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Remotely Close: Working from Anywhere? Draw the Line in the Sand!

I consistently talk about how I can work from anywhere. My office is completely mobile, my files are all accessible online and I can easily connect with my clients electronically. The only problem is that this is a lie. And I bet you or your staff lies about it too! The lie is not that I can't do it. The lie is that other factors inhibit me from working. When I talk about working remotely, I'm talking about the day-to-day preparation and review of workpapers, tax returns, meeting with clients, connecting with my in office staff, etc.

My office is set up probably similar to yours: a comfy chair, desk, big monitors and space to spread out documents or files. My office is relatively quiet (with some light music in the background), has a dock for my laptop and phone, one-click printing access and a healthy dose of team banter. This setup provides me the opportunity to concentrate, focus, and work diligently to complete tasks and contemplate new opportunities.

My "remote office" is my 15-inch laptop computer--no mouse, no 10-key, no extra screen--which is usually surrounded by a couple pieces of paper that always seem to get a coffee stain on them, some headphones and a really uncomfortable chair at the coffee shop. The differences in my surroundings of working anywhere vs. in my office ensure that I struggle in the following categories:

* Focus/Concentration: I'm in Santa Monica about three weeks a year visiting friends and family. When there--as opposed to Fresno--and my option is to hang out with my family at the beach or go to the ($12 a cup) coffee joint to plug away on an uncomfortable chair ... I end up at the beach. And when I do end up at the coffee shop, I find myself distracted by the surroundings. With every intention to get work done, call clients, respond to emails, prepare returns, I cant get around the fact that my technology allowing me to work remotely also doesn't allow me to work at the speed I'm used to.

* Efficiency: The lack of speed incurred due to my lack of concentration brings me to efficiency. How did any CPA ever work without multiple monitors, a full size monitor and a mouse? I was lucky enough to "hotel" at a local accounting firm in Los Angeles during my recent stay but, guess what, I started talking to the partners and other staff about how they work and the daily struggles that they run into. So whereas my intention was to work and found a great place to get work done efficiently (in a comfortable environment with the tools I needed), I found new alternatives to not work as I realized I missed the little items that make me focus at my office desk.

* Availability: I told my clients, who are all over the west coast, and my staff that I was available for phone calls/video calls during the week, but in reality, was I available? Yes, I can take a phone call. Yes, I can conference call, but every time I took the call it ended with me saying, "When I get back to the office next week ..." So, while I was available to talk, I didn't actually get anything done. Moreover, I didn't end up meeting that client in Los Angeles. It just didn't happen because, unless I was specifically in the area to visit that client, the priority of that meeting was low. Oh, and it got even worse as my wife was annoyed with me every time I would lake a call with my wife and infant son in the car. All in all, yes I was available, but not at the convenience of my employees or clients.

* Reliability: I pride my business on being a reliable source for our clients. Our clients should be able to contact us anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And it's reasonable to say to the client, "we will get back to you on that answer." What's unreasonable is to set an expectation for the client that the work will be completed while working remotely when the work cannot be completed due to the issues listed above.

We love to believe that we're flexible and able to utilize technology to its limits. But they do have limits. The key is recognizing these issues within your linn and how the firm is going to solve these problems. Without question, it's important that your staff be allowed (if they choose) to work remotely. Now it becomes a question of how many office locations do your staff have to choose from?

According to the Harvard Business Review, the keys to working remotely are setting boundaries, establishing working hours and planning your day appropriately ahead of time. As you can sec, my ability to follow through on the first three keys lagged. So I would add a fourth key to this: Firms should limit their employees remote work to one additional location out of the office.

This is not a punishment to employees, but rather an efficiency and effective strategy to retain the highest-level work from employees who require structure to provide high-level service to clients. An office location is one that has all the amenities whereby the person can be efficient, reliable and can concentrate. These locations can't be everywhere, but they can be anywhere as the costs for firms to retain high-performing workstations are expensive.

Firms should evaluate the investment in who retains additional workspaces and who is responsible for the cost of the additional office. Is your firm buying additional monitors, printers, desks, chairs, etc. for home offices so that your staff can work efficiently from home? Or is this cost a burden of the employee as they sec fit. If you're managing an office of more than 100 employees, is your firm (and its IT staff) suddenly required to manage and invest in an additional 100 workstations? Some items are unreasonable, but retaining a policy that sets the expectations of employees and how we expect them to wok in a remote capacity is imperative to provide the highest level of service.

And finally, employees should realize that they aren't required to work anywhere and everywhere. Leaving the office, not being available, rejuvenating oneself is important for employees to be able to provide the highest level of service when they're working. Whereas we love the technology and the connectivity we have to the office, sometimes the best value of our time is being disconnected.

Clients pay high fees and expect great results from your firm. Your staff needs the flexibility to be able to work in convenient locations. So how do you marry these ideas of quality, quantity and flexibility? The point is that technology allows you to have options, but it doesn't replace the benefits of having a quiet space that one is comfortable in.

P.S.: I started writing this article remotely since I could not stand working on any accounting activities away from my office. I finished it in my comfy office.

by Adam Blitz, CPA

Adam Blitz is owner/operator of Streamline CPAs. You can reach him at
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Title Annotation:Tech Talk
Author:Blitz, Adam
Publication:California CPA
Date:Aug 1, 2019
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