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4 New Ways Firms Should Think About Remote Work After COVID-19


As some firms reopen their offices amidst uncertainty and rising COVID-19 infections, firm leaders must accept that there are team members and clients that may not feel comfortable returning to office work and managing a blended remote and office work force is their new reality – in the near term and, very likely, forever.

Jul 21st 2020
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Overnight, COVID-19 and social distancing caused most firms to embrace remote work best practices to ensure the health and safety of their staff and clients. In doing so, firm leaders realized that remote work CAN work and team members managed to deliver results under less than ideal conditions, lacking childcare and unable to leave their homes due to lockdowns.

Back in 2018, our Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Survey showed that 47 percent of CPA firms surveyed offered regular remote work options to their talent and 54 percent were delivering remote audits. That was then, and this is NOW.

Instead of lamenting the loss of the old normal, leaders must begin to imagine their “next better,” creating a culture that embraces anywhere work and a leadership mindset that supports a blended workforce.

To get there, you or your firm’s leaders must practice new ways of thinking in 4 areas:  

1. Giving Up the 3-Dimensional (3-D) Paradigm

Even in the rush to remote work, we still hear firm leaders say things like:

  • How do we know our people are working when they’re home?
  • We can’t recruit or train people remotely.
  • We’ll have to wait to (fill in the blank – meet with clients, hold prospect meetings, and more) until we can meet in person.

These objections reflect an old way of thinking where we believed that we needed to be physically together to manage our teams, deliver service to clients or develop new business. That 3-D paradigm was formed before the wonderfully enabling technologies we have today, including cloud software solutions, digital (not paper) workflow, low-cost video conference platforms, smart mobile phones and more.

Now, we can communicate very effectively across geographies and there is almost nothing that we can do in person that we can’t do remotely, other than maybe hug and shake hands (which we aren’t supposed to be doing anyway). Leaders need to recognize, point out and counter limiting 3-D paradigm objections as they arise in meetings.

We need to get comfortable, learn the technology and develop processes and habits to work maximally in a blended remote and office environment. If we don’t, our NextGen team members (and clients) will find a firm that does because plenty of other firms have realized that they can successfully manage a remote team.

2. Trust First

To move into this new paradigm, trust is required. Trust first that you have hired smart, capable employees whose intentions are good and their desire is to perform and deliver results. If you approach your team members from this hopeful perspective, ensure that you’ve established clear expectations and then check in and make adjustments along the way, you’ll find it’s win-win-win for partners, team members, clients and the firm.

3. Eliminate Sludge

To truly build a foundation of trust, leaders must stamp out “sludge” in the firm. Sludge often shows up as snarky comments, jokes, jabs or complaints. It keeps old views about how and where we work and undermines or contradicts your stated commitment to a flexible and remote environment.

Examples of sludge include: “Did you get your beauty sleep?” to a team member who has a late-start agreement or “She works four days a week,” about a partner who works remotely on Fridays. We hear phrases like these, and more, usually from firm leaders and they make it difficult for talent to embrace remote and flexible work programs because they fear being undermined or maligned.

Begin to identify and call out sludge when it occurs, making it safe for all team members to share when they notice it. By calling it out, you’ll raise awareness and make it a thing of the past.

4. Promote Parity

The playing field has been leveled with nearly everyone working remotely due to the pandemic. As some of your team members and clients go back to the office, continue to maintain parity for those working remotely by doing the following:

  • Always providing a remote connect option with a Zoom or Teams link for video meetings to maximize engagement and participation.
  • Practice effective meeting protocols, such as muting lines, ensuring everyone has an opportunity to speak, and using the chat function and other technology features to enhance your meeting experiences.
  • Consider holding all-hands meetings remotely, with no more “listenware” meetings where those who are remote can’t get a word in and have less-than ideal listening experience because they hear every other word due to rustling papers or cross-talk at the conference table.
  • Ensure technology and access to client files, firm applications and communication tools are as effective when used remotely as they are in the office.
  • Make quality assignments to those working remotely on par with those who come to the office.

Final Thoughts

Share these trust building behaviors and changes in mindset with your leadership team to identify which ones you can most improve on individually and as a firm. Then share them with the rest of your team members as part of your commitment to truly embrace a blended in-office and remote work environment. Your firm will thrive when you do!

Editor’s Notes: The 2020 Anytime, Anwhere Work™ Survey is now open for participation.

Tamera Loerzel co-authored this article. She and Jen Wilson are partners at ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a strategic planning, learning and development and leadership coaching firm. She is also a founding member and Past President of The CPA Consultants’ Alliance and is a frequent speaker, writer, and blogger in the CPA profession.

Want more practical information for your firm? Both Tamera and Jen will be leading an upcoming webinar Rebuild: Evaluating Skills and Staff Your Firm Will Need Post COVID-19, on Wed. July 29th, 2pm EDT as part of AccountingWEB’s Rebuild content effort.

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