In Pursuit of Profit
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In recent months we have solidly come to understand that for better or worse the typical office work model we were once accustomed to has been permanently changed and we may never see the corporate world fully return to the office full-time. And yet, even as we begin to look forward to 2023, this question of whether accounting work will move back into the office still remains.
Throughout the pandemic accountants found themselves in a strange place.
Some companies treated their accountants like any other office staff, requiring them to work from home initially and then strongly urging them to work from home once official restrictions had been lifted. These companies had the tools needed to work collaboratively from anywhere and the internal controls in place to safeguard the business.
Other companies either never sent them home to begin with or brought them back into the office as quickly as possible to manage risk. These companies had desktop based accounting systems, oversaw cash, and needed physical access to copies of things like receipts and invoices.
The difference depended on the nature of the business – the industry, the ownership’s perspective on remote work, the accounting tools and processes being used, the tech savvy of individual personnel, and the risk profile of the specific company. Subsequently, where an accountant worked and how their job was viewed varied widely form company to company. With this in mind, answering the question of whether accounting work will be done remotely from now on is a tricky one. On a basic level the answer is this: “Can accounting work be done remotely forever?” Yes. “Should it be?” Maybe – the answer depends on the following factors:
The biggest barrier to allowing accountants to work from home is the risk associated with doing so. Transmitting sensitive information and important financial data is inherently riskier when doing so from multiple networks and types of devices across many different areas than it is in one centralized location.
When the COVID shutdowns occurred employees went home very suddenly with whatever they thought they would need for a few weeks. As a result, in the early days of the pandemic saw a mishmash of cobbled together personal technologies trying to do the work of a larger business network. Cyber security attacks increased dramatically as opportunistic predators preyed on these weaknesses. In response IT staff across the country scrambled to try to sure up business platforms and protocols to protect their employers.
However, two and a half years later companies have gotten used to following financial data cyber security best practices and thus are far better protected these days than they were in the early days of the pandemic. Furthermore, employees have gotten better at protecting themselves and their companies as well now that they understand how to spot and avoid cyber threats.
So, while cyber security should always be a top priority, today’s companies are far better equipped to handle cyber challenges than ever before regardless of where employees are working.
Accountability is another common reason we hear cited as to why some companies want their accountants to work in the office.
Even where internal controls for remote work environments exist to protect the company, business owners will always be fearful of the potential for a bad actor. Fear of the disgruntled systems admin that goes rogue or the product engineer that steals the trade secret or the undervalued accountant who takes the opportunity to skim off the top can keep them up at night. And while it is important to be protective with business resources, a healthy cautiousness can turn into paranoia, allowing business leaders to be more controlling of their employees than they should. To use an extreme example, it is perfectly normal for a grocery store to not give cashiers the combination to the safe, but it is unreasonable to ask them to submit to body searches at the end of their shifts. In the same way, some business owners feel their accountants must work in the office for accountability purposes. They believe that their companies will be less likely to become victims of theft if they can see their accountants face to face every day.
Now, there may be some truth in the idea that having direct communication with an employee makes them less likely to steal from the company because they feel more valued and connected to the organization. However, if a business owner or manager is worried that not being down the hall or across the room from their accountant is going to result in fraudulent activity, it is probably best to hire a new accountant.
By trade accountants are honest and maintain a code of ethics that drives the work that they do regardless of where they are doing it. Therefore, the need for accountability should not be a deciding factor in determining whether to allow remote accounting work or not. However, if executive leadership still feels like it needs increased financial accountability, hiring a trusted accounting company may be a better option.
An accountant’s work is not simply number crunching. It also involves strong communication with management, fellow business teams, and other key stakeholders. Do accountants communicate better when they are in the office or has modern technology made anywhere communication just as good?
Accountants not only rely on a steady flow of information coming in to do their jobs effectively but must also then communicate their findings to others. Their success is predicated on a timely cycle of communication, which is why many had reason to be concerned when office work suddenly went remote in March of 2020. This change was disruptive, and in many companies, the current suite of tools and technology was unprepared for this kind of drastic shift. However, since then, widespread adoption of cloud-based accounting systems, real-time business communication platforms, and financial app integrations have worked out the initial kinks and significantly improved the communication process. With the trends in these areas moving towards better facilitation of communication, this is one area where accountants need not worry about what he future of remote work could mean for them.
Some factors like time zone differences and may hinder he timeliness of their communication while other factors like the absence of distracting coworkers may improve the effectiveness of their communications. With over two years of practice, it has become clear that individuals and companies will vary in how they handle in-office work versus remote work. However, the ongoing integration of technology in accounting means the outcomes are getting better all the time, paving the way for at least some degree of remote work for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of how technology can aid in bridging the gap of a distanced workforce, some companies feel that they simply have a culture that requires being physically present among each other to thrive. In these types of cultures, bringing employees together is key to maintaining the kinds of values that they hold dear. This concept does not only include externally-facing roles like sales and marketing teams, it includes everyone – HR, finance, accounting, product development, IT, and so on.
But even at companies with a geographically dispersed workforce, accounting contributes to the company culture by shaping spending initiatives. As our team explains when discussing how accounting teams contribute to company culture, “Irrespective of what kind of culture exists at an organization, culture is heavily tied into spending. Where a company spends its money says a lot about what kind of values and priorities it has. For instance, companies with a Learning culture will spend heavily on R&D as well as continuing education.”
In some cases, bringing accountants back into the office (at least part-time) may make it easier to keep them informed of what is going on, more readily allowing company culture to flourish. In other instances, strong communication and transparency from the top can achieve this same effect with accountants working remotely.
When you need remote accounting work done, we have experienced US-based accountants to do as much or as little work as you need. Our team has knowledge of many different industries and can come alongside companies at all business stages to provide reputable fractional accounting services. Contact us today to find out more!