Tech and policy changes leave accountants at home

Tech and policy changes leave accountants at home

Trends in accountancy have already laid the groundwork for accountants to work remotely.

UK workers are increasingly able to work outside the traditional office space. From 2008 to 2018 the number of people working from home increased by 74% from 884,000 to 1.54 million, according to statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Overall, 17% of the private sector workforce reports working primarily from home and 69% say that they have the option to work remotely.

And new technologies and government policy are changing the frequency in which accountants need to be at on site. With cloud-based booking keeping and the push to make tax digital, there are fewer reasons that require an accountant to be on site.

“As more Gen Z accountants enter the workforce, there’s frequently an expectation that at least some part of the working week will be done remotely,” says Matt Crook, Managing Director of Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting.

“Practices are rising to this new working model and putting in place the new online integration environments required for remote workers, which are in most cases just the same new cloud-based tax and practice management solutions that are being used in practices daily. It’s all part of the same momentum that is driving practices to go digital,” he says.

Employees and Employers

Since 2014, UK employees who work for the same employer for 26 weeks can request a flexible work arrangement. While granting the request is up to the discretion of the employer, The Flexible Working Regulations of 2014 dictates that the employer must handle the request in a ‘reasonable manner’.

Though an employee can ask, the prerogative of flexible or remote working should not be left to the employee. Industry experts have indicated that the benefits of remote working are not limited to the employee, but to the employer as well.

For employees, there are numerous benefits. In a survey conducted by The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) the number one benefit of remote working is the increased flexibility it gives. This was followed closely by time saved and improved work life balance.

Remote working can also expand the talent pool that an employer can tap into.

Donna Torres, Director of Small Business at Xero UK, points out offering remote working can significantly increase a firm’s talent pool.

“For accountancy firms in particular, you may require certain skills from your employees that aren’t readily available in your local market, but by offering remote working you can cast your net for talent far and wide,” she said, via email. “When you create a role that can be done remotely, there are no limits to the number and quality of applicants”.

Technology: working remotely enables

New technologies have made it easier to work remotely – and cloud technology is playing a major part in that. Jamie Costello, co-founder of Paycircle, a cloud-based payroll provider said: “Things have changed dramatically over the past two decades but it’s only in the past five years that remote working has really taken off with the emergence of the cloud. The cloud enables you to access all your work files from in bed, on the golf course, on a plane and even in the bath. And when you update them, they update everywhere.

“The remote working revolution is now in full swing and accountancy practices, like companies in every other sector, are increasingly joining it. They have to, as many employees today demand a degree of remote working or will go elsewhere. A lot of accountancy firms also see the clear cost benefits of allowing people to work remotely.”

However, Torres notes that cloud alone isn’t enough to fully facilitate remote working, and communications software is needed to encourage collaboration. “Platforms like Slack and Trello allow teams to collaborate easily and in real time, no matter where they are”.

New technologies have made remote working easier than ever, according to Costello. “These days there’s no real software or hardware challenge to remote working. The biggest challenge is probably having an internet connection. Most people today are even able to work remotely on trains by connecting to the internet through the hotspot on their phones”.

Since data can be accessed anywhere, it can theoretically be accessed by anyone, Costello recommends accountants using cloud providers that have machine learning capabilities in order to minimise risks: “I’d advise accountants to only use a cloud provider that has in-built machine learning technology that immediately spots anomalies, or behaviours that don’t fit recognised patterns, the moment they arise”.

Remote collaboration

As more people have the choice of remote working, worker isolation has become more of a problem, but Chris Dyer, CEO of PeopleG2 a company made up entirely of remote workers said transparency and openness are key to combatting it: “On a continual basis, we educate every member of the company about what every other member does—and why. When we understand how each person fits into the corporate family, we know we’re not alone, even though we may be physically apart. When someone needs help, it’s easy to get to the right person”.

Adding that the right technologies and policies can help to make up for the lack of physical interaction, “Being able to talk to any co-worker about almost any subject creates a camaraderie that remote workers crave. People who were used to meeting at the water cooler need to fill that void somehow. Our teams use Slack, email, and other communication technologies to stay in touch and informed, so that no one falls through the cracks”.

 

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