Remote working has been recommended by the Government in the UK to help control the Coronavirus outbreak. For some accountants this is nothing to worry about, they are familiar with working remotely and they have set up their practices accordingly. However, for some firms this is a totally new experience and something many have not considered. So, what can we do to manage through this crisis to make sure that we run our business, serve our clients and also keep safe and well?
Tips for Running Your Firm Remotely
- Remote Access – Staff will need access to systems and therefore will need to have a laptop and log in details for software. If the software is cloud based this is more straightforward but, in some cases, staff will need to have remote access set up so that they can access the firm’s software.
- Laptops – There are a number of practices who have had to buy laptops over the last few days and then have had their IT teams set them up for remote access. If this is the route required, then it is important to ensure that staff are trained on how to use the laptop and how they can access the systems from home.
- Server Based Software – Where products are server based then this can be more problematic as it may not possible to access these products remotely. Speak to your software providers – it may be possible to obtain standalone licenses and migrate the software and data onto laptops. It is then necessary to ensure you plan the work load for the staff to ensure that you retain integrity of the data and that if different staff need to work on the same data set, you coordinate the updating of the latest version of the data.
- Another option is for you to delegate the work to one member of staff and they go into the office at a set time and work from there. This way there is no contact with other staff and the work is completed.
- Security – In all cases, security is key so ensure you have systems in place. For example, use a password manager such as LastPass and use two-step authentication for accessing software.
- Keep in Contact – Isolation should be avoided so keep in regular contact with your team. This will ensure morale is kept up and you can also check the progress of work. Applications such as Slack and Microsoft Teams are excellent options and regular video calls will be beneficial through Zoom for example.
- Move Meetings and Cancel Non-Essential Meetings – Go through the diary and reschedule all meetings in the office so that they are not face to face. Applications such as Zoom and Skype are good options for video calls. Ensure staff know how to assess these products and do remember that many clients will not have used these before so hand holding may be needed.
- Video Calls – Using applications such as Zoom may be better than calling on mobile phones as it may be that the mobile phone network will suffer outages as there will be a high usage as the volume of people working from home increases. Using an online tool for calls will use Broadband so should be more reliable.
- Handling Video Calls – Ensure that you have a chair person to host the video call and an agenda. Also ensure the chair asks if there is a consensus so that no participant is missed out as it is not as easy to run a meeting when you are not all in the same room.
- Consider Your Services – Can you run all your services remotely? If not, then these will need to be considered. Examples are payroll and running client supplier payment and salary runs. It may be that a nominated person has to go into the office at a certain time to run the payroll and then this is emailed to a team member and/or client for checking.
- To run client payments, it may be that a partner has to take the bank fob home and do this work or, an alternative, could be that staff set up the payment and the client authorises it. In both cases, security is essential and this process will need to be considered urgently.
- New Members of Staff – It will be necessary to onboard new staff remotely. Using video conferencing to go through tasks and having communication channels such as Slack available will allow training to be given and any problems they have will be addressed. Make sure they are not forgotten about and communicate with them regularly. A regular team call will make them feel part of the company and remind them that this is only temporary.
- Loom Videos – Use Loom to record videos to help staff when they are having problems with a task. This is more personal and also a quick and effective way to resolve problems. You could even use it to send out a moral boosting message of support.
- Trust – At the end of the day we will have to trust our staff to do the work. Through planning staff workloads, regular communication and updating task lists on completion, you can check that work is still being completed.
- Staff may take a little time to get used to remote working too so do not expect the same speed of work as in an office environment initially – let them get accustomed to the new way of work.
Tips on How to Support Your Clients at this Time
- Communication – Encourage clients to keep in contact with you and set up regular Zoom calls so that they can discuss their concerns with you. Also, send regular client emails with key Government updates and how they can access new funding.
- Cashflow Planning – Applications that connect to cloud based software such as Float and Futrli can really help clients with their cashflow planning. Offer to set this up for them and hold regular calls to go through their cashflow.
- Provide Practical Cost Saving Advice – Remind clients to look at where they can save costs. For example, look at subscriptions, mobile phone contracts and avoid early payment of invoices.
- Insurance – Ask clients to speak to their insurer and discuss their business continuity and loss of income cover.
- Keep Up To Date – Ensure that you monitor key deadlines for clients and remind them well in advance (e.g. VAT Return deadline). It may be that the deadlines are relaxed but keep up to date with the situation and ensure clients are kept aware.
- E-Signing – If you need to have documentation signed, an e-signature application such as DocuSign will ensure that documents are signed and safely returned.
Tips on How You Can Cope and Keep Going
- Plan your Day – Treat the working week as a “normal” week in the office. Get up and go and work, have lunch breaks and pack up at the end of the day. It is easy to keep going when you work remotely and regular breaks and finishing on time will help ensure you keep healthy.
- Have a Dedicated Working Space – Set up a place to work where it is free from distraction and is quiet.
- Go Outside – So long as we remain away from other people, getting some fresh air will improve your health and also is a great way to get away from your desk.
- Remember to Eat and Drink – Make sure you stop and eat lunch each day and keep hydrated throughout the day.
- Distractions – There will be distractions and if you have children and/or pets in the house this can cause you to have to stop work. Therefore, be flexible and work around these. If you need to take a break for an hour to play a game with the children, then work a for an hour later in the day or early the next day.
- Talk to Others – If you have a bad day or you are worried then call someone. Do not bottle it up as you will find many feel the same way as you. Set up regular calls with friends and family and be there for each other.
One last piece of advice is please do not panic. We are all in this together and the support within the accounting community is exceptional so do not bottle up any worries – you will find many of us feel the same as you. Contact others on social media, text or call but keep the communication going and keep supporting one another. Also employee helplines or help form your accounting body may also be available – just do not suffer alone.