Formalizing remote work

by Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP

August 18, 2020

Do you know the status of your firm’s remote work program? During a recent CPAFMA Remote Work webinar, participants were queried and less than half said they currently had a formal program in place.  This coincides with the findings from the 2018 Convergence Coaching Anytime, Anywhere Work (ATAWW) Survey which identified only 47% of CPA firms stating they had a structured program for remote/flextime work. What these two surveys point out is that less than half of today’s CPA firms have formalized their remote work programs, which is jaw dropping especially when considering the mandatory virtual requirements of the COVID pandemic. The reality is that remote work is here to stay and offers significant competitive advantages. Whether you create a separate remote work policy or incorporate components into your existing computer and internet usage policies, below are steps to formalize your remote work program.

Core hours

Flexibility is one of the key benefits of remote work programs in that personnel can work when they are most productive and around their personal and family schedule. While some tasks can be completed individually, there are many that require real-time collaboration which prompts most firms to mandate availability during ‘core’ hours. For example, from Monday through Friday, remote personnel are expected to be available from 10am to 3pm, and outside that by appointment. If your firm allows for Fridays off during the summer months or requires availability on Saturdays close to tax deadlines, this should also be spelled out in the policy to properly set expectations.

Expected response time

Out of sight should not be out of mind. Beyond availability during core hours the policy should outline expected response times for email, phone and other communications requests. For instance, internal communications are to be cleared/responded to at the beginning and end of each remote person’s workday as well as responding to external inquiries within one business day. Updating availability status within a collaboration tool such as Microsoft Teams or Slack should also be included so everyone knows when individuals are available.

Communication and collaboration

Standardizing firm communications around a primary platform will help keep internal communications in sync. While some senior members and clients prefer phone or in-person meetings and other firm personnel prefer email or texting, the remote workplace demands a centralized, virtual solution be utilized for internal communications. As most firms have standardized Microsoft Office 365, today’s heir apparent is Microsoft Teams, which not only allows messaging but also audio, video and screen sharing both internally and with clients. Firms must ensure all personnel are adequately equipped and trained to collaborate effectively and this should be defined in your program.

Digital workflow

Remote work is optimized when all personnel have access to all work resources concurrently, which means everything must be digital by default. Your policy should mandate all work be done centrally whether in a firm-hosted or vendor-managed cloud and disallow local copies of files which are susceptible to loss or theft. Expectations should be set for updating the status of projects on the firm’s workflow tool at completion and for entering time and expense entries as incurred, which will keep information current for everyone in the firm.

Management

One of the often-overlooked components of remote work programs is how performance of remote personnel will be evaluated as direct supervision is not as manageable as within the office. Performance metrics will need to change towards successful, timely completion. You might also consider the inclusion of non-traditional KPIs that identify personal accountability and quality of work done (Net Promoter Score, Referability, etc.) as well as adherence to remote standards set in the program.

Working environment

Your program should outline physical expectations for the remote working environment whether in a home or a public workspace (if allowed). Components such as requiring a safe and private work area where information can be kept confidential, disallowing local file downloads on home computers or physically printing out documents, and requiring appropriate childcare during core hours should be considered for inclusion. Also, your program might address professional attire and standardized backgrounds when communicating with clients via video calls.

Remote technology

Your remote program should define security requirements for remote workers including use of home/family-shared vs. firm-managed computers, implementation and usage of wireless networks, virtual private networks, and requirements for workstation operating system and anti-virus/malware updates. Determining minimal acceptable Internet quality/bandwidth and display configurations should also be discussed.

Expense reimbursement

If the firm provides any stipends for equipment, internet or digital cellular usage, these should be outlined in the program including proper submission and expectations for reimbursement. Responsibilities for maintenance and support on firm vs. employee-owned equipment should also be defined.

If your firm does not have a documented remote work program, now is the time to pull the components together and update your policies and procedures. Remote work is here to stay so we must adapt and make it part of our new normal.

 

 

Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, CGMA is Director of Firm Technology Strategy for Right Networks and partners exclusively with accounting firms on production automation, application optimization, and practice transformation. Roman is also the author of the 2020 Edition of “Quantum of Paperless: A Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization,” which is available for download to members of the AICPA PCPS section.