The accounting profession lags behind most others in the technology offerings that are available—the biggest example being that we don’t have proper cloud-based professional tax software available yet. (Intuit’s Pro-connect is the only option at the moment.) This is mainly attributable to the way most CPA firms are structured—a partnership model is not great for promoting change or adopting new ways of doing things. Frankly, because most CPA firms are profitable, they probably have been hesitant to spend the money and resources necessary to upgrade.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic created an inflection point that is going to transform the way most clients and employees interact with businesses going forward—the biggest being the ability to work and service your clients from anywhere. The virtual workforce has been grudgingly embraced by CPAs, but there has always been a belief that people who aren’t in the office can’t be productive. COVID-19 taught us, bluntly, that this is not the case. Team members can be as productive—if not more so—from home. They don’t have to spend time commuting, chit-chatting, and performing other miscellaneous tasks that took their time away from work. If team members aren’t being productive at home, then they probably weren’t productive at the office either. Certainly there are some people who still like coming into the office (myself included), but giving your team members the option to work from wherever they want frees them up and makes them happier.
I think we’re going to see a massive shift in the amount of “office time” CPAs are going to spend. This is going to lead to changes in office spaces and the downsizing of firms’ physical footprints. I think what firms have to figure out in this changing dynamic is how you keep your team members connected with each other and with the firm. I don’t think this is going to be as hard as one might think—we’ve figured out how to keep in touch with family and friends via Zoom, FaceTime, and phone calls.
This shift is going to affect firms in several ways. You’ve got to have your technology set up so that your team can do the work from anywhere. If your firm is still relying on paper files and manual processes, then it’s impossible for employees to work from home. Firms are going to have to embrace cloud technology, go paperless, invest in equipment for staff to use at home, and—most importantly—trust employees to do what they were hired to do, which is be professionals and get their work done.
And that leads to the biggest change—the traditional firm mindset. We have somehow forgotten that our team members are professionals who have college degrees and are most likely working towards a CPA exam. We have got to learn to trust them to do their work, and not micromanage and monitor every six minutes of their working lives. The only thing that should matter is whether your team members get their work done and are responsive to you and your clients. That part is hard enough; we don’t need to create additional rules and barriers (time tracking, dress codes, set office hours) that take away from this core focus.
The leaders of the profession should use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to rethink CPA firms and morph them into more efficient, modern organizations that will help the profession grow and become more profitable. Don’t get stuck in the past.