Like every other industry, the accounting sector has come face to face with the challenging effects of the pandemic. But, CPAs around the world have adapted to thrive in a difficult economic and social environment.
With the success of the vaccine rollout, we’re heading into yet another stage of the ‘new normal’. So, we wanted to reflect on what we’ve learnt from the pandemic so far and explore what the future may hold for the accounting profession. It’s not all doom and gloom, we promise.
Accountants are no strangers to change. Over the past decade, the profession has shifted from number-crunching to advising, and the traditional office has transformed into a digitally-driven firm.
COVID-19 certainly altered the accounting profession profoundly and most likely permanently, but changes were already creeping into accounting firms around the world before the virus broke out. In other words, the new normal isn’t entirely new.
Nevertheless, the health crisis did speed up the process of change significantly. CPAs faced uncertainty, huge shifts to digital ways of working, and a less-than-appealing economic climate.
Now, business leaders are reimagining their firms and how they engage with clients and employees to prepare themselves for a future that has come hurtling towards them — a future that was once considered years away in pre-pandemic times.
Resilience and flexibility resonate throughout the accounting profession in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as firms have had to adapt to remain successful. Here’s how the pandemic has shaped the profession to what it is now:
1. Technology is Key for Future-fit Firms
Cloud technologies kept businesses ticking along smoothly during the surge of remote working in 2020. In fact, the majority of accounting firms (62%) who felt they were responding to COVID-19 successfully were more likely to be using cloud-based technology, highlighting the business value of this technology.
Not only were these technologies necessary for business continuity, but they saved firms time and money on low-level transactional tasks. For example, CPAs who used cloud accounting technology to automatically manage invoicing, expenses and transactions could spend more time helping the businesses they serve weather the financial storm triggered by COVID-19.
Along with cloud accounting technology, automated solutions have become a permanent fixture in many accounting firms as a result of the pandemic. Automating repetitive processes, such as data entry, helped boost productivity by speeding up tedious tasks and delivering accuracy and efficiency.
Incumbent firms that fail to embrace technological advancements risk falling behind in the aftermath of the pandemic as investments in these types of technologies will continue gaining momentum in the post-COVID-19 world. They are an affordable way to help firms improve their operations, save on costs and scale with market conditions, and they’re a huge time-saving plus for employees.
2. Employee Expectations Extend Beyond Compensation
The pandemic affected almost the entire world, and, as with any event of such magnitude, it caused employees to reassess their expectations from work. In other words, the societal chaos brought about by COVID-19 meant that employees now look for more than a ‘competitive salary’ out of their jobs. They want to know that the business they work for is making a positive impact on society.
Closer to home, accounting firms are expected to ensure that their employees remain productive while thriving personally and professionally with purpose. Business leaders need to prioritise their employees’ needs and lead with compassion. For example:
- Create a common, compelling mission, vision or goal that employees can unite around to cultivate a sense of belonging.
- Set employees clear objectives, and provide recognition when these goals are met or exceeded to ensure your team knows they are valuable as well as valued.
- Build an inclusive culture and work on mitigating any bias.
- Listen to employees’ feedback to help adapt to new challenges.
On a larger scale, sustainability is a key element of becoming a social enterprise. COVID-19 has made it clear that businesses need to rally together to combat the effects of climate change right now. In the new normal, accounting firms need to adapt to environmentally-friendly practices that benefit everyone.
3. Hybrid Work is the New Remote Work
When the government mandated working from home (WFH) at the beginning of the pandemic, accounting firms rushed to make the transition to remote working as smooth as possible. By working on the cloud and holding virtual meetings, teams were able to embrace the flexibility afforded by remote working.
However, the WFH model was not without its challenges. The boundary between work life and home life blurred, teams experienced isolation, and distractions were strife. The new normal isn’t abandoning remote work, but the future for many firms involves a hybrid model, i.e., a mix of office working and home working.
Hybrid working keeps productivity and employee satisfaction rates high when implemented properly. A win-win for employer and employee. In the accounting sphere, some of the largest firms have already revealed their plans for a hybrid working arrangement:
- Deloitte allows its 20,000 UK employees to choose whether to come into the office or work from home.
- EY plans to allow most of its employees to spend at least two days a week working remotely.
- PwC expects employees to spend between 40% and 60% of their time in the office.
The pandemic proved to us that we’re capable of adapting age-old business practices to suit a modern workforce. And there’s no doubt that the accounting firm as we know it will continue to evolve in the future — pandemic or no pandemic.
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