Recent polls show that 58.6% of the U.S. workforce is working remotely, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic that started in 2020. We’ve all faced numerous challenges and obstacles as we’ve been forced to persevere through COVID-19 disruption. Within any own accounting firm, we’ve learned many lessons as we’ve embraced remote work as part of our company’s culture.

Connection is about more than check-ins

When we first started working remotely in 2020, my team and I quickly learned the value of daily check-ins with one another. Working from home is great for flexibility, but it can be lonely if you don’t stay in contact with friends and colleagues. For this reason, we started using our daily team calls on Zoom for personal encouragement and updates, not just work-related discussions. In doing so, we supported one another through a stressful year filled with changing deadlines for tax filings.

Remote work isn’t for everyone (and that’s okay)

With all of the hype and buzz around remote work, you’d think everyone who is able to work remotely would be in paradise. But, researchers are now noticing that many remote workers struggle with mental health issues and feel overwhelmed by an off-kilter work life balance. In my personal experience, I found that some of my team preferred to work in the office on some days and work from home on the other days. In 2022 and onward, our firm will likely implement a hybrid work model that lets staff alternate between working remotely and coming into the office.

Technical difficulties are amplified

It’s a cliched joke that technology never works the way you need it to work. But, it seemed that working remotely piled on additional technical challenges concerning video and mic setups, appropriate access privileges, and more. As a modern accounting firm, we’ve always prioritized security and built a firm infrastructure that supported secure, collaborative work from anywhere. However, the experience of working remotely has made us realize the importance of having mobile device policies and being clear on which software can be used to perform work duties.

Keep your work and life in balance

Working remotely throughout 2020 and 2021 has made my staff and I realize the enormous value of unplugging once the workday is done. One of our accountants, Ana Hernandez, became overwhelmed when her remote workdays seemed to never end. It was just too hard to disconnect from “work mode” when her desk was just a step away. But, once Ana set boundaries for herself on when she could (and couldn’t) work, her satisfaction with working remotely increased.

Staying informed is key to success

When we asked our staff to share their remote work experience, many of them applauded one another for sharing helpful tips and updates about tax changes. Those within the accounting world know that 2020 and 2021 have presented numerous opportunities and obstacles for clients. Answering many, if not all, of these questions requires accountants to remain informed and current in their knowledge of current tax law and pending legislation.

Beat burnout by recognizing it

Widespread burnout is a growing problem within the United States, and I believe the key to combatting it is empathetic leadership. Managers and executives must learn to look beyond staff performance metrics and see the person behind the numbers. Most of my staff dealt with crushing workloads in 2020 and 2021, which has prompted me to re-examine my management style and encourage everyone to be fully present during their downtime. It’s also prompted me to make sure that each person within my firm is in a role that suits their abilities and preference.

Keeping employees means aligning goals

Research done by Gallup in 2016 showed that roughly half of employees surveyed were engaged in their workplace. While every good leader makes efforts to rally staff around a company vision or ambitious mission, there’s often a missing element to these endeavors: personalization. I quickly realized this in 2020 while performing staff performance reviews.

When I talk with my staff about their performance, I can’t just read off a scorecard and tell them to do better. Instead, I’ve learned to outline my vision for the firm and discover how their personal trajectory is aligned with that goal. Once I understand an employee’s goal for their personal or professional life, I can provide additional opportunities to help them develop the needed skills or gain relevant experience. Ultimately, it’s a win-win situation. My employee feels understood and motivated to work toward achieving my firm’s vision while also building their bigger picture. On my end, I get a happy and engaged contributor to my firm’s success.

Stepping into 2022

As we step into 2022, I look forward to many good things for my staff, our clients, and the business world as a whole. While there are certainly many downsides and horrible tragedies that have occurred over the past couple of years, I’m endeavoring to remain optimistic and look ahead. Every experience, good and bad, that we go through can shape us or break us. I hope you’ll join me in using the events of 2020 and 2021 to shape yourself into a better person in 2022 and beyond.

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