Remote or office? Your thoughts.

19th Jul 2021
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Accountancy Manager
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We asked 131 accountants in practice five quick questions about remote and office working. We would say, to coincide with ‘Freedom Day’, but that’s a bit controversial, so we won’t. Indeed, the very office vs remote debate has resulted in some rather strong opinions.

Although it’d be ‘fun’ to discuss whether we should be lifting restrictions or wearing masks from today, we’ll leave that one to Twitter and the news. Instead, we opted for slightly safer questions. Here they are if you want to quiz yourself first – or skip down to see the results.

Did you work remotely before March 2020?

Yes - we don’t have an office!

Most of the time 

Sometimes

Rarely

Never

Going forward, will you work remotely more than before lockdown?

Yes - our policies have changed

Yes - but we’re going with the flow

No - we’ll stay the same as before lockdown

No - we’ll work remotely less than before

What percentage of time will staff work in the office on average?

0%

25%

50%

75%

100%

Have you, or do you intend to close your office/s permanently and only work remotely (if you weren’t already?)

Yes

No

It’s not that simple 

What do you like most about working from an office?

Tell us the benefits and your personal opinion of working in the office.

The results

Almost 30% didn’t work remotely at all before lockdown

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We were surprised at the spread and balance of the results here, as well as the data at the two extreme ends. Almost 30% of people weren’t working remotely at all prior to the pandemic - which was higher than we expected. But almost 20% didn't have a physical office at all. Again that’s not an insignificant amount if you picture all accountants sitting in an office - on the highstreet or otherwise. 

Just over half of respondents sat somewhere in between, but it is interesting to note that the numbers decrease as the regularity of remote working increases. Showing a strong trend for office working over remote working. 

No one knows how far the ‘shift’ to remote working will go, but it’s clear that for accountants and bookkeepers, it started way before the pandemic. 

At AM, we’re pretty neutral on the topic. AccountancyManager enables you to work from anywhere. (Giving you cloud access to all your clients’ information, your tasks, centralised communication between clients and staff and loads more.) Sometimes that ‘anywhere’ will be your sofa, sometimes your office, sometimes the Starbucks at the services on the M1. AM simply gives you and your team that option.

Over 50% will work remotely more than before lockdown

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This chart is a true picture of change. While ‘No - we won’t change’ stands out at 43.1%. The ‘yeses’ take the lead with 53.8%. That’s over half of people changing their previous approach to remote working – and doing more of it. Over half of these are going with the flow, with the rest (a hefty 25% of all respondents) officially updating their policies. 

We threw in the last option to make sure every angle was covered and it’s a good job we did. 3% of people will actually work remotely less than before.

Clearly the experiences of the last year and a half have had an effect. From our more in-depth chats with AM users, we’ve found that this is likely down to the realisation that remote-working can work - as long as you like it!

We’ve found the same thing at AM internally. We did do some remote-working before, but most of the time 100% of the team would be in the office. Now, we have changed our policies going forward. Interestingly, the results of this survey mirror the very varied feelings of AM staff. For example, many of the developers (and this very writer) have loved being at home and have flourished with the flexibility of what to wear and where (and to some extent, when) to work  

However, a few members of the leadership team struggled with not seeing everyone, not professionally, necessarily, but personally. Due to the growth of the team and physical distancing measures we can’t all fit in the office now. The majority of the support, sales and marketing team are back, with many remote working part time and some (developers and writers) full time. 

30% of people will spend no time in the office. 21% won’t work from home at all.

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Compare the two extremes here with those from the first question. If we had a swingometer, we’d swing it. Before March 2021, 20% of people never worked in an office and almost 30% never worked remotely. Now, 30% of people won’t work in an office and 20% always will. Again, the two extremes make up 50% of all responses.

Now take a look at those ‘inbetweeners’. Again, there’s that similar trend towards office working we saw before. But those spending ‘most’ of their time remote working has risen slightly from 10.7% to 13.7% . (If we are to loosely assume that ‘most’ corresponds to around 25% in the office.) This is intriguing stuff.

23% have or intend to close their offices permanently

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We expected some practices to close up their physical offices, but 23.4% is unexpectedly high. We gave respondents space to explain their answer and found fairly some contrasting views. 

Your comments.

Here are a few selected comments from all sides of the fence. The differences are startling and serve to remind us that everyone thinks and works in different ways.

Pro office (or a shared space of some kind)

“Need office for client to bring paperwork in”

“Company runs more efficiently with all staff in the office”

“We are now going to use a co-working space as we all use the cloud and laptops”

“Want to have a base for clients to attend and for staff to be - to keep work/life balance.”

“It's good to have a variety.”

“We like our offices”

“I simply can't see in reality how home working would work as a replacement for working in the office considering the lack of social interaction, control, monitoring, client access etc.”

“Maybe other sectors such as insurance, sales and general customer service roles would be fine as working from home in its entirety, but in an accountancy practice, no. There needs to be client interaction, there are records that clients need to drop off and we need to keep up to date with the workload and maintain work relationships to ensure morale is high and the team works well.”

No office 

“No need for a high street office”

“Already working remotely and will continue going forward” 

“Already worked from home. Always had ambitions to get an office but now, not so sure.....”

“I ain't got no office, I ain't got no staff and that is the way it will remain, just me on my selfish lonesome..”

“We don't have an office anyway. We have cut down our client visits, though and don't see those going back to pre-Covid levels (this is largely down to clients getting used to us being able to get the work done without visits).”

Offices closing down 

“no one wants to go back to work” 

“I will save money on rent”

“Remote working proved very successful for the team so made the decision to give up the office for the foreseeable future, we have daily online calls and we book a meeting room once a month for in person team meetings. Client meetings are mostly online too currently and if we require an in person meeting then again we can book a meeting room”

What do you like most about working from an office? The people, of course.

A few practice owners that use AM have likened it to having another member of staff. One that keeps track of every deadline. Chases clients for records or missing information. And manages everyone’s to do lists. But as Alistair Hayward-Wright recently pointed out, you don’t get any banter. 

On the day that we’re now free to see more people, in more places, let’s take a moment to celebrate what you like about being together, in one place, with your colleagues and clients. (While the more introverted among us look on in disbelief, in our PJs.)

“The ability to easily share ideas, deal with questions and the social aspect.”

“Community and building relationships.”

“team spirit and sharing/learning”

“It's important for team building and for everyone to know what is going on. Human interaction is good for mental health. We all like being together”

“Company. Having all information to hand - some of our client info is still on paper.”

“interactions with colleagues; learning face2face is so much easier; brainstorming in the same room; listening what other people are involved in”

“Ultimately we do our best work when we work together. The lockdown challenged us to find ways to optimise how we work remotely, but we missed the energy, creativity and collaboration of our in-person meetings.”

“The community of colleagues at the office, informal sharing of information, a bit of a laugh”

“I cannot see a logical reason other than cost savings that working from home would become the new normal as a business simply would not operate effectively when working from home - Look at HMRC and the severe drop in their customer service since they began working from home.”

So there you have it, the industry is completely split. Hopefully that means your own thoughts have been reflected somewhere in these results. If you’d like us to grill our community with any burning questions on your mind, let us know by phone, by email or on social media.

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