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Bill Sheridan has been working remotely for 15 years. So the electronic communications manager and editor for the Maryland CPA Association, who has held his job since 2000, has a lot more experience than many tax and accounting practitioners in working outside his employer's office.

 

He began that mode of work when his and his wife moved to St. Louis, Mo., to be closer to his wife’s family. Technology was relatively crude for the task at that time and “There were rough years to being with.”

But Sheridan has had plenty of time to formulate what has helped  him succeed with remote work.  And the first is to “get yourself in the right frame of mind,” he said. That is especially important during the COVID-19 crisis when it is easy to “get caught up in all the news and updates and sink own in the doom and gloom.

That means focus on what is productive and “on the stuff you can control,” he says.

Like many others, he advises created a dedicated work space when working at home—"Some space where you can shut the door and it’s your office,” he says. That has become even more important during the pandemic because many workers who have adjusted to working at home now find themselves sharing the space with spouses and children. The room should also include desk.

Remote workers need the technology and that means “paying more for business-class high-speed Internet and maybe a VPN, Sheridan says. They must also ensure they are viewed as part of the time. “People can forget about you when they don’t see and hear from you,” he says. “Check in as often as you can with voice and video. Let them see you with a smile on your face."

There must also be barriers between the home and work. That includes scheduling breaks. Sheridan says the best advice he has heard about is taking a five-minute break every hour and longer ones every three or four hours. Individuals must also set limits so they do not work all the time. “You pick a time when your work day is over and stop work,” Sheridan says. 

Tax and accounting firms have some special concerns since they are obliged to prevent client information to be disclosed to others without permission. Mike Shapow, partner-in-charge of the Business Advisory Services Group for the Chicago office for RubinBrown notes the following when it comes to remote working.:

*Data security becomes a larger concern.  Be sure to remind staff of security policies to protect your client’s and your firm’s data.                                                                                               *Physical security of computers is at risk once the hardware leaves the office. Extra steps must be taken to remind your staff to follow sound security practices.

Shapow also notes the need for “Staying connected to your staff and your clients when you are no longer able to physically meet with them becomes even more important.” RubinBrown has taken a number of steps to make sure individuals remain connected. These include the following

  1. Assigning each staff person a partner mentor, who is responsible for checking in on a regular basis (couple times a week) with the staff .
  2. Encouraging partners and staff to phone clients or even conduct video calls with them, instead of solely relying on emails. 
  3. Conducting weekly team check-in video conferences.
  4. Some team members have decided to send a Joke of the Day email firm wide.

“We are also having virtual happy hours using video conferencing on Friday afternoons.,” Shapow says.  “Team members take turns deciding upon a fun theme each week, such as  trivia or bingo, and then leading the happy hour activity."

Managing Partners should provide  weekly, or more frequent emails about the status of the firm’s operations. Shapow notes that when employees work in an office, staff members can ascertain what is going on through casual discussions and from observing office activity.

“All of this is lost when working remotely, so frequent regular updates are even more important,” says Shapow,

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 13 May 2020
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