5 tips for going remote now

Coronavirus remote work telecommuting
Claire Tu, an employee at Reprise Digital, works from her home in Shanghai during the coronavirus outbreak.

Firms across the United States are facing the reality of going remote quickly as COVID-19 spreads and states attempt to stem the contagion. Many larger and midsized firms already have telecommuting standard operating procedures in place, along with the technology to support it and a plan of action. However, many others do not.

As the world finds itself in a crisis, now is the time to take action quickly, even if a plan was not in place beforehand. Nicole Fluty, product manager for OfficeTools products at AbacusNext, talked to Accounting Today about some tips firms can consider now as they prepare to go remote on short notice.

Internet
In order to telecommute in any way, the first requirement is a given: internet access. Something we’re learning as schools in particular go remote across the country is how many students, especially those from lower-income families, do not have access to reliable internet connections. And in a pandemic, hanging out in public spaces is discouraged, so going to the local library is not an option.

“Some people really live off their cell phone,” Fluty said. “Identify the people who can quickly go remote, and who needs a week or two to get internet upgraded or installed? Can the firm do something in the interim, like provide hotspots?”
Devices
The next logical step to consider is access to appropriate devices. Consider whether your staff are working on laptops, and whether those laptops can go home with them. If staff do not have laptops, which staff have laptops at home, and which staff have home computers? Are these devices adequate for working from home for perhaps weeks or months?
Phone calls
“Everyone forgets about phone calls — how do we take incoming calls from clients calling into the office? How do we make that virtual?” Fluty said. “It may not even be possible on short notice, but think about what next steps firms can take to manage this in the interim. If it becomes long term, that’s again going to be a different solution.”

Calls coming into office systems can sometimes be forwarded to a cell phone — firms should identify who that person should be, and set up a system for how they will direct those calls. Another option is setting up a Google Voice account, which provides forwarding and voicemail services, voice and text messaging. Google Voice can be connected with an existing cell phone number, but not a landline. If a firm needs to connect the forwarding and call management service to a landline, it can first port the landline number to a mobile carrier; then, it can be ported to Google Voice. The one-time porting fee is $20.
Access
“Once you solve internet access and getting the right devices, it’s now about access to apps and software,” Fluty said. “Software-as-a-service and on-premise systems are very different, and not something you can fix very quickly. It can put you down for a couple days.”

Staff from firms that use cloud, or SaaS, software will likely be able to access those systems remotely from wherever they are. If a firm uses on-premise software or a mix of SaaS and on-prem, a time like the present shows why cloud hosting may be a good idea (certainly something to consider for the future). But in the interim, reach out to IT consultants and cloud hosting providers to see what immediate aid they can give you if you are forced to go remote quickly and without a plan.
Workflow
Finally, firms should think about remote workflow, Fluty said.

“What tasks and processes can we identify? How do we want to facilitate doing it online? Is everything ready to go very virtual? Do you have a portal, for instance?”

Client portals are a key piece of technology to consider during — of course, preferably before — a crisis. This will help firms keep track of documentation flow.
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