Returning to “normal”
My last column was in December and a great deal has changed since then. The country is opening up again, but firms continue to face a number of challenges. Here’s a look at what many are dealing with and some best practices for addressing these common concerns.
Managing change. I think many firms should be ready for a readjustment period. I recently met with a group of small firm CPAs and they all reported that staff members were exhausted by the stress related to the pandemic and, in many cases, they were apprehensive about coming back to the office. As a result, firms should be ready to juggle a wide variety of reactions and needs and to determine how to help their people do their best under changing circumstances. To manage job stress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that supervisors and employees communicate about what they’re experiencing and identify solutions. Firms that don’t provide an Employee Assistance Program can offer information or recommendations on mental health resources both in the community or virtually.
Keep in mind, however, the importance of transparency and flexibility which will avoid situations where the firm might be seen as unduly favoring some employees over others. To avoid these problems, firms should document and share policies on issues such as remote work so that all staff members feel fairly treated. Setting common ground rules and goals can also help bring people together even if they are working apart.
Notching up your networking. This is a good time to check in on how fellow practitioners have fared during the pandemic and share best practices. In addition to networking with other firms like your own, be sure to participate in the 2021 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey before June 18. It gathers information on which challenges are top of mind and the results segment the issues by firm size, which is a great way to see if your challenges are the same as those of your peers. At the same time, in conversations with current and prospective clients, get a sense of what new services they may be needing post-pandemic so you’re ready to remain their trusted adviser going forward.
Keeping staff connected. Firms have done a great job of communicating with their people working remotely, so be sure you’re ready to do that in a hybrid environment if that’s how your firm chooses to move forward. That means making it feasible for everyone to participate in all-team meetings and trying to ensure that those working offsite feel linked to the office. Schedule short monthly meetings with those offsite to continuously gauge their comfortability levels and be flexible and understanding of their decisions.
Navigating relief programs. These programs offer a number of opportunities for CPAs to provide value-added service to clients. Beyond the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (which are both closed for new applications), the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, and the Employee Retention Credit offer relief for clients that qualify. Practitioners can help clients determine which programs to use or apply for, assist them with applications, discuss the best ways to use the funds they receive, work with them on getting forgiveness for their PPP loans or complying with documentation requirements for other programs. Consider your clients’ needs and what your firm is best equipped to handle. And be sure to tune into the regularly occurring AICPA Town Hall Series as a way to stay connected to the latest practice management and client service insights. The Town hall offers CPE and is a free resource for AICPA members.
Taking a break. The changing tax deadline only added complexity and uncertainty to an already difficult year as firms scrambled to reorganize their schedules. Many clients assumed that the postponed deadline offered them an automatic extension, causing a rush to get client tax and estimated payments in on time. That was often the case even when firms informed clients that they were expected to meet the initial document deadlines stated in their engagement letters. Since taking a vacation after April 15 is a tradition for lots of practitioners, many also had to rearrange their plans in a hurry.
Now that this very tough season is slowing down, it’s especially important to give yourself and your staff a break. In a post-pandemic world, it may not be possible to make the usual travel plans or reconnect with all of our family and friends. Don’t let that stop you, though, from taking time to destress. That can include setting aside your devices, congratulating yourself and your team on all you’ve accomplished and indulging in activities you enjoy.
Carl Peterson, CPA, CGMA is the Association’s Vice President of Small Firm Interests. Have questions for Carl? Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-252-4618. And be sure to sign up for Carl’s Small Firm Update webcasts. The next one will take place on June 23 at 2:00 to 3:00 PM ET.