Virtual firms are a new office paradigm changing the way modern accounting firms operate. There are many ways the virtual firm — or semi-virtual— model can help your firm create growth opportunities, improve work flow, and make your firm more attractive for employees.
To answer questions and talk about benefits, Shari Dodgen, Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting’s director of strategic relationships and product marketing, tapped into the expertise of Pat Gineris, CPA, EA, Managing Principal at Gineris & Associates, and John Barnes, Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting’s Vice President of Platform Strategy. The resulting webinar, “Virtual and Semi-Virtual Firms,” is the second in The Evolving Accountant Series hosted by CPA Practice Advisor.
Getting in a Virtual Mindset
If you’re thinking about evolving to a virtual firm, the good news is that it’s not all-or-nothing. You can ease into the transition with a traditional firm that just has one or more “virtual” employees, those who work one or more days a week off-site. Another type of semi-virtual firm is a business that has two or more offices operating as one unit. The No. 1 benefit of being virtual is that work can get done from almost anywhere. Plus, expanding geographically is easier when you don’t have to rely on a brick-and-mortar office and the associated expenses.
According to Gineris, the virtual model has helped the firm attract new clients and grow. He says, “Our new clients are coming to us specifically because they want to ditch the old traditional model and go virtual.”
‘Real’ Benefits of a Virtual Firm
Virtual firms are about so much more than geographic freedom and flexibility, though. They can help with three important growth areas:
- Improve client experience. The cloud provides nearly instant access to your software and client information, so you’re able to be more responsive and proactive. With data housed in the cloud, you also can leverage software solutions like CCH Axcess iQ, which monitors the internet for legislative changes and then uses predictive intelligence to identify those clients likely to be affected by the changes.
- Strengthen your marketing strategy. Satisfied clients will contribute to your positive word-of-mouth marketing and client referrals will follow. You can also use cloud solutions to analyze your market data, send marketing messages to clients, or connect to third-party tools to make marketing more effective.
- Eliminate inefficiencies. By centralizing data in the cloud, firms no longer have to worry about complicated software updates. It also reduces manual data entry and errors. Gineris explains how CCH Axcess Workstream has helped the firm improve efficiency between centrally located administrative staff and remote professional staff. He says, “Everybody is working pretty much on one screen in our firm. They’re looking at the projects that are ready to go. Workstream automatically puts the project in the right place. Then it goes to the reviewer. It goes to billing. And when it’s all done, it ends up back at the front desk who dispatches it to the client.”
Collaboration and Communication
The other important factor in a virtual (or semi-virtual) firm is the real people you employ. Virtual solutions not only help your current employees be more accountable and satisfied, but they can also help you hire and retain better talent from anywhere. The flexibility of working in a virtual firm is attractive to many recent college graduates. But it’s also appealing to mid-level staff who are juggling busy family lives. Firms that are experiencing problems with capacity can find the help they need by expanding their geographic reach virtually.
“Being able to cast that net beyond that 20-mile radius that we had before…” explains Gineris about increasing the talent pool available for the firm. “Now we’ve got the whole country. And that has really given us amazing access to really talented people that we could never have gotten to relocate to Dyer, Indiana.”
Virtual tools like CCH Axcess Workstream can help employees — on site or off — manage deadlines and monitor how work is flowing through the system, while CCH Axcess Document allows multiple team members collaborate on client files in the cloud.
Can you envision your firm going virtual?
The Evolving Accountant Series webinar “Virtual and Semi-Virtual Firms” is available online. Watch now.