Accountants Working From Home – Is the Traditional Office a Thing of the Past?
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Accountants Working From Home – Is the Traditional Office a Thing of the Past?

Accountancy has long been one of the more traditional industries out there. Remote working has not taken off amongst accountants the way it has with, say, digital marketers or web developers. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced many businesses into a way of working that they may previously have rejected out of hand. With unprecedented numbers of people currently carrying out their day to day duties from home, we ask: is the traditional office a thing of the past?

The Advantages of Remote Working

Remote working is fast becoming a popular way of getting things done and with good reason. There are some pretty big benefits to having your employees work from home.

Widen the Recruitment Pool

Hiring for an office-based role restricts the number of overall applicants to those within commuting distance. When you narrow that down to suitable candidates, the number is even smaller. Opening the position up to those interested in working remotely will widen your potential candidate pool significantly. This also applies to those who require flexible working arrangements and are unable to be present at an office from 9-5 for various reasons, such as needing to pick up children from school or nursery. While these candidates would probably not even bother to apply for an office-based role with your firm, they may be very interested if that same position were remote working.

Reduce Costs

Switching from office-based to remote working arrangements with your staff can save you a considerable amount of money. For a start, you’ll need less office space, which means you’ll save on rent and utilities. There’ll be no relocation costs if you hire someone who lives in another part of the country, and you may find that salary expectations in general decrease when you hire remotely – people often ask for less in exchange for organising their own time and not having to commute in to the office.

Increase Productivity

One of the main concerns businesses have when considering remote working as an option is whether they’ll get their money’s worth out of people if they’re out of sight. Research shows that, actually, the opposite is true. When people are given the freedom to find what works best for them – for example, getting up early to start work, or spending more time after-hours getting things done – they tend to be more productive than when they’re expected to work within defined hours. In fact, you’re likely to get as much as three extra weeks a year of work from your employees if they’re remote rather than office-based.

Reduce Employee Turnover

Employees who work remotely – or have the option to work remotely – are much less likely to look for a new role than those who don’t. Hiring accountants on a remote basis – or switching your existing staff to remote working – can see a 25% reduction in your overall employee turnover.

Increase Attendance

Another benefit of remote working is that you’re likely to see an improvement in employee attendance. Not only do people tend to be more productive and put in more hours when they work for home, they also tend to be off sick less often. And not having an ill employee in the office infecting  your other employees is a big benefit for all concerned!

Improve Job Satisfaction

Remote employees are happier employees. On the whole, stress levels are reported to be reduced and work-life balance satisfaction increased when an employee works remotely. And with increasing numbers of people stating that they would choose a remote role over an office-based one, you could be losing out on some of the best candidates by not considering this as an option.

The Disadvantages of Remote Working

Of course, remote working is not a utopian dream. There are some potential downsides to your staff being home-based too.

Technology Issues

If you decide to go remote with your accountants, then there will be a much higher dependency on technology – which is fine, as long as the technology is up to the job, up-to-date, and works as it should when needed. Of course, tech issues can hit at any time, and being office-based might not make a difference anyway if, for example, a crucial piece of software conks out. But having a large – or even small – number of people spread about in different locations can be an issue if technology problems make it difficult to communicate effectively with one another. 

Potential to Overwork

As we’ve already seen, remote working generally leads to higher levels of productivity. It also, however, can lead to people working far more hours than they would if they left the office at 5pm. While this may not sound like an altogether bad thing on the surface, overwork leads to burnout, and that’s not good for anyone.

Lack of Team Rapport

If people are not based in the same physical space, then inevitably the relationship side of things will suffer. In a traditional office setting, employees have daily contact with one another, developing working relationships and often friendships. While not impossible, this is much less likely to occur when people are working together from a distance. It can also lead to feelings of isolation in those used to a more social working environment.

Requires Self-Discipline

For many people, attending an office between set hours gives a structure to their day and work that is lacking in remote roles. The employee has to manage their own time and ensure that they carry out the work required within a certain timeframe. Some people find this easy. Others may struggle with the self-discipline necessary to get everything done. However, as we saw above, overall remote workers tend to be far more productive than their office-based colleagues.

More Difficult to Monitor

If you haven’t got an employee in front of you or in the same building, then monitoring the work they’re doing can be a challenge. This factor is one that often puts employers off the idea of hiring remotely. However, there are tools that can help you to achieve this very effectively – which we’ll look at now.

The Most Important Tools for Remote Working

If you’re thinking of going remote with your accountants, then there are a lot of tools available to help make this way of working as smooth and efficient as possible. Below are some of the most important ones.

Virtual Meeting Software

Even if your employees are based in different places, meetings can still be held with the aid of virtual meeting software such as Zoom or Cisco Webex. At first glance, this may seem much like video calling, but the features available go far beyond just being able to see one another. Good virtual meeting software also provides text chatting, file and screen sharing, remote desktop access, and digital whiteboards. It’s just like being in a physical meeting room, just without the tea and biscuits.

Online Collaboration Software

Online collaboration software such as Microsoft Teams is fast becoming one of the key tools businesses are using to enable their employees to keep in touch and work together. It acts as a centralised hub, offering instant messaging, calendar sharing, and collective document creation and editing. This allows your remote employees to access and work on the same piece of content rather than having numerous versions that need to be emailed back and forth.

Project Management Software

If you’re worried about allocating work and keeping track of who’s supposed to be doing what, then the likes of Asana and are just a couple of the project management platforms available to help you do just that. You can set up projects, allocate work to specific employees, define deadlines and milestones, provide feedback, and gain an overview of everything that’s happening at any given moment.

Time Tracking Software

For many employers, knowing that their employees are actually working when they’re at home is a key concern. Fortunately, time tracking software such as Deputy and Harvest is available to offer you that assurance should you need it. It allows tracking of work carried out on laptops, desktops, phones, and collaboration and project management platforms so that you have a constant insight into what your employees are working on and when.

So, Are Traditional Offices a Thing of the Past for Accountants?

With many employees already working from home through necessity during the Covid-19 pandemic, companies that would not otherwise have considered remote working are essentially being given a free trial. Accountancy, while a more traditional industry in general, has already been moving online in recent years with the advent of cloud accounting such as Xero and QuickBooks Online. With the benefits of remote working outweighing the downsides, it may only be a matter of time before accountants say goodbye to traditional offices for good.

Emma Ireland

Emma Ireland is a failed novelist and accidental poet who writes mostly about politics and social issues. She's either a bloody commie or a bourgeois sell-out depending on whether you listen to her Dad or those who strongly disapprove of Waitrose trifles. After studying law at university she chucked it all in to move to Italy and teach Italian business people how to do their jobs in English. After ten years of wine and sunshine, she returned to the UK and is now a recruitment consultant and freelance writer. At least until that unfinished novel makes her a millionaire.