Remote Working: The Future of Accounting

Remote Working: The Future of Accounting
Due to the Coronavirus and a global lockdown, we now have no option other than to work from home. However, Coronavirus aside, we believe that remote working is the future of accounting. In today’s digital economy, we have the tools, the ability and most importantly the desire from our employees for flexible working options. In this article we’ll explore some of the trends, benefits, challenges and lessons of remote working.

Remote Working Trends: 

Globally, the demand for flexible working options is increasing year by year, to such an extent that it is now viewed as ‘the new normal’. In 2019, IWG conducted an online survey consisting of 15 000 professionals from 80 countries and found that 79% of South African respondents agreed with the above sentiment. 

Remote Working- The Future of Accounting

Source: IWG

According to Regus, 56% of South African workers telecommute regularly, higher than the global average of telecommuters sitting at 52%. 

What has spurred this demand for flexible working options? Think about it for a second. Why would you personally want to work remotely? Or if you are a business owner, why would you want your team to work remotely? 

Here are a few reasons gathered through various online surveys: 

  • Businesses wanting to reduce overheads (I.e office rent) 
  • Businesses wanting to improve employee retention
  • Businesses wanting to attract top talent 
  • Employees demanding to work closer to home due to increasing commuting costs
  • Employees demanding a better work-life balance 

Having a choice of work location - whether that being at home, at a co-working space, a café or in an entirely different city – has become as important as ever. In fact, according to IWG’s survey: 

  • 54% of respondents believe that having a choice of work location is more important that working for a prestigious company
  • 70% of respondents indicate that having a say in work environments is a key consideration when evaluating new career opportunities 
  • 80% said that when faced with two similar employment offers, they would turn down the one that didn’t offer flexible working options 

Does working remotely increase productivity?

Is working from home a productivity boost or drain? Well it depends. Not every workspace is suited to every individual, but, overall, studies demonstrate a productivity increase. 

In a two-year study conducted by Stanford professor, Nicholas Bloom, 500 employees from a Chinese travel agency, Ctrip, were divided into two groups; office workers and those who volunteered to work from home. The results? The telecommuters demonstrated a productivity boost equivalent to a full day’s work. This boost was due to the elimination of travel time, some participants found it easier to concentrate at home due to decreased distractions and workers took shorter breaks. 

Of course, in order for this boost to be present certain conditions need to be fulfilled: decent internet connection and a private room, all of which the volunteers in the study had access to. 

Participants in the IWG’s global workspace survey were also able to cite a productivity increase, with 67% of business leaders willing to quantify the increase in productivity as a result of flexible working as 20% or above. 

As a business owner, if your accounting firm doesn’t offer remote working options, this next section is for you: 

Benefits of remote working for employers: 

Apart from more productive employees, here are a few other benefits of remote working for employers: 

  • Attraction & retention of top talent

Apart from more productive employees, here are a few other benefits of remote working for employers: 

Flexible working to attract and retain top talentThanks to technology, such as cloud accounting packages & dynamic communication tools, the limitations of physical boundaries have been eliminated, and if a company has flexible working policies in place they are able to cast their net for talent far and wide. A global skilled workforce is now at the fingertips of every company.

Based on the results of the IWG survey, using flexible workspace policies as a strategy to attract and retain top talent is a popular one. 73% of South African businesses have adopted this. Why? Because the option to remote work is attractive. In fact, 54% of participants in IWG’s survey stated that having a choice in work location is more important to them than working for a prestigious company.

Apart from attracting top talent, flexible workspace policies aid in retaining talent too. Your employees will undoubtedly make various lifestyle choices, such as marriage, children & the continuation of education – remote working options will ensure that top-performers remain a part of your team.

Besides, from a costing perspective you want to be retaining your top performers. Recruiting is expensive. Tons of valuable time and resources have been invested in training and developing the potential of your team members. The cost of replacing employees is significant – some companies have identified these costs to range from 35%-100% of an employee’s annual salary.

  • Happier, less stressed, more satisfied employees 

In a study conducted by PGI, a leading software services provider, 82% of remote workers were found to have lower stress levels. Lower stress levels contribute to increased productivity, higher morale and therefore increased retention. 

In terms of job satisfaction, Leadership IQ surveyed 3,478 employees using an online test, and found that employees who work remotely are 87% more likely to love their jobs. 

