Despite productivity drops, firms commit to remote work in reopening

Two-thirds of accounting firm leaders reported a drop in staff productivity during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study, but they're still committed to allowing employees to work from home even after they reopen their offices.

The study, conducted by Accounting Today's parent company, Arizent, surveyed accountants at firms of all sizes across the U.S., as well as leaders from a range of financial services and professional services companies, including banks, credit unions, financial planners, insurance brokers, and mortgage brokers.

Some other major findings of the survey include:

  • Just under a third of large accounting firms reported plans to downsize their office space in the aftermath of the pandemic.
  • Only 1 percent of firms with fewer than 50 employees reported having closed offices.
  • Over two-thirds of respondents felt "very positive" about their firm's response to the pandemic.
AT-070620-COVID-Coronavirus impact on productivity
Regardless of firm size, two-thirds of leaders at practices reported that the greater number of employees working from home had led to a decrease in productivity.
AT-070620-COVID-Coronavirus - likely to allow remote work CHART
Overall, 82 percent of accounting firms were "very" or "somewhat" likely to allow employees to work remotely even after the pandemic, compared to 73 percent of businesses in the broader survey.
AT-070520-COVID-Coronavirus - who gets to work from home CHART
While employee preference will play the biggest role in deciding who can work remotely going forward at accounting firms, managing preference and the employee's role and department will also matter.
AT-070620-COVID- Coronavirus work-from-home policy CHART
Larger accounting firms (those with over 50 people) were more likely to mandate that staff work from home than smaller firms.
AT-070620-COVID- Coronavirus - Firms that have closed offices CHART
Larger firms were also far more likely to have closed offices or locations; only 11 percent of firms with fewer than 50 staff members reported having closed their offices.
AT-070620-COVID-Coronavirus Plans for Offices CHART
The majority of both large and small firms reported that they planned to leave their offices as they are, though just under a third of larger firms are looking at reducing their footprint in the future, as more staff work remotely.
AT-070620-COVID-coronavirus Reopen Challenges CHART
With all the confusion around reopening, it's hardly a surprise that uncertainty around timing was the biggest challenge firms face in figuring out when to resume more-normal operations — but for large firms, the biggest challenge was establishing safe routines in the office, a critical factor for them, as they were more likely to report employee reluctance around returning to work.
AT-070520-COVID-Coronavirus Reopening factors CHART
A decrease in infection rates is the most important factor for making employees feel comfortable in resuming more-normal operations, but they also rate the development of a vaccine, face mask use, and compliance with federal and state recommendations very highly.
AT--070620-COVID-Coronavirus Rate your firms Communication CHART
Overall, respondents felt their firms were doing a good or excellent job in keeping staff informed about plans to resume regular operations and open offices.
AT-070620-COVID Rate Firm Response CHART
They were also very positive about their firms' broader responses to the pandemic as a whole.