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How using the right tools can help accountants ensure remote working is as easy as pie

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With lockdown restrictions easing across the UK, many workers are wondering what the future holds for their jobs.

Will remote working continue or will accountants be expected to return to the office full time?

A recent study by McKinsey & Company reveals most employees don’t want to return to the office on a full-time basis and would prefer to continue remote working for at least three days a week.

As an accountant, what can you and your practice do to adapt to a hybrid model of working?

Start with these four things (which we cover in this article):

1. Stick to a clear schedule

2. Focus on communication and wellbeing

3. Embrace the right tools that facilitate remote working

4. Automate and integrate systems where possible to make life easier for everyone

A better work-life balance and more day-to-day flexibility are the major reasons accountants prefer a hybrid model of work.

However, as the past year has revealed, to make remote working successful staff need clarity.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recommends that companies come up with a remote-working policy that gives employees a structure for all areas of work, including how they will be evaluated and what hours they are expected to be available.

By having fixed hours or targets, your workforce can be more productive and avoid burnout.

As revealed in the McKinsey study, workers in all sectors fear there will be a decreased focus on wellbeing in the future.

Those working remotely worry that they will lose connections with their work community and that they will be unable to strike a good work-life balance.

If this is true for your practice, here are some solutions to help tackle these issues:

Make time to discuss wellbeing confidently

Both those who manage accounting departments and those in non-managerial positions, feel that remote working causes them to lose touch with each other and this can mean that wellbeing problems go undetected.

Setting up regular one-to-one chats focused on non-work issues can help managers monitor wellbeing.

Define boundaries

With the boundary between work and home blurred, many accountants working remotely put in the longer hours for their clients running the numbers than normal and neglect to take breaks.

Establishing set work hours and break times and avoiding back-to-back video calls can prevent the anxiety and stress that results from overwork.

It’s important for you and your employees to define your schedules with work – but it’s equally important for everyone to set boundaries with their households.

Make sure that those who your employees live with respect their work hours. Doing so will allow everyone to achieve a better work-life balance.

Schedule time for communication

One of the problems with home working is that people may feel disconnected from their colleagues.

During the pandemic, accountants who were used to walking around the office to co-ordinate work and keep tabs on projects were suddenly unable to do so.

Setting defined objectives and scheduling pre-arranged times for talking about work-related issues can help ensure that people stay connected, keep on top of their work, and don’t feel overlooked.

As lockdown restrictions ease, if remote (or hybrid) working is a permanent part of your practice’s future, you can ease the transition by investing in the right tools.

When working from home seemed temporary, many accountants made do with their kitchen table as a desk or their sofa as an office chair – but sitting for an extended period of time with poor posture is a recipe for back pain.

It’s time to take the plunge and purchase items that facilitate better posture.

The NHS recommends choosing a chair that supports your back and can be adjusted to keep your knees slightly below your hips and your feet on the floor.

It’s also important to have your forearms supported and your monitor at eye level.

If you (and your employees) are using a laptop, it will be helpful to purchase a wireless keyboard and mouse to allow you to work in the right position.

Other helpful hardware purchases could include noise-cancelling headphones to make the home environment more peaceful and a quality webcam for meetings with clients or colleagues.

In addition to hardware improvements, the McKinsey study shows that employees are also eager for access to and training on digital technologies and tools that enable remote work and virtual collaboration.

This could mean switching to systems that make it easier to manage tasks and ones that work with what you’ve already got, such as your accounting software.

Selecting programs that work with your accounting software to automate tasks such as invoicing can help you stay on top of things while freeing up your day for client meetings and tasks that can’t be automated.

Select a system that is totally secure and makes it easy for your loyal, but busy, clients to make payments.

Chances are your clients will be working remotely too, so use a payment system that allows them to pay easily from a mobile or internet connected device.

The video call was one of the defining features of 2020 and will continue to be with the new remote working lifestyle.

There are a host of video conferencing programs to choose from, so make sure you know the features that you and your practice need.

Consider how many participants will be involved in your meetings, whether the software allows you to blur the background or upload your own background, what security features it provides, and how easy it is to use for you and your clients.

If your work involves collaborating with colleagues then you could benefit from project management software that keeps all your documents and communications in one place.

Additionally, programs that let remote workers collect or create digital signatures securely are a must have.

Final thoughts

It’s safe to say that remote working, either full-time or part-time, will remain a big part of our lives.

You won’t be wasting your time or money if you take steps to make working from home more comfortable, for you and your employees.

Clarifying work schedules, focusing on wellbeing, and upgrading home offices will help you and your team to stay positive about work, remain productive, and meet the needs of your clients.

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