  • Saving on overhead costs 

More remote workers = less required office space = reduced rent + overall costs = more capital to spend elsewhere. 

Let’s look at some real-life examples of this:

Remember the two-year study conducted by Nicholas bloom referred to previously? Well, by allowing half of Ctrip’s employees to work remotely, the company saved almost $2,000 per employee on overheads. Woah!

These same savings were proven true to by a Forbes report that examined big companies. Aetna, for example, has 35 000 employees, 14 500 of which work remotely. Thanks to their remote working options, the company has shed 2.7 million square feet of office space, equating to a saving of $78 million!

Benefits of remote working for employees: 

  • Better work-life balance

Regus research demonstrates that the most popular reason behind the demand and growth of flexible working, as stated by 61% of their respondents, is the desire for a greater work-life balance. When people can choose where they work from, they struggle less with combining their personal and professional lives. 

Remote working affords your employees a chance to improve their health &wellbeing. They’re able to make healthier meal choices, exercise more and spend more time with their loved ones – all because time is saved by not commuting to and from work. 

More on commuting: 

Commuting is stressful, and many consider it to be a waste of their personal and professional productivity. Two out of 5 employees regard commuting as ‘the worst’ part of their day, and excessively long commutes fall part of job quitting considerations. 

  • Saving money & time 

By not commuting to and from the office, employees are able to save money. A survey conducted by Citi found that workers in the US spend roughly 200 hours per year commuting for work purposes, amounting to $2,600 in costs. Add extra costs of lunches and coffees throughout the year, and.. YELP! By working remotely, our pockets can be a little fuller. Jingle-Jingle. 

Challenges & lessons 

Despite there being all sorts of benefits of remote working for both employers and employees alike, nothing comes without its challenges: 

  • Employee isolation 

Despite the productivity increase, in Bloom’s two-year remote-working study, more than half of the volunteer group changed their minds about working from home. Why? They started experiencing too much isolation. Isolation from their colleagues, company and management. 

What does this tell us? 

If remote working is in place, communication is more important than ever. Technology makes remote working possible, but often we fail to use it effectively. We have so many options at our disposal: Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Email, Whatsapp, Facebook messenger. 

Communication is essential for expressing goals & expectations, following-up, checking-in but also for motivating and engaging employees. It’s important for remote workers to feel a part of the company regardless of where they are working from. 

We suggest that you pick out a few communication tools, make sure that everyone knows how to use them and set schedules for when team communication will take place. 

  • People have different definitions of remote working 

What does flexible working mean to you? This is an important question to ask because it means different things to different people. 

In IWG’s survey, these were the answers that came up: 

Definition of flexible working

You need to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to flexible working. Communication is key here. Once definitions are aligned, strategies can be put into place, and everyone can reap the benefits of remote work. It’s important to emphasise that flexible working is a term that encompasses a number of solutions (home working, partial remote working, working in co-working spaces etc), not all of which are suitable to everyone. 

  • Conditions for remote working are not being met 

For flexible working to be a success, companies need to ensure that certain conditions are met. Not every workspace solution is suitable for everyone. Employers are putting pressure on employees to work professionally from non-professional environments and not equipping them with the right tools to do so. 

For example, in South Africa, 37% of people work for organisations that encourage remote working, however, only 19% of their employers provide smart devices in order to do so. Internet connection is another requirement. 33% of South African’s indicate that a slow or unreliable internet connection is an obstacle to working from home. Workers who are unable to access a strong and secure internet connection cannot be productive. 

In order to be productive, employees need an internet connection, a conducive working environment, the ability to access company documents and tech in order to communicate with the rest of the team. 

  • Homeworking comes with grievances 

Even though many have reported increased productivity when remote working, there are also those who believe that home working puts productivity at risk. As mentioned, remote working isn’t for everyone. 

Top home working grievances: 

  • Family demanding attention

  • Household noises (phone ringing, kids, pets, doorbells etc): these noises interrupt online meetings 

  • Slow/unreliable internet 

Certain conditions need to be met for home working to, well…work. Employees need a designated private workspace or room, stable internet, communication tools and devices, working schedules.

Once things are back to normal, hopefully more accounting firms will consider implementing flexible working policies. With the right tools and the right mindset, we could all experience the benefits that remote working has to offer. Who knows, maybe everyone will learn a thing or two through this experience.

Does your accounting firm have flexible working options? Why/why not?