Have you got the right technology, space and mindset to work from home indefinitely?
As accountants and consultants, most of us are used to working at home at least some of the time. But putting in an extra few hours in a home office on occasion is way different from sheltering in place and moving your entire professional practice into a home office or onto the kitchen table. Sure, you’re used to knocking out a spreadsheet or two, or working on a client’s books or tax return on the living room coffee table or a dedicated home office. But holding staff and client meetings and tracking workflows from the kitchen table is going to be a new experience for many.
And while we all hope the coronavirus pandemic passes quickly, and leaves all of the people we know still healthy, it’s likely that what we thought of as “business as usual” is never going to be exactly the same given the massive upheaval we’re now going through. But, to be honest, business as usual has never really been true for many of us even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Successful practices have often been staffed and led by those whose idea of “as usual” means thinking outside the box and coloring outside of the lines. That’s been true for a long time, and innovative professional practices, while more needed than ever, are always going to be valuable.
Work from home is here to stay
Even with states opening back up, work-from-home is not going to just dry up and disappear. While the new reality means that there’s a need to do things differently, it’s also an opportunity to look at the environment you’re working in, and possibly introduce some changes there as well. Some of you were already used to working from home, and have a well-equipped second office already in place. Many of you, however, are used to just bringing your laptop back and forth from your “real office” and working at home from wherever there’s enough space to put down and open up your laptop. That’s not an optimum approach to productivity. But the bottom line is that while we’re forced to operate from home right now, many of us will continue to do so even after our locations are reopened, at least to some extent. Commuting to an office is expensive in terms of time as well as cash. Recouping that extra time we normally spend commuting means having that time for additional work, or more hopefully, more time with family and friends.
Are you tech-ready?
I’ve been working mostly from home on and off for decades, so while having to stay at home can feel somewhat claustrophobic, it’s also something I’m used to. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what’s really necessary in terms of equipment and approach. All of us are aware of the need for backup, so I’m just going to assume you’re up to date on this. If your equipment is more than a couple of years old, or if you don’t have an extra complete set of hardware, now’s the time to add, upgrade or replace what you have. At a minimum, you should have an extra complete system or two available in the event of a major hardware failure. And your backup should allow you to restore to a new PC as well as the original. There are a number of backup systems that allow you to do this — the one I’ve been using for literally decades is Acronis, and I’ve only had to rely on this feature once in that time. But other vendors offer a similar capability.
One thing that most users don’t consider is their internet access. If the power goes out, your network router/gateway fails, or some other calamity befalls you and makes it impossible to access your email or the cloud, do you just have to wait for the situation to resolve? With the emphasis on cloud computing, videoconferencing and remote work, that’s not really a great way to conduct your business. And backup isn’t really the same as fallback. I’ve written before about the use of a satellite phone as a fallback, though I’ve never actually used one. A more realistic option is a mobile modem/router. It’s been a while since I had one (3G at that), but newer models can keep you connected to the Net in an emergency. I’m partial to Netgear’s models, but as with most things, there is a variety to choose from. The upside of one of these is that they serve not only as a fallback, but when you do resume traveling, they provide internet access from most places with cell service. And in an absolute emergency, don’t forget that most cell phones can also serve as a hot spot.
I’ve got a bunch of new goodies in the review pile to look at, some new keyboards, mice, a webcam from a new supplier, and a very cool USB microphone (great if you want to start podcasting). Hopefully, I’ll get to them next time. But don’t wait on me. If there’s anything in your work environment that might be a bit iffy, replace or back it up now, before you have to.
One last thing to keep in mind is that even though the basis of accounting really hasn’t changed much since the time of Pacioli, none of us perform tasks in our practice exactly how they were done as recently as 50 or even 25 years ago. And even a half-century ago, accounting was practiced differently than it was in the previous 50 years before that. And while it isn’t always positive, change is necessary. Business as usual is stagnation. If there is anything this terrible situation has had a positive effect on, it’s to remind us that we are adaptable. That we don’t always just survive, but rather that we evolve. Just as we find it difficult to imagine writeup was ever performed with T-Account paper and pens, in the near future, as this crisis is resolved, many of us will wonder how we ever managed our practices without videoconferences.
So, promise yourself you’ll do more than just survive — that you’ll evolve. And don’t just persevere — excel. Most of all, to paraphrase a somewhat famous phrase, don’t let COVID-19 or any other crisis grind you down. Stay safe, stay healthy and stay optimistic.