Kylene O’Connor Carse, co-owner of BWCO CPAs, is one of countless accountants currently experiencing burnout. She’s eager to identify solutions for herself and her firm to ensure the long-term success of her business.
Calendar blocking, flexible scheduling, and making time to bond with her partner are just a few of the strategies Kylene uses to combat fatigue.
As a mother of two, Kylene’s intimately familiar with the struggles that working parents faced (and continue to face) during the pandemic, like fluctuating office policies.
Kylene O’Connor Carse and business partner Marisol Orozco are on a wild ride. They were midway through transitioning to ownership of their second-generation accounting firm when COVID-19 hit the U.S.
It’s led to a bizarre 20 months rife with learning curves, parenting challenges, and technological adoptions. But, as longtime employees at their all-female firm, Marisol and Kylene were the logical leaders to carry the BWCO leadership torch into the new normal.
The duo added Karbon to their tech stack in May 2020. Like many firms, they were looking to solve the communication pain points of the sudden shift to remote work.https://karbonhq.wistia.com/medias/usdmy8zdgr?embedType=iframe&videoFoam=true&videoWidth=640
As they adapt to the continually changing accounting landscape, Kylene is eager to pursue in-depth capacity planning strategies. It’s just one of many ways that she hopes to restore balance to her firm.
Kylene joins Stuart McLeod, CEO and Co-Founder of Karbon, and host of the Accounting Leaders Podcast, for an honest and open conversation about the burnout sweeping the industry.
She shares her struggles with work fatigue and how she’s addressing the problem as a leader of her firm and a mother of two. Kylene also discusses strategies for offsetting the extra challenges that have come with this 20-month-long perpetual tax season.
Kylene’s two boys started spring break on March 9, 2020—but they didn’t return to school until late August. ‘Marchternity’, especially for working parents, was an unexpected chapter requiring massive levels of multitasking.
As people around the world adapted to a new work reality, accountants were hit with a slew of novel and time-sensitive challenges. PPP, COVID relief, and employee retention credits fell predominantly on CPAs. Add the backlog with the IRS, and many accountants feel like they’ve been treading water for over a year.
“It was definitely a monkey wrench,” Kylene tells Stuart. But despite the onslaught of work, she feels her firm is positioned to take on new demands with grace as the company heads into 2022.
These days, Kylene builds time for problem-solving into her workflow. “We’ve got a lot more tax changes and legislation coming our way here very soon,” she explains.
She also anticipates many of her clients will have complex needs related to stimulus payments and child tax credits. “It’s really about making sure we have time for it all,” Kylene says.
Still, sometimes it can be easy to lose perspective and accept overworking as the norm.
“My son said to me the other day, ‘Do you always have to work this hard? All of the time? Is that what you have to do?’” Kylene recalls on the podcast. “It was a big eye-opener for me. I’m trying to figure that part out.”
Kylene believes the world is finally getting an authentic glimpse into the life of working moms. The constant pull in multiple directions is a reality known by moms everywhere but experienced by many during the pandemic for the first time.
Now she aims to differentiate between time for work and time with her children. When she’s not working, Kylene tries to put her phone down and is also conscious not to talk about her job too much in front of her kids.
“I try. I’m not 100% successful. I don’t even know if I’m at 50%, to be honest,” she laughs.
Despite the challenges, Kylene focuses on the positives. The elimination of a commute has been a significant benefit (though she admits to missing her built-in podcast-listening time). She also enjoys the ability to briefly step away from her work if she needs a breather.
When listing all that’s fallen on CPAs’ plates during COVID, it’s no wonder that Kylene and other accountants around the globe are at the end of their ropes.
Kylene and Marisol are committed to addressing burnout rather than ignoring it. But she admits that while she’s good at making space for her employees to rest, she isn’t as good at applying the same principles to herself.
“We try to be very intentional with our team to make sure they are not getting overwhelmed and burned out. We probably need to implement what we do with them to us as well. But with owners, it’s different. You have a different set of hours you’re going to have to work and things you’re going to have to do. But we do try to make sure that our team is taking time off.”
Kylene encourages her team to attend school events for their children or work flexible schedules and hours. So long as the work is getting done, she’s open to creative solutions that work for the lives of her employees.
Calendar blocking is another strategy that has helped Kylene better manage her time and energy levels. It’s a skill she learned through the Thriveal community.
By defining time blocks for specific tasks, events, and activities in her calendar, Kylene can manage her time efficiently and maintain sanity. Without safeguards, it’s easy for owners to get caught up in the daily grind and spend the day putting out fires.
“It was really tough for our team at first because they used to be able to just ping me whenever they wanted to,” Kylene says on the podcast.
Stuart offers his two cents, sharing that he recently switched to scheduling 51-minute meetings. After realizing that he would go full days in back-to-back Zoom calls without ever leaving his desk, he started to cap his calls so as to leave a little space between appointments.
Another saving grace for Kylene and Marisol: Peloton. They complete a joint ride together after Tuesday team meetings. “It was actually really cool because then you come back [to work], and you’re energized,” she says.
While productivity tips and tricks are an essential part of gaining optimal efficiency, Kylene knows that the issue runs deeper.
When listening to a past episode of the Accounting Leaders Podcast, Kylene heard guest and firm owner Gary Wood use the term 'right-sizing' to describe his company’s current growth strategy.
It’s become a primary focus for Marisol and Kylene as they look to the future of their firm. They’re the first to admit that they’re currently over capacity, and part of the solution requires assessing their current capabilities and making appropriate changes.
That can mean one of two things:
Hiring new employees
Letting some clients go
BWCO’s founders have been adamant about remaining a small firm since its genesis, even though Kylene reflects, “It was never intentionally defined as to what that meant. What they really meant was they didn’t want to grow in employees.”
Kylene recently brought on a new team member to the company. While the energy and ideas that come with new hires are invaluable, she believes the onboarding process is downplayed.
“It changes everything!” she remarks.
Kylene and Marisol plan to better-understand BWCO’s capacity with the help of tracking features in Karbon that identify their optimal number of working billable hours. Once they’ve established their capacity, Kylene and Marisol plan to identify clients that are no longer ‘right fits’ for the firm.
Recommended resource: Capacity planning in Karbon
The theme that repeatedly surfaces when discussing Kylene’s leadership role is a commitment to acting intentionally.
She’s committed to leading her firm into the unknown with the company’s best interests in mind. Whether that means parting ways with clients who are no longer the right fit or encouraging an employee to cut back to 30 hours as a way of pursuing a personal passion, Kylene understands that her employees and clients are people first.
It’s no wonder she approaches her work with a familial frame of mind. After all, she started at BWCO just a year after graduating college. In many ways, she’s grown up alongside her colleagues and clients, making BWCO more than just business.