CPA INSIDER

3 things the COVID-19 pandemic has taught CPAs about technology

2020 has been the most challenging year in recent memory, but it has also provided a unique learning opportunity for firm owners and their team members.
By Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA

In recent memory, there hasn't been a more challenging year than 2020. It's been one of seismic change for businesses, individuals, and society.

The past several months have taught us all so much about what's essential to our society and what we take for granted. They've also taught us a lot about technology.

Without tech, it's impossible to imagine our response to the COVID-19 pandemic looking the way it has. When combating a virus that thrives in enclosed spaces full of people, the office as we know it hasn't been able to function.

For some CPAs, the shift to a largely remote work environment has offered a chance to rely on skills they've had in their back pockets for a while. For others, it's been a crash course on using modern tools to get the job done.

Wherever you fall, whether you are the most agile or the least, your relationship with tech is probably different now than it was in January. You may have even been to a Zoom wedding at this point.

When it comes to how we run our businesses, a few hard-won tech lessons from this pressure-packed year will resonate far beyond the bounds of 2020. If you're able to harness these lessons and allow them to propel your firm further, you'll be able to come out of this year with momentum and expertise that will keep you thriving for many more to come.

The cloud is no longer optional

Tech gurus have prophesied the supremacy of the cloud for years now, telling anyone who will listen about the benefits of being able to access your data anywhere on any device. Despite the obvious advantages of moving to cloud-based platforms, business owners were somewhat skeptical of the change. Obviously, that skepticism is gone today. Cloud proponents certainly weren't banking on a pandemic to prove their point, but the point has been proved nevertheless.

Knowing what we know today, keeping all shared information on cloud-based servers is a must-have, as opposed to a like-to-have. A day when nobody can come to the office is no longer hypothetical; for many, it's their everyday reality. Without full-featured cloud functionality, you end up wasting countless hours getting people the information they need, navigating arcane drives, and travelling to retrieve digital files.

It's important to also know the difference between software that is hosted and software-as-a-service applications. When you are using cloud-hosted applications, many times you are having to maintain servers, as well as maintain the software updates. In a SaaS environment, the software is written "in the cloud," so there is nothing to host. The SaaS company itself maintains the software and security of the information.

Office operations do not have a one-size-fits-all solution

When the first wave of business closures and shelter-in-place orders emerged, most folks in leadership focused on transitioning the same standard operating procedures (SOP) to function in a work-from-home situation. Pretty quickly, though, people realized that the simple nuts and bolts of work weren't the easiest parts to adapt. There's just no one-size-fits-all solution to suddenly shifting your entire workforce to remote work.

Many questions have to be answered. How do we replace all the other things that an in-office environment provided us? How do we bond with our fellow team members? Where do we find opportunities for professional development? What is the best way to lead a remote workforce?

If you haven't yet addressed those questions, it's absolutely essential that you start answering them about your business today. Working from home is here to stay, so the companies that can create the most desirable remote-enabled situation and create a "human" connected culture are those that stand to recruit and retain the best talent.

Hardware and peripherals matter

Even if you had a home office at the start of this year, it probably wasn't your primary workspace. As such, it likely didn't function as well as the one you had in the office. Maybe you had an old chair in there along with an old keyboard and some pens. If that were the case, you learned pretty quickly how uncomfortable it can be putting in 40-plus hours a week in a less-than-ideal setup. It's important to think through how to set up a dedicated space for remote work and to be able to close it off at the end of the workday so there is a clear delineation between work and home.

When we talk about tech, we're inclined to focus on the software that provides us with new tools and greater functionality. Also as important are the tools we use to access the software, from our laptops and keyboards to spare monitors, webcams, microphones, and wiring. These tools improve our quality of life, as well as ensure we are still connected from a human perspective to our co-workers and clients. As we do our jobs in a world where we may all need a comfortable place to work from home, making mindful choices about technology is essential.

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 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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