The COVID-19 crisis saw more people than ever working from home, forcing many of us to think twice about the need to physically be in an office.
But, for accountants faced with the need to offer continuing support to anxious clients, the logistical considerations were significant.
Concerns about accessing data had to be resolved securely and safely, as did issues about using the necessary software whilst away from the office. Some employers even needed to supply computer equipment for staff to use from their homes, in order to maintain a decent level of service for clients.
With many practices having to find ways of providing a remote-based accountancy service, there has been a difficult adjustment period. But now that the work is done, and with digital-only accountancies opening and thriving, are accountants open to the idea of continuing to work remotely? We look at the pros, cons, and considerations of out-of-office accountancy.
An office address can be reassuring
Accountants considering working from home on a long-term or permanent basis need to consider how the registered business address represents the company. Accountancy is a professional service, and clients are looking for the professional image which reflects this.
Depending on the customer, the realisation that their accountant is working out of a spare bedroom can be off-putting, especially if they want to come in for a meeting. It can also give the illusion that the accountancy firm is a startup, no matter how knowledgeable, experienced, or established it really is.
For some accountancy practices, this means finding the balance between the two. It’s possible to offer a service that doesn’t require clients to visit the premises, whilst still operating out of regular offices.
Online, with lower costs
Accountants who focus on online services may quickly find they don’t need a central location at all.
In some cases this means moving away from traditional high-street accountancies (and the accompanying high-street costs). It’s positive for social distancing too, giving everyone more room to spread out safely, whilst continuing to work from the registered office space that some clients find reassuring.
Online accountancy practices are not necessarily tied to a location. Instead, you can work from one base, whether remotely or in an office, and build a huge client base across the country.
Even if you decide against working from home, handling clients remotely opens up the potential market for clients.
What does Google think of where you work?
It may not be on your list of things to consider when weighing up office space versus working from home. It might not even be on your radar at all. But consider this; huge numbers of us use the internet to find just about everything, including looking for an accountant.
Accountants who want to attract customers from their local area need to be conscious of the address associated with the practice. This is what Google (and other search engines) use to connect local searches with relevant local results listings.
With a physical office, you can get your accountancy services listed on Google maps, have a map location on your website, and get a listing on Google My Business. These are simple steps to helping your business appear in Google search results for local accountancy firms.
Working from home (and with a residential address) can make it more difficult to target local search, especially if the Google Street View image puts off prospective clients.
Do accountants work better in an office?
The most honest answer to this? It’s subjective. An accountant’s ability to work in a particular environment is as much due to their own preferences and tolerance, as it is the habitat itself.
Working in an office can allow for a more structured day. Some people struggle to work at home, and it is the process of commuting to the office to be amongst colleagues which brings on the mindset they need to be productive.
Someone who is quite social or who works better with other people may also feel a little bit lonely working from home. Missing out on human interaction during the day can cause work to start feeling stale.
Of course, in the age of technology there are other workarounds for this. Video calls, team chat, instant messenger, they all work to keep remote teams connected. This way, the essential communication still takes place.
It can even give other colleagues an opportunity to participate in conversations which might otherwise take place without them. It’s a potential gateway to kickstarting ideas and processes for the benefit of all.
Modern technology that could spell the end of physical offices
Tech has been the saviour of many suddenly expected to work from home during the pandemic. Even if a return to the office is on the cards, these may well be tools that we take with us.
Project management software like Asana, Trello and Monday help teams continue working together, even remotely. They make it easier to create accessible (but still private) boards, calendars and assigned task lists so that everyone has a record of what they’re meant to do and when.
With the team reunited it’s still a more efficient method than relying on everyone to make proper notes in the team briefing. Or dropping a post-it note on someone’s desk – which quickly gets lost.
Most of us are familiar with Zoom or Skype for video meetings by now, or the seemingly-infinite number of alternatives. While they may have taken a bit of getting used to, many businesses quickly adapted to this new method of hosting the Monday morning meeting, or staying in touch with clients who need to see a face.
For more consistent communication, an app like Slack is ideal. With Slack’s instant messaging platform, you can send direct messages, post queries in open chats, and create channels for different topics, departments or teams.
But what about the actual accounting side of being an accountant, if you’re not based in an office?
Cloud-based bookkeeping software
Cloud-based everything is popping up these days, granting access to those who need it from wherever they are. It’s a shake up for most businesses, including the accountancy sector.
Rather than storing data on a local server accessed from the office, information is instead kept on highly secure remote servers. They can be accessed from anywhere, providing you have the correct sign-in credentials to get past the encryption security.
Likewise, cloud-based software can be used from any device which connects to the internet. It allows users access to their profile from multiple devices, rather being restricted by software licences to using individual computers. These advances in accessibility are good news for both the accountant and the business which needs to move around.
They’re also a way for clients and accountants to share records and transactions with greater efficiency. Less data-input or transferring paper-based documents and more real-time information, ensuring everyone has up-to-date records and reports to work with.
For accountants concerned about the implications of giving clients access to the records in this way, there are reassurances. Some cloud-based accounting software allows transaction locking to help protect against unwanted editing.
Other features, such as automated bank feeds and receipt management, also make it easier for clients to maintain their bookkeeping records whilst reducing opportunities for error. It does a lot to reduce stress and hassle for all involved.
Plus, as it’s cloud based, accountants can seamlessly switch between client accounts rather than laboriously trawling through multiple files.
Attracting talented accountants with remote working flexibility
Recruitment can be pretty challenging, and attracting the best possible talent doesn’t always mean offering the most amount of money (though it definitely helps).
Accountants who do work from home can potentially hire anyone from anywhere in the world. If you have been struggling to recruit accountants, payroll or admin staff with the skills and experience you need, hiring remotely lets you tap into a much wider recruitment market.
The other side of this is having a regular office, but permitting employees to work from home. Flexible working arrangements are a big plus for job seekers, and enable employers to attract the best candidates, and to retain great employees.
Will we see a return to the office?
Whether we will see a return to the office will depend on the type of accountancy firm you run. More traditional firms with several locations may return, but plenty of firms are starting to reconsider this arrangement.
It could be that accounting firms will make a return to the office, but be more open to flexible working arrangements where staff work from home on occasion. This is perhaps the most likely outcome as switching from an office environment to fully remote would be a huge change for any business.
Both methods of running an accounting business are perfectly effective, but don’t overlook the benefits of operating remotely- even if it’s just temporarily or occasionally.
Pandle is a cloud-based accounting software helping clients and their accountants and bookkeepers take care of business accounts more efficiently. Learn more about becoming a Pandle Partner.