Most professionals have worked from home at some point of their career. But, with COVID-19, it is different; we can’t just pop into the office or call our assistant to send over a document.
Many of us are under stay-in-place orders. During this time, it is critical to let our clients know that our lights are still on and we are still their advocates.
Although the tax deadline has been pushed back , there are still issues that clients need advice on and work to be done. How do you do this when you are required to stay home? How do you maintain your business, cater to current clients and bring in new clients all from home?
As the Chief Information Officer at Protexure, I made the transition to working remotely 4 years ago when my husband retired and we wanted to escape the Chicago winters for the warmth and sunshine of Charleston, SC. One of the more challenging aspects of the transition was losing the ability to just stop by the office.
Much like what everyone is experiencing now, there wasn't much time to ease into working from home. After moving, 100% of my time was remote. At times it was difficult but with the right procedures and software in place it has worked beautifully.
After reflecting on my own process to setting up my virtual office, I have 9 steps for accountants looking to do the same.
1. Notify Current Clients
The first step, and arguably the most important, is to notify your current clients of any changes to your practice. Email all of your current clients to let them know you are still working while the stay-at-home orders are in place.
You email should include insight into your plans going forward, new modes of communication and how these changes will affect them. Additionally, reassure your clients that you will continue to put your best foot forward.
2. Forward Your Office Phone
While this step is oftentimes overlooked, it is arguably the most important. Your clients will try to reach you in one of two ways, by email or by phone. You don't want to miss 50% of those communications because you're no longer in the office.
Some will opt to share their personal lines with their clients at this time. Before doing so, consider what happens when we all go back to the office. Will those clients continue using your personal phone lines to reach you?
The best solution is to forward your office phones to your home office or cell phone. Follow the instructions from your phone provider on how to forward your calls.
If your office phone does not have specific instructions, you can follow these generic call forwarding instructions.
- Dial (*72) and wait for the dial tone.
- Dial your 10 digit cell phone number
- Press the pound button (#)
- To stop forwarding calls, Dial (*73)
After you have forwarded your phones, change the voicemail greeting on your personal cell or home phone to be as professional as your current office voicemail. When you forward your work phone, any voicemails you receive will be saved to your cell or home phone.
3. Update Your Website
Besides contacting you directly, your website is the first place current and prospective clients will check if they have questions about your accounting firm. Post a message on your website to ease the fears of your current clients and let them know you are still open for business.
If possible, create a web page dedicated to updates from your firm. This is the best place to post messages and answer common questions you have received from clients.
4. Utilize Video Communication
While some of us are not comfortable being on video, it has become essential in making connections with clients and staff during this stay-at-home effort. There are two modes of video communication that will be useful during this time, one-to-one video messages and video conferencing.
One-to-one videos are great for both internal and external communications. Rather than typing a lengthy email, simply record your message and email the video. One-to-one video will help you connect to clients and staff and ease their concerns with real human connection.
Vidyard, an online video hosting tool for businesses, has a free service perfect for one-to-one video.
Vidyard allows you to create and attach videos to email communications. The solution also allows users to show documents on your screen at the same time as verbalizing instructions or an explanation.
The other type of video communication is video conferencing.
Some conversations simply cannot be done in an email or via a phone call. While you may not be able to meet face to face during this time, you can still meet virtually with an online video conference.
There are numerous video conferencing tools out there. While some tools such as skype or google hangouts are free, your accounting practice might require a more robust video conferencing tool. Some of the top video conferencing tools for businesses are Zoom, GoToMeeting and WebEx.
After using a couple different video conferencing tools, our favorite is Zoom. Zoom has several tiers of service including a basic plan free of charge.
5. Transition to Online Faxing
While many of us have gone to electronic documents, some things still require fax. The biggest issue is that you are not going to take your fax machine home with you.
In place of a physical fax machine, you can utilize an online fax service. On such software is Nextiva.
Nextiva is free for 30 days and then $4.95 per month after. It allows you to keep your current fax number and is a seamless transition to online fax services for safe and secure faxes from any of your devices.
While online fax services are a helpful alternative to the traditional fax machine, sometimes a more robust document management tool is necessary.
6. Set Up Document Software
In the legal industry there is a lot of paperwork. While working from home, keeping track of all these documents and getting the appropriate signatures becomes more challenging.
A document automation software such as PandaDoc can help you manage all of your contracts from home.
PandaDoc gives your clients the ability to sign digital documents from anywhere, on any device. Each esignature is secure and legally binding with an electronic certificate provided on every document. Pandadoc has many features but currently they are offering the esignatue function for free.
7. Allow Your Clients To See When You Are Available
To make setting and managing meetings easier, allow your clients or potential clients to book some time on your calendar without all the back and forth. Implement the use of a meeting scheduler app to conveniently schedule meetings and improve productivity while at home.
With a meeting scheduler app, you can share a meeting link in email or on your website. With this link, your client can view your open time slots on your calendar and book a time that works for them.
The meeting invite will be emailed to both you and the person who booked the meeting. Within the meeting invite you can customize the description, agenda and meeting space.
While working from home,use video conferencing to meet with all your clients as it will make it more personal and give you clients a chance to talk face to face while they are also home-bound.
There are several meeting scheduler apps out there but our recommendation is Calendly. With Calendly you can connect your calendar, create a personalized calendar link and book unlimited meetings for free.
8. Maintain and Enhance your Cyber Security
When working out of the office it is important to make sure security remains a priority.
Before connecting to a network outside of your office, check to make sure you are connecting to a secure network. If the WIFI you are connecting to does not ask for a password it is not secure and should be avoided.
Always make sure security updates have been applied to your computer. Computer operating systems are constantly updated to patch holes and deploy security enhancements to keep you and your clients safe from hackers and unwanted intrusive software.
Virus software should be installed on all computer equipment. After installation ensure that the virus definitions and updates are applied on a regular basis. New threats are developed by hackers at all hours of every day.
Today’s virus protection software providers do their best to keep virus prevention software updates available to fight and prevent unwanted software installations. These updates will do no good if they are not applied to the local instance of your virus protection software.
9. Set Up Your Home Office Space
Lastly, set up your own private space for work. Keeping a separate work space from your living space will allow you to have a quiet workspace and privacy.
Because client confidentiality is important, consider a home work space that has a door and a lock (if at all available). It is also important to ensure that your home work space is comfortable too. Spending 8 or more hours in a work space should be as comfortable and secure as it would in your normal office or work environment.
Bonus Step: Set Aside Time To Not Work
Although this is not an official step, it is something worth noting. Coming from someone who has worked from home for the past four years, it is easy to burn out.
Working at home creates the tendency to work all the time. It’s easy to think of one more document to amend or one more call to make.
Take time during your day to get out of your home office. Eat lunch away from your computer and desk. Take scheduled breaks to walk the dog or attend to family matters.
One last suggestion is keeping normal business hours. Set start and stop times as you would have in your office. Keeping these business hours will also alleviate the dread of not being able to actually leave the office.
Setting Up for Success
Whether it is for full-time remote work or just a few days, these steps will set you up for a successful transition to operating remotely. While we hope to be back to normal operations soon, these steps can be used for preparing any remote employees.