05 Aug August ’20
Remember the advent of the internet in the mid-90s? The goal was to evolve from manual information exchange to an interactive digital experience. But that’s not what happened…at least not right away. Instead, what we got were stylized image maps that offered limited interaction, if any. It was the equivalent of taking print materials and placing them online—letterhead on screen. No more than a porting of print media from one medium to another.
In its early days, the internet didn’t really offer us anything revolutionary. Rather, it provided an alternative means for accessing information online. Arguably, the same phenomenon is happening today in the accounting profession in relation to how we work. A worldwide pandemic forced us to swiftly move from our brick-and-mortar offices to virtual workspaces. Yet we continued to maintain the same on-site approach to work, applying the familiar (traditional onsite procedures) to the unfamiliar (virtual offices). Another port.
We have an enormous opportunity to alter the way we work…well beyond just offering virtual workspaces. The time has come to shift our thinking about what the average workday looks (and feels) like. To lift the restrictions of routine practices and shed the feelings of doubt that can come with an “unstructured” work environment.
As leaders in the profession, many of you will harness the opportunity for change and build a work culture defined by independence, synchronized work and trust. You will embrace virtual as the work platform of choice.
Platforms for work: In-person vs. virtual
This will take a major shift in mindset, but it’s important to think about the way we work as a platform. There is the traditional in-person/onsite work platform and the virtual work platform, each offering its own pros and cons.
For years, we’ve operated within the onsite platform. The time-honored pros? Onsite meetings fuel synergy among team members. You can meet with clients face-to-face. Cons? You have little to no quiet time to plan and strategize. Staff can feel a lack of freedom in terms of effectively blending their personal and professional lives. And a time-clock mentality can rule.
The virtual work platform has certainly afforded us more freedom (a definite pro). No more commute. No more rushed morning routine. No more angst over the great divide between life and work. The virtual platform offers a lot of value, but it takes more than a connected device in your home office to really do it well.
Right now, many firms are simply simulating onsite office work in a remote space. Much like the mid-90s internet, we are merely applying the familiar to the unfamiliar. But no judgement; it’s what happens when change is unplanned and abrupt. The pandemic forced us out of the four walls of the firm to the four walls of our homes. And while many have adopted virtual workspaces, we can’t continue to adhere to the same in-office approach. Rest assured that over time, you’ll find that it simply won’t work.
Give the people what they want
We have an enormous opportunity to transition away from the familiar in-person work platform to a true virtual platform. An opportunity to make change that supports the new normal and respects how staff and clients really want to work. It’s our chance to subvert the old way of working—a set number of meetings per week, micro-managed processes and sequenced work—and transition to a platform of autonomy, trust and concurrent work cycles.
Employees have gotten a taste of what it feels like to work virtually, to successfully merge work and personal life…and they want more. Let’s also not forget our clients, many of whom prefer the ease of working with us online. The virtual work platform will only continue to grow in popularity, and that means those who adapt now will set themselves up for longer-term success.
Firms, clients and communities in general are more pliable than ever. Change is both warranted and expected. The current health crisis pushed the accounting profession toward a more modern way of working, and now we have to take it across the finish line.
So, where do you start? How do you begin to adapt to the virtual work platform and not just port the old to the new? It begins with a change in mindset…
- Ditch the guilt—The loss of routine and structure can be uncomfortable. It can also bring up feelings of guilt—as if by mislaying your strict routine, you hinder productivity and focus. It’s most certainly an adjustment, but once you lean into it, you will find your virtual stride and the guilt will fade.
- Trust your staff to get things done—In most cases, staff prove to be more productive when working remotely. If you’ve hired the right people in the first place, you shouldn’t have to worry about how employees spend their day. Don’t assume staff will do less just because they are out of your sight line. Give your people a chance to prove that the virtual platform works. With autonomy and trust come a healthy and positive culture.
- Serve your clients the way they want to be served—If you take the time to ask, the majority of your clients will likely report that they prefer to work with your firm virtually. It’s convenient. It’s secure. It’s the way modern clients choose to be supported.
Roll with it…
Change is hard for everyone, but especially for a profession that has operated within a structured onsite work platform for so long. Moving to virtual workspaces was the first big step. The next is to move away from the traditional mindset about the way we work to one that supports a true virtual approach. This includes trusting staff to get work done, promoting autonomy, and understanding that most clients prefer online collaboration over in-person meetings. Move forward and roll with it.
Everyone stop for a minute…take a deep breath in to smell the flowers, and then exhale to blow out the candle. That is something my children walk around saying, and I feel it is fitting for all of us. We have successfully passed through July and now have a window to relax and rejuvenate. This puts us in a better headspace to set ourselves up for success, both as employers and employees.
Here are some of the common things we have been discussing with firms:
- Fall school schedules: This upcoming school year will be interesting for everyone. All of us have an opportunity to get creative on what future work looks like. As an employer, how can you support your staff as they manage school-aged children and varying learning schedules? As an employee, what kind of schedule would support you as you assist your children and your coworkers and manage your workload? Consider the following:
- Shift core hours—the whole world is shifting; the way it has always been done does not define the way it could/should be.
- Define varying schedule options—shifts early in the morning, shifts later in the afternoon/evening, split shifts, rotating days, etc.
- A dedicated home office space—boundaries and comfort are important.
- No office because the firm is virtual? Consider renting space, if necessary.
