Tips to Remote Tax Teams

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Wait, an international pandemic is causing accountants to welcome the future?! Welcome to the joys and protections of remote work! Here at High Rock Accounting, we have embraced remote workers, temporary remote workers, in-office workers, work-from-home workers, hard workers, and even lazy workers (the right kind of lazy ones, anyways). We have built our culture around flexibility for work-life integration and it has prepared us well for Covid-19 and hiding from both our clients and our team! Yay introverts, it’s your time to hide and shine remotely!

The keys to making this happen, in my humble opinion, start at the bottom and the top. From the top, firms should consider the following:

  1. A firm policy that productivity is more important than sitting at your desk. Remote work comes with a whole lot of trust. Step one is to build productivity measures into your already existing systems. If you bill hourly, that’s billable hour goals. If you are project based, that is tracking milestone.
  2. You need a solid practice management and project management solution. These systems need to be set up with assignments, milestone dates, tasks, and data about efficiency.
  3. A culture that does not fear technology and has open and frequently communication will also help significantly in starting remote work.

From the bottom, firms should look to their teams:

  1. To adopt remote communication patterns that are frequently and efficient.
  2. To accomplish what they say they will and stay on track on their project milestones.
  3. To encourage each other to maintain their high level of productivity even outside the office. It is often easier to avoid the pitfalls of working from home when you are accountable to your team and have people to talk to about it.

From the technology side, it would be prudent to consider if your technology stack is set up for each employee to be able to accomplish their entire jobs remotely. Here are some of my recommendations:

  1. Video conferencing with clients: Zoom, GoTo, Join.me
    I like Zoom the best because they have the clearest video and audio. They also have a handy email plugin to press a button in your calendar and create the location as a Zoom meeting, complete with dial-in instructions for any less tech-savvy clients. GoToMeeting is similar, although has some additional features and older design. Join.me is great for a very quick “let me drive with your mouse” session to show a client something on their own computer.
  2. Team communications: Slack, Microsoft Teams
    Slack is my preference, but Microsoft Teams comes with a Microsoft 365 subscription. Both give you the ability to chat with your team in project channels as well as individually. They both give you the ability to call the other team members in the app. Slack has many more integrations for other productivity tools or notifications which is where it gets my vote.
  3. Hosting server-based programs: Microsoft Azure, AWS, Outsourced IT Companies
    With Microsoft Azure, you can pay for the capacity you use, instead of users, and customize it to your load. Azure is also giving away free months of their service. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a great option, although a bit more expensive and harder to set up. If you don’t want to bother with your own setup, Outsourced IT Companies are a great option for you. Check with your local chamber of commerce, or EA organization to find out who is best near you.
  4. Practice/Project Management Tools: Xero Practice Manager, Teamwork, Canopy, Jetpack
    For tax firms especially, marking due dates for returns and tracking the workflow is extremely important. Xero Practice Manager and Teamwork are setup to be flexible, where you can create templates for workflow, track time, store documents, and have project discussions. They were not catered to tax specific. Both Canopy and Jetpack were built with tax workflows in mind and have specific features that tax accountants tend to love.
  5. Shared Cloud Drive: Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, Citrix Sharefile
    Each of these shared, cloud-storage options have a security level appropriate for business (yes, it requires you to purchase the business plan). OneDrive has 1TB of data storage included in each Microsoft 365 license. Dropbox has cool features for tracking versions and keeping colleagues’ files synced. Sharefile makes it really easy to share files with your clients. And Box, has many great features as well.

    To start working remotely, before you are able to fullly migrate files, I recommend setting up your selection of a cloud storage provider first. Then, you can show your time the file architecture you are looking for and have them each save their own client files to the cloud. That way, they will be able to work remotely on their current projects, and file migration can occur after busy season.
  6. Voice Over IP (VOIP) Phone System: RingCentral, Line2, Jive
    Each of these options gives you the ability to have your phone number ring any of your team member’s mobile phones through an app. If you are not quite ready to get rid of your landline, you can always forward it to your cell.
  7. Laptops: MacBook Air, Lenovo Yogabook, Dell XPS, Budget Pick: Dell Inspiron
    Laptops have come down significantly in expense. If you are looking for my favorite laptops, here you go! The budget pick is about $450 frequently at Costco and has a full number pad on the built-in keyboard. The most expense laptop listed is the MacBook Air, normally around $1400. The Dell XPS is right there. And the Yogabook is a great alternative to the flagship convertible laptops. The absolute minimum specs I would take for a tax machine would be 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Hard drive, corei3 1.2 GHZ processors. I would aim for 12GB RAM, 512GB SSD, core i7 2.1 GHZ. Best Buy will match price of Amazon and Costco online if you need to pick it up immediately.

Finally, make sure your processes are updated to be efficient and not include any paper. Have your team admin scan needed files into your cloud storage and use the practice management tools to track the workflow. It is important to start with good process!

As you are managing coronavirus, remember, your team members will feel supported if they have the ability to work remotely. Plus, it is in your best interest to keep everyone from spreading the disease. Hopefully the tips will help you enter the remote team world and realize how liberating it can be!

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Liz Mason is a serial entrepreneur, a giant nerd, and an involved accounting vanguard. She is the Founder of High Rock Accounting, Rebel Rock Accounting, TheDepartment.Tax, and a few other related brands. Liz speaks on a national stage, guests stars on podcasts, publishes a YouTube show (The Hot Accounts), and writes frequently. To further her passion for the advancement of the accounting profession, Liz currently serves as a Xero National Ambassador and as the Content Strategist for Tax Practice News. Liz started her career in tax at Grant Thornton (at 20) and automated a portion of her job landing her in the national tax practice. She spent a decade in large public accounting firms working on highly technical tax consulting before branching off on her own. Liz utilizes her creativity and passion at her company to uproot traditional practices and replace them with innovative concepts. She finds joy in efficient technology and her core belief is that everyone and everything can continuously improve (she says "be better" too often). When Liz isn't planning world domination in accounting, she is a die-hard skier, down for any adventure, plays the ukulele, reads everything, and has a good sense of humor. If you're looking for her, you can find her traveling the world and enjoying new food and cultures with her husband and young son. Follow Liz and High Rock Accounting on Twitter at @LizzyNorMa and @HighRockCPAs.