The change in communication methods used during lockdown may suit some clients. They may prefer to catch up over a Zoom call rather than attend a meeting in the office. Others will appreciate a more formal face-to-face meeting. Age and familiarity with technology are likely to influence clients’ preferred communication methods.
It’s advisable for accountancy firms to offer different options to their clients to meet their individual needs. Alternatives include meeting in a coffee shop or hosting networking events (either at a venue or virtually).
A more diverse and inclusive workforce
Remote working allows accountants to offer a more inclusive and diverse workplace. When not limited by geography, firms benefit from a wider talent pool. They can also attract top talent by providing flexible and remote working.
Remote working also suits people who may not be able to travel to a physical workplace or who can’t work the usual 9-5 – for example, people with disabilities, carers and parents. By tapping into this labour pool, accountants can increase the quality of their workforce and improve their reputation as an employer.
As the end of lockdown approaches, accountants should have a robust strategy in place to secure the future of their practices. Incorporating the lessons learned from navigating the coronavirus crisis is essential. There is a genuine possibility of a second wave hitting, but this time, we will be better prepared to deal with it and a post-Covid-19 future.
Primotax specialises in providing digital accountancy and tax services. Book an appointment today to talk about how we can help with your business finance needs.