[IMGCAP(1)]Now that tax season is safely out of the way, it may be a good time to examine how to make it better next year.

The average American spends 22 hours every year preparing income tax returns. Little wonder, then, that so many taxpayers are looking for a better way.

Enter the professionals--accountants. According to the IRS, 60 percent of taxpayers hire a professional practitioner to prepare their tax returns. Because of this, accounting firms see a significant influx in workloads and client demands during tax season that often times result in long hours and added stress. While tax season can be overwhelming for accounting firms, here are five tips to help alleviate some of the pressure:

1. It’s all about the Culture
The soul of a company is in its culture. Having a well-defined corporate culture is the cornerstone of a happy and productive work environment. At no time is this more important than during tax season. To combat the long working hours, firms regularly bring in company dinners, occasionally extending the invitation to family members of employees. “Family is very important to our employees,” said Ron Overson, a partner at Boulay, Heutmaker, Zibell & Co. P.L.L.P. “During tax season, we have family style dinners in the office and an activity for the kids.”

Integrating family and work is a major trend in the accounting industry. By providing this opportunity, employees are able to spend more time with their families, even if they are required to work longer hours. A happy employee is a productive employee.

2. The Increasingly Mobile Workforce
No longer are accountants forced to sit in front of desktop computers and crank out returns. With the mobile workforce, along with the ubiquity of tablets, smart phones and laptops, firms are seeing the benefit of shifting from the “traditional” workforce landscape and adapting to new technologies as a means of improving work/life balance.  Before this consumerization of IT, accountants would have to spend long hours in the office. “Since technology has blossomed, we have applications that allow our employees to do more work remotely, it’s all about balance,” said Overson.

Working in a non-traditional environment helps increase productivity and creativity as employees are freed from physical office space.  As accounting firms hire younger workers, the incentive of a mobile workforce is a competitive draw in helping to recruit and retain talent.

3. Deploy the Proper Tools
In an accounting firm, tools exist to help accountants deliver accurate results on time and within budget. However, firms must have a comprehensive understanding of their objectives long before considering any options. “When you implement software, you need to think about how many different vendors you want to deal with and what benefits you,” said Overson.

With so many different enterprise resource planning vendors, it is important to choose a system that will seamlessly integrate into the daily operations of your firm. Choosing a vendor is a selective process, and firms need to be prepared with a list of questions and perhaps even consider a trial run to make sure the software will meet their needs. Now more than ever, firms must be more efficient and prepared for implementing strategies to streamline the business process. Ultimately, with this approach, accountants will have more time to focus on their core job activities and implement strategies to expedite the business processes, eventually improving a firm’s bottom line. 

4. Better Insight for Project Workflow
According to a 2012 Forrester report on project-based ERP for service delivery professionals, “accounting firms are shifting away from viewing project management software as a transaction of logging project actions, costs and resources to seeing them as a tool that provides insight into which projects are generating money for the firm.” In accounting firms, it is the job of the project manager to ensure projects are being completed on time and within budget. To do this effectively, the project manager must be able to see all of the moving parts of a project. If a project manager can see the status and staffing of a project from beginning to end, the final outcome will be better for the client and the employees.

Being able to monitor the daily time entries of accountants helps managers identify if projects are stalled and where a firm’s resources are being spent. Through better project workflow insight, managers can properly allocate precious time and resources. The key to optimizing project and resource management is having the right tools that manage costs and drive profitable behavior throughout an organization.

5. Communication is Critical
Communication is critical, especially during tax time. “Sometimes there are generational differences when it comes to preferred forms of communication,” said Overson. “Consequently, communication tools need to be coordinated in order to allow project managers to know when an accountant is bogged down with work and assistance is needed.”

Implementing the right tools for your firm is critical as technology develops and client pressures increase. You can’t prevent the tax season from rolling around each year, but at least next year (with the right company, mobile technology and tools) tax season just might be a little less taxing.

Claus Thorsgaard is Deltek’s executive vice president and general manager—professional services. He is responsible for managing sales and marketing for Deltek Vision, Deltek Maconomy, and Deltek People Planner, enterprise software solutions that power the businesses of accounting firms and other professional services firms around the world.