Firms that get it right gain productivity and keep employees happy
Economic turmoil, high energy prices and the desire for improved work-life balance all play a role in the continued growth of telecommuting as an alternative to the traditional 9-to-5 workday at accounting firms all over the country.
The trend is not going away. According to Gartner Dataquest, 27.5 percent of U.S. workers telecommute for at least part of their workweek. A new voice in the nearly 14 million 2009 telecommuters will be Millennials, or Generation Y workers.
Leading-edge accounting firms are embracing this change in the way business gets done — not fighting it. Just one example is Fitts, Roberts & Co., PC. The multioffice Houston firm first explored telecommuting more than 10 years ago, says Kay Parker, CPA, the shareholder in charge of accounting and tax services for the firm.
“We’ve tried very hard to set ourselves apart from other firms by offering flex schedules,” she says. “Our Citrix-based network allows remote access to all our programs, email and the touchy-feely things you need in order to stay in the loop.”
Parker shares this real-world advice for other firms that want to get telecommuting right:
Ensure robust connectivity. “Remote employees may have problems with their Internet connections,” Parker says. “It’s a good idea to have ‘back pocket’ projects people can do offline that don’t require Internet access.”
Provide for remote support. Using LogMeIn, the firm’s IT staff can troubleshoot problems that crop up for remote workers. “Our IT director worked remotely himself for about a month when he had to go to Mississippi to handle a death in the family,” Parker says.
Help new people get up to speed. Take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to allowing new hires the opportunity to telecommute. “You’d be surprised how quickly people see pieces of their job that they can do at home,” Parker says.
Make sure you have ironclad security in place. There’s more to remote access than giving people a laptop. “Anyone working remotely needs to have up-to-date virus protection, and needs to be very careful to keep client data secure,” Parker says.
“Don’t try to do this on the cheap,” she says. “It’s been successful for us in attracting and retaining high-quality professionals, because we made a conscious decision to invest in hardware and software that is robust and gives us the ability to leverage technology to increase productivity.”
The firm’s solutions from CCH include ProSystem® fx Tax, Document and Engagement. Remote workers check documents and binders out through either Document or Engagement. The next generation of the ProSystem fx Tax suite allows many tax and accounting workflow steps to be automated and streamlined, eliminating paper processing.
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This story is from the CCH e-newsletter First Choice, written specifically for tax, accounting and audit professionals. First Choice offers tips, tricks and ideas about how to increase your public accounting firm’s productivity and efficiency. Every issue also features insights with a tax, audit or accounting professional.