Why Remote Work is the Future of Accounting
Jun 10, 2019 | By John Siegel
Do you feel like it’s getting harder and harder to recruit and retain top accounting talent?
If so, you’re not alone.
According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for accountants and auditors dropped to just 1.6 percent at the end of 2018. Compare that to the 3.9 percent national unemployment rate, which is already low by historical standards.
This intensifying labor shortage is forcing employers to be more flexible, both in the hiring process and also in the work environment. For the first time ever, employees in the U.S. are dictating the terms of their employment.
As revolutionary as that might seem, it’s turning out to be a mutually beneficial proposition, resulting in more satisfied teams that deliver better results than managers ever expected.
Working From Home Is Surprisingly Productive
Across virtually every demographic, what accountants want — and increasingly demand — is the flexibility to work how, when, and where they want. While this might have seemed unthinkable as little as five years ago, the fact is that technologies exist that make working from home just as productive —or more — than working from a cubicle. According to a two-year Stanford study that divided 500 employees into two groups — one that continued work at the office and a second group of volunteers who worked from a home office — the group of remote workers increased productivity by a full day per week. Attrition amongst workers decreased by 50 percent, and, as a bonus, the company was able to save substantially on rent and utilities.
Remote Work Is Becoming More Commonplace, but Is Not yet Programmatic
A growing number of accounting leaders are starting to adapt to the reality that remote work is good for business and good for their employees. According to a 2018 survey of CPA firms, 43 percent of firms now have employees who regularly work from home. These aren’t just workers who started in the office, then earned additional flexibility, as is often the case.
Many firms are now hiring employees who are already remote. According to the same survey, 41 percent of firms surveyed reported having hired employees who work in a remote geography — that is — not in the same region as the company’s headquarters. That’s figure represents a 15 percent jump since 2016.
Though the practice is becoming more commonplace, remote work isn’t without its fair share of concerns. While 99 percent of firms surveyed said they offered some sort of remote work program, only 35 percent of firms had an established remote work policy in place.
Perhaps the most telling statistic from the survey is that of the firms with remote workers, in 82 percent of cases, the firm simply retained the employee when they moved away, most likely to avoid having to hire and train a replacement.
The Next Step — Make Remote Work Part of Your Firm’s Culture
Taken together, these statistics indicate that while firms are much more open to remote work than in the past, on the whole they tend to approach it on a case-by-case basis. There’s a significant opportunity in most firms to make remote work more programmatic, that is, formalize the policies and procedures that have developed organically into a program that enables remote work for employees generally.
While the number of firms allowing remote work and firms with established remote work policies leaves something to be desired, it’s clear that the trend is on an upward trajectory.
As expectations for finance and accounting professionals evolve, long-held assumptions for where and when accountants should work to be successful are being questioned. Thanks to cloud technology, it’s no longer essential for accountants to make the sacrifice of years spent behind a desk, working long hours in the office at month-end or during the busy season as it was for generations past.
This post was originally published by the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants.