Accounting firms are thriving in the new world of remote working

16th Sep 2020
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Most accountants are understandably cautious by nature, but on 23 March 2020, along with the rest of the UK, the industry was forced to adapt overnight to a new world of fully remote work for accountants. While some accounting firms had already embraced the technology and working practices that enable remote work, most faced a short period of adjustment.

Changes that might otherwise have taken some firms months or even longer to research, trial and analyse were rolled out overnight. And while there were inevitable hiccups, within a short period of time, they were smoothed out and even those most reluctant to change managed to successfully adapt.

Now the industry is in a stronger situation to service its clients better and more efficiently, and to retain the best talent. This is largely thanks to excellent connectivity solutions and a workforce motivated to maintain robust relationships in any situation.

I believe that when enough time has passed for thorough analysis, it’s likely to show gains in productivity and staff satisfaction.

Connectivity replaces commuting

One of the most important aspects of making the latest situation work for accountants has been connectivity – and luckily, at the time the crisis began, the UK was well prepared for this digital need. Research published in the Harvard Business Review found that the UK’s digital platforms, internet connectivity and financial systems made it one of the best-placed in the world for remote work.

Before this crisis, because of the high degree of accuracy required by our work, accountants have been cautious about implementing new forms of connectivity and digital platforms. New systems were typically trialled by a few team members, then rolled out over a long period of time as a ‘perfect solution’ was sought.

However, as even the likes of Microsoft, Apple and Google know, there is no ‘perfect solution’, hence the frequent software updates and algorithm changes. Time moves on, and only those who adapt quickly thrive.

What the Coronavirus situation has shown us is that accounting firms can adapt swiftly and successfully to remote team work, using the ‘try, adjust, try again’ method. You try a new technology, see what’s working and what isn’t, adjust any aspects as needed for your business, then try again.

Happier in the home office

Thanks to our high level of connectivity, after a short teething period, most accounting firms have discovered just how much easier managing teams and liaising with clients has been in the new remote-work situation. Whichever video or teleconferencing platform your company chose, in most cases, remote meetings have become calmer, more focussed and easier to arrange. When there’s no need to move between buildings or take transport to other offices, it frees up a significant period of time in everyone’s diaries.

Many staff members have also been surprised to discover that they prefer working from home, which tallies with the annual State of Remote Work Survey by social-media tool Buffer. In the three years the survey has existed, each year, almost 100% of respondents who are already remote workers want to continue to work remotely. And recent research by video-conferencing company StarLeaf shows that 60% of people who have been forced to work from home because of the Coronavirus lockdown would like to continue to do so in the long-term.

Increased productivity

Given the high-quality connectivity options and the happier workforce, perhaps it’s no surprise that when working from home, productivity seems to have increased, too. In a survey of 1,003 UK employees shortly after the lockdown began - 3 April - 7 April 2020 - 68% said they feel more productive working from home.

A two-year study of 16,000 employees in China would seem to verify that assessment. The NASDAQ company Ctrip split its employees randomly, allowing half to work from home. Those that did so saw an increase in performance of 13% on average, compared to their office-based counterparts, and found the experience so beneficial they were less likely to leave the company. Job attrition rates for this group fell by 50%.

Remote working works for accounting firms

Most accounting firms have adapted so well to company-wide remote working that even when we can return to the office, many will choose not to do so. While face-to-face meetings will still likely take place on occasion, the accounting firms that adapt to the new preference for flexible and remote working will likely see better outcomes in the long-term – a more adaptable workforce, improved productivity, and happier staff and clients.

If you are thinking what steps do I need to take to accelerate my technology transformation Silverfin has a simple guide you can follow - we call it the connected accounting maturity curve - you can find it here: Maturity Model