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How accounting firms can reactivate their workforce after COVID-19

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A “new normal” is framing day-to-day life as those in professional services return to work. While some businesses have returned to limited operations as restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic lift, accounting firms and the CPAs working within them now face a significant learning curve settling into an evolved routine.

Summertime is customarily downtime for accountants working in the enterprise tax ecosystem, but COVID-19 and its impact have fundamentally shifted that operations timeline. New regulations and ongoing legislation have emerged, and the deadline to file taxes is now weeks away. Supporting clients and their needs is also critical, while social distancing means accounting firms must strike a delicate balance between logistics, employee safety and business success or growth.

In this climate, enterprise accountants and firms have to manage three major forces to see success this summer and fall: providing helpful and impactful services to drive firm growth, reacclimating to a team-based work approach, and streamlining client recommendations and communications.

Driving firm growth through feedback

This is a critical time to establish a business plan that allows firms to move forward and thrive. As everyone returns to the office, concerns — and opportunities — abound.

Now is the perfect time to get feedback from the team and evaluate possible workflow changes for the company at large, as working remotely has likely highlighted issues that need to be addressed. The team may have been unable to complete certain tasks, and it’s important to take the time to identify digital workflow shortcomings to help avoid future disruptions.

It’s also a time to discover more effective ways for the staff to communicate and work as a team regardless of their physical location. It’s essential that each team has the right tools to do their job from anywhere. Consider an audit: What platforms or toolkits are lacking? Compile feedback from employees and test in-house technology to ensure seamless digital communication. Now is the time to embrace change and focus attention on the most critical resource needs.

Additionally, seek insight from clients about what resources or services they are looking for as COVID-19 may serve as a “reset” for a firm’s suite of services. As clients also get back to work, they may have fresh, unique needs the firm can satisfy. This is the best time to get feedback from everyone and branch out where possible.

Team-based work approach

As coworkers reacclimate to an office setting with social distancing, there may be growing pains accompanied with a sharp learning curve. Yet despite some troubleshooting, office openings may present another opportunity to identify issues, act and refocus the team on best practices moving forward.

Firm leaders should closely examine where the team can collaborate more effectively and investigate how they can better ease worried minds and foster a safe, comfortable working environment. Staid, rigid policies may need to be revisited and updated to better suit the “new normal.”

If a firm was relying on email to communicate, more direct options like Microsoft Teams, Slack or WebEx Teams may be worth exploring. Investing in a compliant, cloud-based repository for hosting documents and information may be attractive to employees and clients alike, given digital reviews or signage needed on various e-documents.

Client communication

Every firm’s clients have needs and, perhaps more critical in this environment, expectations and questions. Managing clients is never a “one size fits all” endeavor, but now is a great time to reassess how to communicate strategies and policy to concerned clientele.

Clearly and openly communicate policies with clients. Provide them with the proper level of transparency about how the team is working so they can better understand what reasonable expectations are during this climate of change.

Further, mass communication to clients of COVID-19 related changes to the tax laws has several benefits. Not only does it diminish redundant conversations with clients, it also eases their minds about unknown changes and helps them think critically.

Looking ahead

The last three months have created unprecedented challenges. However, in the midst of these difficulties is the opportunity for evolution and growth. During this dynamic timeframe, enterprise accounting firms can truly examine the new professional reality and work to find new ways to improve.

Some immediate action items for firms include:

  • Consider existing firm practices through the lens of working remotely.
  • Take time to understand what those at the firm went through personally and how it may have affected clients.
  • Recognize clients are also facing uncertainty and rely on accounting firm support to navigate this new normal.
  • Discuss with the team what new methodologies were discovered, what’s working for everyone, where the firm can improve, what additional services you can offer, and how changes will ultimately help clients succeed.

With these key action items in mind, accounting firms have a powerful opportunity to inspire and invigorate their workforce, while also driving new growth avenues with clients who need their specific area of expertise more than ever.

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