The traditional eight-to-five, cubicle-dwelling accounting job is dying. Just like a host of other occupations, accounting is becoming a profession that is mobile, technology-enabled, and often project-specific.

The “gig economy” — known for its cadre of workers who desire flexibility in schedules, work location, and even variety in their employers — can be of benefit both to the employee and the employer.


The cloud’s silver lining: working remotely

In the past, paper-based workflows and on-premises software meant you had to be in the office to get work done, which also meant you typically had to hire full-time staff.

In today’s digital world, that’s no longer the case.

The majority of workers are already mobile and are only at their desks 50 to 60 percent of the time, according to data from Global Workplace Analytics. Financial staff are no longer tied to traditional offices as a result of "work from anywhere" mobility developments, enabling every type of schedule and geographic location. Organizations of all types can literally eliminate the overhead of costly office space. Chief financial officers and controllers can adjust staff up or down in a fluid way to complete specialized projects or obtain necessary skill sets, without the need to permanently hire the individuals.

In addition, software-as-a-service enterprise resource planning systems combined with cloud storage providers and a litany of compatible applications allow accounting teams to get work done more efficiently through the automation and integration of a variety of specialized tasks. From invoicing to accounts payable, taxes to the monthly close, today’s accounting team can run lean and mean without the burden of the repetitive manual tasks that many millennials shun.


Facing ̶ and solving ̶ the staffing crisis

That said, while the cloud can help deliver on the promise of a mobility-enabled, more intellectually rewarding financial career, one of the top challenges for managers of accounting teams today remains finding and retaining financial talent.

There are two main reasons for the talent shortage:

1. Generational differences. The taboo against “job hopping” has weakened over the past decade. Millennials feel comfortable changing jobs an average of every two years, and because employers don’t typically grant substantial pay increases to current employees, changing jobs is seen as one of the only ways to earn more than just cost of living adjustments.

2. Supply and demand. As of January 2018, the employment rate for accountants was 1.8 percent, and was expected to continue to drop to near zero as Baby Boomers retire. There simply aren’t enough qualified Gen X or millennial CPAs to replace them, heralding the beginning of a major talent crisis in the accounting profession.

How organizations react to this shortage can be directly correlated to some of the benefits of the gig economy: the ability for individuals to work on their own schedules, in their desired location, completing tasks and projects that stretch their imagination and bring them personal satisfaction.

Some ways employers can address the shortage include:

1. Embracing flexibility and mobility: It’s probably no surprise that 80 to 90 percent of the U.S. workforce says they would like to telework at least part-time, again from data from Global Workforce Analytics. This means many accounting departments will need to drop the traditional 8-to-5 in-office requirement in order to attract and retain talent, just as most have eliminated the formal dress code. Workers will expect an “anytime anywhere” workplace, just as employers should take advantage of the fiscal benefits that a virtual office can deliver.

A mix of schedules, with both full- and part-time options can also help remediate the challenge this talent shortage poses. In fact, allowing part-time and remote work may be the key to retaining those Boomers who are planning to retire soon. Many might be willing to continue working part-time if they could combine a flexible work schedule with the lifestyle they’re looking for in retirement.

2. Hiring for skills: Controllers and CFOs will need to hire a mix of accounting staff with differing skill sets ̶ some CPAs, some technical experts -- as well as utilizing contractors and outsourcing firms for short term or specialized projects. As tasks like data entry and bookkeeping become increasingly obsolete, the rest of the team will need both the financial and technological chops to implement, maintain and leverage emerging systems.

3. Engaging intellectually: There are also plenty of millennials who have no desire to be cubicle dwellers like their parents were for twenty years or more. Millennial accountants are going to have lots of options as the job market tightens, and one of them may be rejecting traditional employment entirely and instead working on different projects every few months. Employers need to embrace this mindset and create an environment that stimulates and engages, not simply oversees.

Evolving accounting teams and the new gig economy — It’s a win-win for everyone. Managers, controllers and CFOs can lower their costs with a more flexible workplace and workforce, while part-time and/or remote employees or contractors get the flexible schedules and work location they desire, and everyone engages in the types of interesting assignments this new economy promises.

Blake Oliver

Blake Oliver

Blake Oliver is an entrepreneur, accountant, writer, and speaker who specializes in cloud accounting technology.