Art of Accounting: Getting back to normal

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We are in the midst of a pandemic with doubtful days ahead. However, accountants are running businesses and, on some basis, need to return to business as normal. But, what is “normal” going to be?

“Normal” means that we settle into a routine of performing services, assisting clients, counseling and coaching them, and looking for ways to add value to our clients. It also means mobilizing our staff, training and mentoring them, and providing opportunities for staff to be professionally satisfied and to grow. It means running our practices in the best way possible so we can support our stakeholders and infrastructure and have funds available to invest in our future growth. Whatever each of us does, it will then become the new normal.

I don’t believe the new normal will be similar to the past normal, but the basic premise will be the same — to provide exceptional services and value to our clients.

Things have changed. When things change, many ask if it is better or worse. In this case it is neither. It is just different, so do not look for benefits or detriments. Accept the changes, adapt, and get on with your work.

Here are some practice management suggestions for the new normal:

  • There will be much less personal interaction with staff and clients. You should make up for this with more frequent calls, emails and virtual meetings.
  • Try to schedule periodic virtual meetings with your entire staff and also with niche and client service teams. A regularly scheduled half-hour update can be enough to keep everyone informed and make them feel connected.
  • CPE meetings and conferences will be limited at best. This can be made up by webinars and some self-study. A suggestion is to take shorter but more focused programs. Try to schedule them during lunch or a time of day when you feel you are least productive.
  • Staff training has to be continued, and each firm will need to work that out for themselves, but it must be part of your processes. A lot of OJT (on the job training) will fall off and will need to be replaced with different methods of review and oversight. A deliberate effort must be made with the training.
  • Outsourcing of client accounting and bookkeeping functions will be looked at differently and could present opportunities for accounting firms. Also, this work is done virtually so it does not require travel time and costs.
  • Office space will be reconfigured and in many cases will be reduced, with more work being done at home. To prepare for this, staff will need the right equipment at home, and office rent will eventually be reduced. This is a trend that started a few years ago with larger firms, but will now become a norm for most firms.
  • Technological skills need to become second nature. For those on board, good for you. For others, catching up must be a priority. Remote work will be the rule.
  • Practice management software will become more necessary with increasingly remote actions. Metrics and methods need to be developed for data collection, exchange and sharing of files, and measurement and accountability. Many find these management aspects distasteful, but they will become more of a necessity. Get used to it!
  • Pricing methods and models will become more important since there will be much less accountant/client personal interaction. Performance, responsiveness, cost and value will become more relevant measures while the power of personal relationships will be lessened.
  • Log on to the many short (half hour or less) practice management podcasts or interviews. They are free and provide valuable tips from consultants, managing partners and colleagues who willingly share what works for them. These can be found on Accounting Today, CPA Trendlines, posts on LinkedIn and from many other sources.
  • Individual priorities will change, and family time will assume a growing part in the lives of your staff. This will need to be factored in when scheduling work and setting deadlines.

We will definitely get back to normal, but normal will be different than what it was. We will all do it and it will work out, but it will take getting used to the changes.

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Practice management Coronavirus Work from home Client relations Ed Mendlowitz