CPA INSIDER

3 tips for building remote-work policies that last

Working from home isn’t going away even after the pandemic finally abates, so employers need to ensure they have a strategy that can stand the test of time.
By Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA

At the beginning of the year, you probably couldn't imagine a world where you weren't able to go to the office. Today, you may struggle to imagine one where you're forced to work there 40 hours a week.

Remote work is here to stay in a big way, even when it's no longer a public health necessity. As such, it's high time that firm owners and leaders begin to construct a strategy for a work-from-anywhere reality that lasts.

In the early days of the pandemic, most people operated in a fast-paced, makeshift style. As the entire country rushed to figure out how to work from home, you adopted tech quickly, you built policies on the fly, and you made it work in whatever way you could. Now, however, you have the chance to build a comprehensive policy incorporating the knowledge and experience the past few months have provided.

The first thing to know about creating a successful long-term remote strategy is that you should be intentional about it. Otherwise, you run the risk of your short-term solutions calcifying into permanent ones.

If you're operating pretty well now, that may not sound like such a terrible thing. It's no substitute, however, for asking pertinent questions and building a plan that allows you to grow and prosper in the new work environment. In March, survival was the name of the game, but that's not enough anymore.

Start with your people

To build the system that best fits your business, start with considering what your people need to succeed. Do your team members need to work in close personal collaboration? Do they have long commutes? Do they prefer working from home all the time? Would they like the option of going into the office? The answers to those types of questions provide the foundational insights that form the basis for a sound plan of action.

In many cases, you'll find your teams don't adhere to a one-size-fits-all approach. Some folks may work in creative groups that struggle to replicate their interactions on Zoom, while others perform just as well or better remotely. It won't be possible for large firms to apply a per-employee structure, but there's nothing wrong with creating a per-role one, provided that you're transparent in the thinking behind your decision-making. Listen to your people and then, and only then, develop a strategy in kind.

Don't compromise on real estate

Between the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the emergence of COVID-19, commercial real estate in most of the country settled into a seller's market. Landlords ruled the roost, forcing businesses to make compromises to secure leases. The tables have turned, presenting business owners with a chance to envision a new type of workspace.

As price per square foot drops, you can explore workshare arrangements, nontraditional spaces, and other options you think may work. Now that you know you can do it totally remote, you don't have to panic if the ideal lease doesn't happen right away. The leverage that commercial real estate owners had over business tenants, which was built on the idea an office is essential for work, has evaporated. Now is the perfect time to design the space that works for your business rather than tailoring your operations to suit a physical space.

Solidify your tech

Our new possibilities regarding working from anywhere wouldn't be available without tech. If you weren't already using cloud-based platforms for chat communication and videoconferencing, you probably are now. You may feel like you're locked into whatever platforms you chose in March, but that doesn't have to be the case. If you've got a wandering eye when it comes to a tech solution, now is the time to address it. Take the time you didn't have six months ago to test software in small groups, see what you like best, and decide on a platform that you love.

Similarly, you need to finalize your tech policies. Almost certainly, your organization will have email plus another chat tool and text messaging. You have to delineate what types of communication can happen via chat or text, and which should be formalized via email. You also need to assess the best methods for client communication, especially as those clients also develop long-term strategies for how they'll do business.

Putting it all together

When everything works in concert, a new strategy will allow you to align your people, space, and tech all in service of providing the best experience for customers and employees alike. You have the ability to create such a strategy, but it won't happen by accident. Take the reins now and craft a plan that will propel you for years to come.

Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is CEO of The B3 Method Institute, a keynote speaker and adviser, host of the Breaking Beliefs podcast, and Technology Innovations Taskforce leader for the AICPA's Information Management Technology Assurance (IMTA) Executive Committee. Learn more at www.amyvetter.com. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.

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