- Extra space at the office? Configure workstations for children to facilitate learning while parent(s) work.
- Join us on August 12 for our ‘Planning for Fall: Supporting Staff and School Schedules’ webinar, in which we help you think through brainstorming the new normal.
- Web-based software solutions: Ease of access to the necessary software solutions is critical for all team members. What have we learned over the last few months that we need to tweak? Consider the following:
- Internal communications—For Microsoft Office 365 firms, use Teams for internal communications; Slack is another good alternative if your firm is not using Microsoft Office 365.
- Practice management solutions—there is a difference between practice management and project management solutions. Consider what your firm is trying to solve for and the necessary items needed like time entry, billing and/or project/workflow management.
- Check out our existing ‘Rootworks Analysis of Web-Based Practice Management Solutions’ in Online Learning. An updated version will be coming later this month!
If you only learn two things from Rootworks’ position on cybersecurity, it should be this basic premise:
- 91% of all cybersecurity breaches start with an email, and
- User Awareness & Training is the biggest opportunity for risk mitigation in an accounting firm.
For point #1 above, we have strongly advocated for the use of Slack or MS Teams as an internal communications tool…and to move as much of your communications as possible out of email.
Recent developments in technology this summer are now driving the concept of traditional email even more into oblivion. Here are three recent announcements that could fundamentally change how we communicate in the near future:
- Basecamp’s Hey. Hey is a new service by Basecamp, a project management app. It’s a form of email, but Basecamp tackles email from a workflow perspective. Additionally, it empowers the user to approve the sender of the message, not the message itself. This has been tried before, but normally in a clunky, corporate way. Basecamp allows forwarding from other email accounts like Gmail.
- Slack Connect is a broader strategy for the company to allow its users to let clients, vendors or partners from other organizations to share channels. For accounting firms, this can drastically alter the communication strategy and service delivery for top clients.
- MS Teams for personal use. Microsoft has extended the capability of its Slack competitor to personal use, allowing users to switch from their business account to a personal account and communicate with friends and family. Of course, Slack pros have had their families and close friend circles setup in free Slack instances for a while now.
These new features and capabilities will have a long way to go to dethrone email, but we’re continuing to move toward more secure channels.
A: I’d be hard-pressed to cite a single most effective technique to identify “qualified” B2B clients; your definition of qualification being the first variable in the equation. Considerations include your geographic scope of operation, any particular niche you’re geared to serve and basic “firmographics” (e.g. revenue, head count, etc.). B2B clients vary greatly in these measures, from small consultancies to large manufacturers and supply chain partners.
Generally speaking, targeting B2B clients involves more research, owing to the above parameters. Good starting places for that research could include directories from the local and/or state and regional chambers of commerce and/or economic development organizations. If you seek clients in a specific niche, it may be advisable to join the affiliated trade organizations to network among qualified prospects and get access to mailing lists.
In terms of messaging, review the principles of good content marketing—offer useful, helpful information that highlights your expertise, builds trust and confidence, and places your brand top-of-mind for decision makers looking to solve challenges and eliminate pain points.
A B2B clientele offers workflow unencumbered by some of the complexities of B2C accounts, such as sales tax, inventory and the characteristic intensity and volatility of retailing. Like anything else in life, there are trade-offs to consider. You’ve obviously done the calculus and determined that B2B offers the best future path for your firm. Good luck making the transition!
Ask me anything! Have a marketing question? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll select a question to tackle in each of our upcoming editions.
What we’re working on:
- Round 2 of the Onvio webinar series kicked off on August 4. This is an 11-part series that complements our Onvio Implementation: Conversion, Setup, and Use Lesson that you can find here: https://rootworks.com/resources/online-learning/17586cf4-0755-4f53-a12f-5053c9043924
- CashFlowTool is Rootworks’ new vendor member partner. They provide a cash flow forecasting application that connects directly to both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop (including Enterprise). CashFlowTool forecasts cash flow by day, week or month. Firms are able to see all the clients they have set up in the system from a single dashboard. They offer Rootworks members a 20% discount. You’ll find more information on our CashFlowTool vendor page: https://rootworks.com/community/vendors/159c5cb8-4dde-49cf-8a44-bf0c8e18e717
- GKM is also a new vendor member partner. They are an outsourced tax and bookkeeping services provider serving the accounting profession for over 20 years. With firms reporting staffing as a major challenge each of the last two years on our member survey, for those that are looking to fill a staffing need that they are not able to manage, GKM can prepare corporate, partnership, fiduciary and individual tax returns as well as offering bookkeeping services. More information on GKM is on our vendor page: https://rootworks.com/community/vendors/79f96c1a-b84c-4e23-9c63-73da5a37b367
Onvio Webinar Series
- August 6—Onvio Series – Episode 2: Setup – Global Settings, Clients & Contacts
- August 11—Onvio Series – Episode 3: Setup – Time Entry
- August 13—Onvio Series – Episode 4: Setup – Billing & A/R
- August 18—Onvio Series – Episode 5: Setup – Projects
- August 25—Onvio Series – Episode 6: Using Onvio Documents
- August 27—Onvio Series – Episode 7: Client Center Roll Out & Use
- August 12—Planning for Fall: Supporting Staff and School Schedules
- August 20—Staff Training: Hosting a Webinar Best Practices
- August 28—Summer Culture Webinar
Register at Rootworks.com under Resources > Events > Virtual Events.