While for some, the jury is still out on whether remote work wins over in-person work, there is no denying that remote is a popular choice among businesses of all sizes, including remote accounting practices.
It is a great way to ensure everyone can set a work-life balance, saving on the expense of maintaining a regular office space. UK accountants are no exception, with many bookkeepers and accountants working from home either full time or part time.
According to AccountingWeb research, 4,100+ accounting professionals in the UK are adapting to current accounting trends, such as adjusting to a mostly virtual work environment with clients, leveraging new technologies, and seeking ways to improve their client engagement processes remotely.
Remote work has its downsides, though – and as a small accounting practice owner, some of these might potentially impact your ability to deliver client jobs on time, especially during the busy tax season, which has officially begun.
This transition has been part of the emerging trends in accounting that are reshaping the industry. In this blog post, we discuss the most common challenges a remote accounting practice might encounter:
1. Upholding data security with distributed staff members
Managing a remote accounting team comes with difficulties in assessing and implementing cybersecurity measures.
Most work-from-home employees will log in through their home networks or public WiFi networks at places like coffee shops – which are much more vulnerable to cyber breaches.
This creates the risk of potentially losing valuable client data, especially when financial records are in question.
Implementing VPNs, multi-factor authentication, and regular security audits can strengthen data security. Providing training on cybersecurity best practices to your practice staff is also essential. Stellaripe, for instance, is an ISO/IEC 27001 certified company and complies with it’s proven international standards.
You must mandate and require all your staff members to use company-provided VPNs and conduct periodic security training sessions.
2. Maintaining client confidence in a virtual accounting setup
If you have outsourced clients’ accounting work, there is a chance that your clients will raise concerns about your remote outsourced accountants not being well-versed with the necessary knowledge of local tax and accounting laws.
Some clients might also be concerned about sending their confidential data overseas, as they cannot physically see the security measures the accounting outsourcing company is taking. Such apprehensions could cause your accounting practice to lose valuable business.
Building trust with clients when the team is not on-site requires consistent communication and demonstrating a high level of service.
Outsourcing in the context of remote accounting often necessitates additional measures to assure clients of the security and reliability of the services provided.
This can be addressed through conducting regular reviews, check-ins, and quality audits with the outsourcing team.
After that, you can host quarterly business review calls with clients to discuss the state of their accounts and address any concerns.
3. Keeping track of tasks and productivity in remote operations
When you run a remote team, there is no foolproof way to ascertain what each staff member is doing and how long they take to do it. While tracking software does exist, they might forget to log their time, make mistakes with when they start or stop, or even falsify their entries.
This poses an especially significant challenge if your accounting practice charges by the hour – without a good way to show the number of billable hours logged, clients might contest the validity of the invoice or even refuse to pay the full amount.
In addition, the lack of visibility into what your staff is doing can make it harder for you to estimate project progress and how close you are to making deadlines.
Particularly for urgent projects or tax season, it can be difficult when keeping in the loop about how things are going is vital.
Using time tracking and productivity software like Clockify, Zoho, Harvest or Toggl can give better visibility into how time is spent. Agile methodologies like Kanban or Scrum can be adopted to enhance workflow transparency and efficiency.
Also, implementing monthly and weekly planners does help improve further visibility.
From a process perspective, look at implementing a system where your staff members log their hours against specific tasks or clients, making it easier to generate transparent billing statements.
4. Bridging communication gaps in a non-physical workspace
While several communication platforms, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, are designed for remote work, gaps can and do still occur.
For instance, there is a chance that someone might not see the messages you leave on the team communication platform or that they experience technical issues with the platform.
Even if that delays things for an hour, incidents like that can add up – especially during the busy tax season where every moment counts. There is also the risk of misinterpreting things when they are just written as texts – particularly regarding feedback.
Even video calls often do not have the same impact as in-person meetings in terms of understanding non-verbal cues. This could lead to misunderstanding and friction between team members.
Implementing an internal wiki or FAQ section where common queries are answered can reduce delays. Project management tools like Karbon HQ, Asana or Trello can keep everyone updated on project statuses.
You can also create a shared document or platform like JIRA where all communication is logged and can be easily referenced by any team member.
5. Ensuring continuous professional development and upskilling
Accountants need to keep up with tax laws as well as advances in the industries that their clients work in. When working remotely, though, such training becomes more of an individual, ad hoc pursuit.
Keeping up with the latest accounting standards, technologies, and industry knowledge remotely requires self-discipline and initiative. And unfortunately, access to training may also be less structured than in an office environment for an accountant working from home.
To train your staff, you must regularly conduct virtual sessions or share downloadable materials, which could have much less impact than if you were to guide them in person.
This is especially true for new hires, with whom some handholding is always necessary. You can invest in L&D software platforms, such as TalentLMS, as an alternative, but those can be expensive for small practices.
6. Overcoming scheduling conflicts across time zones
One advantage of remote work is that you can hire a bookkeeper working from home halfway across the globe.
However, if the outsourcing partner does not have proper processes or protocols, this arrangement can also lead to co-ordination difficulties when you are trying to ensure everyone works reasonable hours while also getting things done on time.
This is not much of a problem with asynchronous work, but when it comes to essential team meetings or explaining client requirements, finding a time that works for everyone can be tough.
Scheduling tools like World Time Buddy or Google Calendar’s world clock feature can help plan meetings across time zones. Flexibility in work hours to overlap with team members in different time zones can also be beneficial.
Stellaripe, for example, has established “core hours” where all our team members are available in the client’s time zone for collaborative work. This helps us clear doubts, get approvals, and finish our tasks faster.
7. Fostering team collaboration in a remote environment
Working remotely can make it harder to maintain the collaborative environment of an office. When your practice staff members are all spread out, opportunities for bonding are few and far between – as a result, they tend to feel less connected to one another.
Having a workplace culture without an actual shared workplace is also harder, which could lead to further disengagement. And finally, remote work can make your staff feel like their contributions are not seen or appreciated that much, potentially impacting their motivation as a bookkeeper working from home.
You could hold weekly video meetings where your staff members share updates and occasional virtual coffee breaks or find some online group games to keep the informal conversations and collaborations going.
This can especially be useful during the tax season when you may have to discuss client priorities and manage workload efficiently as a remote accounting professional.
Over to you
In conclusion, every working model has challenges; the same goes for remote work. However, it is important to remember that all of these challenges can be overcome with a little forethought, accommodation, and the right set of tools.
Remote work gives you access to the best and most diverse set of accountants, who will be ready to work and take ownership of their work as remote accounting becomes one of the significant accounting trends.
So, set expectations upfront, ensure everyone has the tools they need to operate, and assure them that you are there to manage and not micromanage – you will soon be on your way to smooth, successful practice growth.