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Home office

Do your homework for better remote working


Many accountants are making life more difficult for themselves by failing to invest in the proper tools to work from home. But if homeworking is here to stay then why not improve the experience?

15th Jun 2022
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There now seems to be a consensus that in future the majority of professionals are likely to be spending around half of their time working from home.

Despite the doubts of naysayers, this means that two or three times a week the average accountant will be spending between eight and 12 hours chained to their desk at home. If that is going to be the case, then in order to improve the experience and maybe even optimise output, we should do everything possible to make homeworking as enjoyable as possible.

Given all of our other concerns, it is all too easy to neglect some basic and potentially inexpensive investments that could be game changers.

In an ideal world, you should set up a specific, relatively quiet room as an office (a suite of soundproofed rooms might be a little optimistic). Failing that, at least during working hours it may be possible to designate a space as a temporary office.

If this has a lock on the door, that could be a real bonus, as various world leaders have discovered when their toddlers got lonely during the night and invaded critical conference calls.

Having done this, there are a number of basic items that could make all the difference.

Furnishing your working space

Those working in large firms will be well aware of assessments to check that workspaces are safe.

The starting point will be to invest in a chair that minimises the dangers of back pain and other associated ailments.

Next, install a desk or table that is the right height and a decent size to accommodate all of those working papers, even if you think your office is paperless. If pieces of paper are taking over, storage is essential. This could be a filing cabinet, something to go under a desk or merely a set of trays.

Technology – the necessities

Depending on your status, the firm might be buying equipment or you may be obliged to do so personally. In either case, if you have free rein, take a little time out to buy some good kit.

The starting point must be a laptop or PC. So many of us still try to get by with seriously underpowered equipment and that is a mistake. Considered investment could pay massive dividends.

Whichever way you go, one or more computer screens should be compulsory, especially if you have a laptop since staring at a tiny screen for hours could be unhealthy.

An ergonomic keyboard and mouse are next on the list.

Upgrading your internet connection is also important, given that losing contact with your favourite clients or members of the team at the wrong moment could be very costly.

Some of you may also have noticed that using the home phone for work calls has downsides, especially if there are youngsters in the house. This might suggest getting a fresh line or using a mobile, either your own or a new corporate one.

Technology – optional extras

These days, many might argue that buying a decent webcam, which need cost very little, should come under the necessary category, given that so much of business life involves meeting people online.

If you haven’t already tried it, speech recognition software that can act as a virtual secretary is highly developed and could save hours of work.

Either of these enhancements might be accompanied by headphone/microphone set.

It may not appeal to everybody but some enjoy working in a relaxed atmosphere where they can catch up with news or listen to music. In that case, spending a modest amount on decent speakers could reduce stress and make the working day fly by.

You may not be responsible, but some kind of enhanced security software should also be a consideration, particularly if you send files backwards and forwards between home and office or to colleagues and clients.

You get what you pay for

Having concluded that working from home is for the long term, doing a typical accountant thing of buying as cheaply as possible might be a false economy. Good-quality furniture and tech gear almost always lasts much longer and causes far fewer headaches.

Other considerations

Having got used to videoconferencing, it has become apparent that some people take more care than others over their workspaces. Drying underwear might amuse but isn’t really recommended.

Hazy screens, making one wonder if a visit to the optician is called for is an unattractive solution, while a virtual backdrop may offend clients who see their expensive accountants apparently sitting on a beach in Hawaii.

You could think about creating your own backdrop. This need not be an old master, but perhaps one or two tasteful prints from the local art gallery could fit the bill nicely. They might even make a good talking point to break the ice.

One piece of good news is that even if you are funding these additions personally, it should be possible to get 100% tax relief on most things described in this article, with the exception of the fun elements.

Staff performance and retention

If you run a practice, having done a nice job on your own working space, think about offering enhancements to your colleagues.

This could have numerous advantages. First, they will get that warm glow that leads to better quality and more committed work. Secondly, communications may be easier. Thirdly, if you draw up a contract requiring them to repay the costs of investments if they leave within a reasonable period of time, it could also reduce churn.

Replies (3)

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By Hugo Fair
20th Jun 2022 11:37

Whilst agreeing with most of the eminently sensible suggestions, the article is a tad heavyweight on the technology aspects ... and anyway I'm not sure I agree that "Good-quality .. tech gear almost always lasts much longer".

But in my experience, the biggest advantage of WFH is the time saved on commuting ... and the freedom this gives you to choose how to allocate that 'spare time'.
Some people simply move their working-hours to an earlier or later start in the day ... but I've found it much easier to take regular breaks every hour or so (averaging 15-20 mins). This allows your body the variety of postures and movements that regular office work militates against but that is generally recognised as beneficial to health.
And for those that monitor these things, I suspect the variety of between-work activities helps free the mind to be more productive on the next ' work session'.

One other thing ... bear in mind when 'decorating' your quiet room/office that not all staff (or indeed clients) have the luxury of unoccupied space that can be dedicated to work, so try not to go overboard (which can seem like rubbing their noses in your good fortune)!

Thanks (1)
By TaxTeddy
20th Jun 2022 14:26

Pyjamas, cosy socks, chocolate - all that is needed.

Thanks (1)
By exceljockey
22nd Jun 2022 09:51

In my experience with employing people to WFH, you need to ensure that the employee has hobbies or social activities that bring them into contact with other people regularly. Otherwise, the isolation of WFH eventually takes its toll.

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