How would you manage your firm if shelter-in-place lasted 2 years?

In 2020, accounting firm owners and managers have all been forced to make quick short-term plans to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

This approach has helped most firms and their staff to rise to these challenges in more ways than one. But now, as the initial disruption and chaos calms down, you like many others might be starting to think more long-term. In doing so, it is helpful to ask yourself this question:

What would your firm do if shelter-in-place lasted for an extended period of time? 

Whether you prefer to remain optimistic or not, the question is helpful to consider. Looking forward with multiple scenarios in mind can unlock new ways of thinking. You may also find there are certain parts of your practice that you do not want to return to “normal".

Why ask this question?

While there is still much uncertainty over what happens next in response to COVID-19, it is best to plan and prepare for the most disruptive scenario. This unlocks creativity and equips you to handle whatever may come next. 

You are also able to find new ways of doing business, like effectively working remotely. The forced shift to remote work has brought a positive impact for many firms who were not even planning on moving to a distributed environment. 

It is possible for shelter-in-place to bring an unexpected opportunity for your firm. You may develop new ways to collaborate, hire, train, and execute your marketing strategy. 

It is easy to sit back and wait to see how things play out, but smarter to keep moving forward. Read on to see just some of the practices you should consider adopting.

Managing your day-to-day operations

When shelter-in-place orders began, many firms scrambled to keep business going as usual. This is the first area accounting firms had to take care of. What processes would change during an extended work from home model? Which processes would you keep? 

Whether your entire team is in an office or not, the day-to-day operations mostly stay the same. You need to communicate as a team. You need to serve your clients. You need a system to track production and your work.

For many teams, the ability to serve clients and collaborate is already handled by cloud tools. Moving to shelter-in-place may have required a shift to Zoom meetings or better accountability. But for the most part, tech-savvy firms could continue on pretty quickly.

But what about long-term? Work is about more than simply getting projects done. Your team needs to feel connected to the big picture, and if everyone is home, you risk losing some of that culture.

The longer your team is away from the office, the more you’ll need to think of new ways to bring them together. You can have weekly all-hands meetings or certain messaging channels to celebrate wins. 

You will probably have more scheduled meetings, like one-on-one zoom calls or standup meetings to maintain connection. 

As a leader, you’ll have to find ways to make sure the team feels heard when everything is done remotely. 

Getting your sales and marketing back on track

Accounting firms have traditionally relied on networking and referrals for generating business. In 2020, most networking events have been canceled, which means a new approach is required.

Fortunately, many marketing activities can be handled remotely. You can move your networking to social media and email. You can host live events or webinars. You can still advertise and create valuable content to attract leads. 

As with operations, you may find opportunity in a remote-friendly marketing strategy. By implementing the strengths of digital marketing you open yourself up to a variety of methods in reaching potential clients. 

Hiring new staff

Whether it’s to manage growth or to deal with attrition, onboarding new team members is a necessity. Of all areas most impacted by working remotely, hiring is possibly the most unique. 

On a positive note, remote work opens up a much bigger talent pool for employees. You can widely distribute your job posting, and are not limited by your geographic locations. 

Additionally, many employees enjoy working remotely and see no commute as a perk in their work environment.

On the other hand, hiring employees “sight-unseen,” can be scary even for the most tech-savvy companies. A typical interview is about more than simply qualifications. You want to see how the potential employee moves and interacts with the people around them.

In an extended shelter-in-place situation, a firm may consider doing multiple rounds of video calls. You could even invite additional team members to get a broader feel for the applicant’s fit with the firm.

Additionally, you may be tempted to hold off on hiring during this period of uncertainty. But, if you’re thinking as if shelter-in-place is going for two years, you wouldn’t have this luxury. You can also get ahead of your competitors by continuing to evaluate talent and build your firm while everyone else waits.

Training new and existing team members

Whether it’s learning new processes or helping new hires get up to speed, training your staff remotely will have to become a necessary part of your firm's operations. 

Mistakes are expensive. At best they can cause re-work. At worst they can make you lose a client. That’s the nature of accounting where precision and attention to detail are critical parts of the job. 

In addition to training for the job at hand, training is also an important way of keeping staff engaged and motivated. This benefits the firm as a whole in the long-term in ensuring quality and consistency in work. You should not neglect this key discipline just because you’re working remotely. 

That’s why training your staff is a big part of how successful they will be in their role as part of your team. Even though e-learning can be highly effective, it’s not the best tool for everything. An example would be conveying your firm's work culture. 

On the other hand, e-learning is increasingly more accessible and cost-effective. And it’s also widespread, with many options to choose from. Most people have been exposed to e-learning in one form or another.

As your firm continues to grow, without access to an office, you’ll need to work to create a system for training where you can quickly ramp up your talent without looking over their shoulder. 

Client success

For many accounting firms, client interaction in today’s world is primarily through video chat, phone and email.

But as you think about the implications of an extended stay-at-home order, you also want to think about what that means for your clients.

Will extended shutdowns hurt their business?

Do they have children who are also at home?

The work you provide for your clients will likely stay the same. However, everything needs to be contextual. As you communicate, keep in mind the situation your clients share, so you can be proactive in your services.

The big picture

As the financial impact continues to unfold from the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting firms stand to be fortunate compared to many industries.

While much has changed in the day-to-day life of an accounting firm, most of the work can still be done in a distributed environment.

In fact, being forced to rely on technology for specific functions could make your firm stronger than before. Whether things return to normal quickly is unknown. For now, you can take the long view with your firm and see which areas you can still improve outside the traditional office.

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