Pros and Cons of Remote Work From a Client's Viewby
Managers must consider the benefits and drawbacks of remote work from a client's perspective when trying to decide whether to allow employees to work from home. While working remotely does increase the need for cybersecurity measures, it can actually make things easier for your clients and you by allowing more flexibility.
Whether you have employees who don’t feel ready to return to the office or are simply considering whether there would be benefits to reinstating in-person client meetings, you want to know all of your options. Here’s what you’ll need to consider before deciding what is right for your firm.
Working Remotely Means More CyberSecurity Needs
With employees working from home and, in some cases, using their own devices, firms must work harder to protect employee, company and client data and must focus more on cybersecurity and training employees to ensure they know how to safeguard confidential data.
The first step toward protecting data is to make sure you and any employees are using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN is an encrypted tunnel through which either an on-premises or remote user can connect to a server, access company applications and share resources and files.
Because the tunnel is encrypted, nobody outside of it, including your ISP, can read the data, according to Danny Severns, an AccountingWEB contributor and president of Essential Integrated Data, Ltd. If you are a one-person firm, or you do most of your work in a public place using public WiFi, you can purchase private VPN Client software from many different vendors, usually for a low monthly fee, $4 - $12 per month per user, Severns says.
However, a VPN won’t solve every security issue. Nevertheless, it’s still a solid safeguard against hackers, making the job of stealing data much more trouble than it’s worth.
You will need to make sure that you and any personnel are trained in how to make secure video calls and in best practices in using video calls and social media. You will also need to educate clients on how to keep information safe, as many clients tend to use Dropbox or unencrypted email or review confidential information in public on a phone or tablet.
According to Randy Johnston, CEO of NMGI and another frequent AccountingWEB contributor, security needs to be a top priority, but it must be taken care of without sacrificing client experience. Once you have a platform and service offerings tailored to your clients’ needs, choose tech that supports scalable, repeatable processes.
“You should carefully consider external, client-facing tools like SmartVault for document storage or Hubdoc for document retrieval. Clients will frequently touch these tools, and their client experience is affected by their technology experience,” Johnston said in “How to Make Things Easier for Your Client and You,” published on AccountingWEB in November 2021.
Flexible Hours Benefit You and Your Clients
The time spent traveling to and from the office can instead be allocated for meetings with clients who may wish to meet earlier than 9 a.m. or later than 5 p.m. Furthermore, employees who are working from home may have more flexibility in the hours they can be available since they don’t have to factor in commute time, time spent taking children to and from school and so on. Some employees may even find that working early in the morning or later in the evening better fits their schedule, and some clients may prefer to schedule meetings during these times as well to accommodate their busy schedules.
Paul Miller, founder and owner of Business by Design, told Heather Walker of Thompson Reuters that tax appointments that are held virtually take significantly less time than in-person meetings.
“When clients would come in, they would wait in a lobby, grab a coffee, chit chat, etc. All that is now stripped away, and what I see is a lot more efficient,” Miller said in “Is the virtual CPA here to stay?” published by Thompson Reuters in April 2021.
However, you need to be prepared for the virtual meeting, which includes having expertise in the software you’re using and making sure you know exactly what is on your computer screen.
While Miller doesn’t eschew in-person meetings completely, he does find that virtual meetings are much more efficient.
“If there are multiple clients like spouses or partners at different locations, virtual is way easier. Logistically, I think it makes a lot more sense now, and clients are at ease knowing there is still a connection available,” Miller said.
Not All Clients Will Have Access to Technology
Although people have become more familiar with technology over the past two years due to social distancing and working from home, some still feel uncomfortable using technology and would prefer to meet in person. This might be especially true of older clients who don’t feel confident using a computer or other device.
A February 2021 report by the nonprofit Older Adults Technology Services found that 22 million older Americans lack internet access, according to “Optimizing tech for older adults,” an article by Tori DeAngelis published by the American Psychological Association in July 2021. “Black and Latinx older adults are, respectively, more than 2.5 and 3.6 times more likely than the general population to lack computer access,” the article said.
That said, some older people who eschew the internet don’t do so because technology is a barrier. Seniors are more likely to learn new tech skills when that tech has value to them, and their resistance to tech is often a “value-based choice,” according to “Why Older People Really Eschew Technology,” an article by Joelle Renstrom published by Slate magazine in July 2020.
Research suggests the barrier is often a “misalignment of values and products,” and tech companies often ignore the needs of this demographic, the article said. Given this information, firms should implement client-facing technology that provides a clear value to the client, and asking older clients which tech products they already use could help firms determine what other tech might appeal to them.
For clients who want to use technology but don’t know how, organizations that specialize in digital literacy for older adults can help. These organizations have seen a surge of interest since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to “Calming computer jitters: Help for the elderly who aren’t tech-savvy,” an article by Judith Graham published by The Washington Post in July 2021.
Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), which is affiliated with the AARP, is just one of several organizations that runs a national hotline for people seeking technical support, the article said. It also operates Senior Planet technology training centers in six cities across the country, including Denver, New York and San Antonio, and offers free virtual classes.
Older adults may also have privacy concerns that prevent them from using tech, which makes sense because scammers often target older adults. Firms might need to reassure these clients that their personal data is secure and offer them guidance in best practices for keeping information private online.
Remote Work Means a Wider Applicant Pool
Allowing employees to work from home (or anywhere) allows hiring managers to consider applicants who are located outside of the firm’s city or state, giving managers a wider and more diverse applicant pool. HR experts estimate that businesses that aren’t offering flexible or remote work are missing out on up to 70 percent of job-seekers, according to “HR experts: Companies requiring in-office work could lose out on 70% of candidates,” an article by Jennifer Liu published by CNBC Make It in November 2021. Furthermore, HR experts told CNBC that businesses seeking top talent should know that most top-tier, in-demand employees have the upper hand and want to work for a company that offers flexibility.
Remote work presents employers with an opportunity to create a more welcoming work environment for groups who have been marginalized, according to “How Remote Work Can Enhance Workplace Diversity,” an article by Forbes Council Member Jason Richmond published by Forbes in July 2020. This includes new parents, especially those who are single, and parents of children of all ages; women; people who have disabilities and more.
Employers can also sustain their diversity and inclusion initiatives by hiring remote workers, though there are both risks and advantages to doing so, Forbes said. The potential for exclusion increases when employees are working remotely, so managers must be diligent in keeping in touch with these employees.
“[Managers] need to raise their own awareness of how they include or exclude everyone on the team during online meetings and also keep in mind that some individuals may lack stable Wi-Fi connections or other technology tools that managers take for granted,” Richmond said.
Amy Anthony has been writing professionally for more than a decade, including as a news reporter for the Associated Press and the Cape Cod Times. Her articles have appeared in U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, the Miami Herald, the Star Tribune, Business Insider, the Hartford Courant, The Boston Globe, HuffPost, The Mercury News, Newsday...