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5 Takeaways from COVID-19 for CPA Firms

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The COVID-19 pandemic changed how organizations think about work, and CPA firms are no exception. If your firm is considering ongoing remote work for its employees, it's important to consider whether you have the right tools and strategy to successfully manage a remote team

Oct 15th 2021
CEO Cetrom
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While the switch from working in an office to working at home during the pandemic was abrupt, most businesses and their employees adapted quickly to remote work, discovering it improved work-life balance. Now, you can go for a run in the middle of a busy workday and still be productive. 

Staff at CPA firms have enjoyed a respite from being road warriors and benefitted from increased flexibility and efficiency. CPA firm leaders have, by and large, seen stable if not increased productivity and an improved bottom line thanks to a reduction in operating costs. 

Many CPA firms are realizing that what seemed at first like an “experiment” is now the new normal. This realization has led to a paradigm shift as firms assess the hybrid work model employed during the pandemic and consider how to develop a long-term, comprehensive IT strategy and plan. 

What should CPA firms and their teams have learned from using a flexible, hybrid work model? Here are Cetrom’s top five most important takeaways from the impact that COVID-19 had on CPA firm operations. 

1. Effective Telework Requires More Than a Laptop, Camera and Headset

Providing the equipment your staff needed to work from home may have been the easiest part of transitioning to remote work. The hard part is building the IT infrastructure, deploying new software and adopting new tools — in other words, creating an effective IT ecosystem that empowers efficient and safe telework. 

CPA firms that had resisted adopting a cloud-based IT infrastructure learned quickly and sometimes painfully that the cloud was the right approach for this new normal. Cloud computing and cloud services improve productivity and efficiency, and they also provide significant risk mitigation in the event of the unexpected, like a pandemic. 

At Cetrom, we are experts at building cloud solutions that will enhance your CPA firm’s performance and elevate its ability to remain agile and pivot when confronted with unforeseeable events like natural disasters, cyberattacks, public health threats and many other risks to business continuity. 

Today, it’s imperative to have easy access to files and opportunities to collaborate from anywhere at any time. Virtual Desktops, also known as VDI or Desktop as a Service (DaaS), provides CPA firms the capability to stay up and running in the midst of an unexpected crisis, delivering peace of mind to the business, security to its team and protection for the bottom line. A cloud-based remote virtual desktop solution provides access to the same icons, applications, folders and files available on desktop computers in your office, making it an ideal solution for remote work. 

2. Strong Data Security Is More Important Than Ever

Hackers and bad actors adapted quickly to take advantage of security gaps caused by the rapid transition to increased remote work. Instead of having a single network to protect, CPA firms were suddenly faced with scores of home networks accessing the firm’s network, creating new vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.

To combat this, we’ve helped CPA firms do the following to button up their data security even in environments that are almost completely remote: 

  • Build a remote work policy that instructs employees on how to stay safe and holds them accountable for putting the company at risk. 
  • Deploy AI and automation to drastically reduce security breaches caused by human error via artificial intelligence that is always on, scanning and monitoring. 
  • Educate and train employees on cybersecurity best practices, creating heightened states of alert and awareness that a steady state cannot exist only in a time of crisis. 
  • Improve their data security backup processes by implementing multiple daily backups using different methods like cloud computing and hard drive backups.
  • Establish, deploy and adjust a company-wide cybersecurity policy that includes: 
    • Clear, enforced password rules 
    • Restricted access and permissions 
    • Protection for all devices 
    • Two-factor authentication 
    • Documentation disseminated to all staff 
    • Remote work/device policies  
    • A security emergency response plan 

3. Work Culture and Camaraderie Can Still Thrive Remotely

We’ve learned from experience and from our clients that workplace culture, collegiality and togetherness don’t have to disintegrate because of telework. There are tools and creative ways to continue to keep staff engaged ; it just takes some effort and a new approach to team building. At Cetrom, our employees worked remotely well before COVID-19. We have a deep and close-knit team that’s become even closer during the pandemic, and we’ve leveraged this experience to help our CPA firm clients protect their work cultures. We have encouraged them to: 

  • Hold regular virtual happy hours so people have something to look forward to. 
  • Create virtual new-hire onboarding events like virtual lunches where the firm pays for food delivery to employees’ homes and everyone gets online at the same time to meet and greet a new team member. 
  • Incorporate a segment of standing staff meetings for virtual “water cooler” talk. This time can be used to talk about current events, the latest Netflix shows to binge watch or other topics of interest that are fun and relieve stress. 

4. Business Continuity and Disaster Planning Is Critically Important

The pandemic should have taught all CPA firms to expect the unexpected. This mindset is not limited to public health emergencies. Preparing for natural disasters, fires, theft, power failures and other events that can critically and negatively impact operations is essential. Ultimately, we help our clients build IT continuity plans that mitigate all kinds of risk. In order to mitigate as much risk as possible, your firm needs to actively and continuously be in risk-assessment mode. 

COVID-19 likely exacerbated risks you already were aware of and probably unearthed new risks that you’d never even considered. Again, we encourage our clients to react, assess and then integrate what they’ve learned and are learning during the pandemic into their business continuity plans. Business continuity and disaster recovery planning is not a “set it and forget it” exercise, particularly when it comes to your IT ecosystem; it is a never-ending process of continual improvement that keeps CPA firms prepared for the unexpected. The minute these plans become stagnant is when your risk is highest. 

5. Remote Work Is Here to Stay

According to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, between May 2020 and March 2021, over 77 percent of people surveyed said they would like to work remotely at least once a week, while 31 percent said they would prefer to work remotely all five days. Not every job can be done remotely, but most survey respondents said their jobs are conducive to work from home as least part of the time. 

The takeaway from COVID-19 is pretty simple: The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people work and the way businesses operate. It’s likely that a big sector of your CPA firm will remain remote permanently, so your firm will need an experienced IT and cloud services partner that can build, customize, maintain, monitor, protect and adjust your IT ecosystem to help you mitigate risk and sustain growth. 

This article originally appeared on the Boomer Consulting website

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