Your work environment likely looks a lot different this year compared to 2019, as we all try to adjust to the Covid-19 world. Many accountants are working from home, which presents new challenges and opportunities. The following accounting best practices recognize that people aren’t going to be at their best, adapt to the remote working environment, and balance productivity requirements with the health and well-being of the workforce.
New Challenges the Remote Accounting Team Faces
A highly productive on-site accounting team may not show the same performance at home for one or more reasons:
- Caring for children: With schools out of session and childcare facilities limited on their numbers, many parents are homeschooling and caring for their children while trying to work full-time.
- Caring for family members: Many people have a family member or loved one who has suffered from this illness, or other medical conditions. Your team’s time may be split between providing care and their work.
- Dealing with distractions due to limited or no office space: While distractions come in many forms at the office, or in a home office, it’s even more difficult for workers who lack a dedicated workspace. They’re not able to stop family members from coming into their workspace, or they may be using a room that has an uncomfortable desk setup. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to remain fully productive in this environment.
- Having a slow internet connection: Connecting to resources at the office or those that are cloud-based are difficult for people who have slow internet. They could have a hard time getting their work done, accessing necessary data, participating in video calls, or other important tasks.
- Working on older or insufficient computer equipment: Their computers may not be up to task either, especially if you have accountants who mostly use phones and tablets as their at-home electronic devices.
- Under significant stress due to the threat of illness: Everyone is stressed about the possibility of catching Covid-19, especially when you’re at a higher risk of complications. While many people recover without ending up hospitalized, there is still a lot of unknown information about how long antibodies last, whether there’s long-term health ramifications for catching this virus, and other worries.
- Mourning the loss of friends, family, and others: Covid-19 deaths hit people hard, especially when you consider that many people are unable to have funerals or be with their loved ones at the end of life. The widespread nature of this pandemic means that everyone is touched in some way, and widespread mourning and sadness are commonplace.
- Lacking work/life balance: When you’re new to working at home, it’s easy to lack balance in work and life. Some people will work all hours of the day to try to cope with the current situation, while others may be unable to put in their normal work hours. On top of that, people have lost many types of recreation opportunities, such as going out with friends, which can lead to an imbalance overall.
- Performing best with frequent interaction: Some members of your team may simply be extroverts and do their best when they are around people in-person. They can’t do that in a work from home environment, although video chats and other communication tools can help them out.
- Adapting time management skills to a home environment: Even experienced work from home accountants are running into problems with time management and discipline, since remote work during a pandemic is a lot different than your typical remote workday.
- Facing financial stress: Millions of people are unemployed. The loss of income within an accountant’s family could lead to stress that spills over into their daily work.
- Suffering from mental illnesses: Many of the coping skills recommended for mental illnesses are difficult or impossible to access during a pandemic. In addition, the mental state of many people is a lot worse than it ever has been, as extended isolation and shutdowns continue to weigh on the mind.
When you adopt new policies and accounting department procedures for your work from home accounting team, make these decisions with the above challenges in mind. Everyone is having a hard time in some form during this pandemic, and being an effective leader in this situation requires a big picture view.
Process in Batches
Unless a client absolutely needs real-time accounting, all work should be processed in batches. The risk of human error is a lot higher when your team is stressed, in a distracting environment, and facing uncertainty in their lives. Batch accounting allows you to build in the accountability and review processes capable of catching errors before they have cause problems. It’s likely that even the most detail-oriented and careful of your workers is going to slip-up more often, as they’ve got a lot on their mind. With more peer review involved in the process, you can add redundancy and more sets of eyes on the batches.
You also have the advantage of compartmentalizing the workload, so you can more effectively assign work. Check-in with your team daily to see who currently has the capacity to handle each batch, and make adjustments as needed.
Be Flexible on Schedules, Rigid on Deadlines
Daily schedules are upended and being available during typical 9-5 hours may be impossible for some of your accounting team. Now’s the time to be as flexible as possible to allow each person to choose their productive work hours.
Some people are at their best in the middle of the night, or know that they can get uninterrupted time during this period. Others may need to take an hour here and there throughout the day. As long as the work is getting done, then each person can figure out what they need to accomplish their tasks.
Remain rigid on deadlines throughout this process, however. If an accountant can’t get the work done in the time allotted, reach out to that person to find out what’s getting in the way of their duties. It’s possible that some of your team may need to drop down to part-time hours or have a significantly reduced workload.
On the other hand, other accountants may end up excelling in a work from home environment. You can shift around the workload to best suit the capacity of your team. While you don’t want to miss deadlines, many clients may be receptive to longer delivery times during the pandemic.
Establish the New Normal
No one knows how long we’re going to be living in a pandemic-stricken world, so establishing the new normal is an essential part of adjusting. Your policies and procedures may need to be significantly rewritten, especially if this is the first time that remote workers are a part of the accounting team.
Daily scrum meetings help keep everyone on the same page without significantly eating into everyone’s workday. They replace more formal and longer meetings, and allow you to see exactly what’s going on with your team.
Another way that you need to recognize the new normal is to set your accountants up for success at their home offices. They may need computer upgrades, webcams, microphones, lighting, and other equipment to allow them to reach their productivity goals. Upgraded internet connections may also be necessary, depending on the type of home service that the person has available.
Finally, you may end up hiring new accountants during the pandemic, especially if the impacts stretch for over a year. Is your onboarding process remote-friendly? You may need to make adjustments to your process. Pairing new hires up with an experienced team member in a mentorship role can also be helpful during this period.
Communicate as Much as Possible
It’s easy to let communication slip when you can’t go up to someone’s desk and talk to them, or reliably reach clients and vendors that are dealing with their own pandemic challenges. Work frequent communication into your processes, such as through a Slack chat channel, as well as group video chats. Make sure that important communications go out via multiple channels so that everyone has this information.
Automate, Automate, Automate
Reducing the manual and tedious work that your accountants need to do can greatly decrease the amount of errors that they have, as well as allowing them to increase their productivity without working longer hours.
The most effective accounting departments had a smooth transition to work from home because of having accounting automation software in place. There are a number of ways that this automation software assists with your newly remote operations.
- Invoice processing: Automatically processing most invoices reduces the amount of data entry required, and means that you don’t have to send these records to potentially unsecured home computers and networks.
- Invoice approval: Waiting around for someone to approve invoices can get in the way of sending out and receiving payments on time. If the accountant responsible for approving these invoices get sick, is unavailable at a critical time, or is otherwise unable to perform their job, that can hold up the entire process. Automating approvals reduces the risk of this issue.
- PO requests: Streamlining PO requests allows you to keep these going through the system as needed, and stops them from getting lost.
- Expense reporting: You don’t want to end up with a lot of unaccounted for expenses that got lost in the pandemic mix. Automated accounting tools means you can take that worry off of your plate and keep on top of all expenses.
- Vendor payments: Everyone is hurting right now, and you don’t want your vendors to be waiting longer for their payments than necessary. Allow accounting automation software to send these out and avoid late payments and other penalties. You also end up getting in the good graces of your vendors when you’re reliable, which can give you flexibility if you end up being affected in an unexpected way by the pandemic.
By automating these key areas of your operation, your accountants can focus on most valuable tasks and reduce the time they need to spend on their typical work duties. When you’re trying to adjust to the Covid-19 world, this is an invaluable tool. We’re all in this together, and you can stay on top of your accounting workload without requiring stressed, time-starved staff to overwork themselves.
Schedule a custom DocuPhase demo with us today to see how an accounting automation platform can help keep your business processes flowing, improve your team's productivity & enable your remote workforce.