While remote working is touted as the future in many industries, and it’s true there are many advantages, there are also some drawbacks to remote working that you should consider before taking a remote accounting position, whether that company is here in PA, on the west coast, or anywhere in between.
Leading a remote staff requires very different strategies and management skills than leading a staff in an office. Not every company that touts work-from-home options has developed the policies, procedures, technology, and talent necessary to make it work well.
- Communication: There is both a technological component and a human component to communication. A company needs to have good collaboration tools and policies regarding what information can be shared over what media. Especially with accounting, secure technology must be available both for the office and the home to protect sensitive client data.
- Connection: There is a human connection that takes a lot more effort to develop when a large portion of the workforce is remote. Gone are the opportunities to stop at someone’s desk and share about their day or have an impromptu brainstorming session. There is no chance to go out to lunch or stop for a drink together after work. A company needs to work hard to develop a company culture and keep remote workers from feeling lonely, disconnected, and underappreciated.
- Expectations: Employers have to set expectations and communicate them clearly. Employees need to be onboarded effectively, helping them feel a connection to the people and the company, understand the communication technology and its boundaries, and be able to express what they as employees expect of the company. There must also be rules around business hours, not expecting remote employees to work unreasonable hours just because they don’t have to commute. This can be a major issue for accountants, especially during the busy tax season or quarterly report season.
- Management: Since employees are not in the office for the manager to get to know them, it is much more challenging for a manager to know how well they work, what their personalities are, and what support they need. It takes a unique kind of manager who can keep the right balance of oversight, trusting the employees who don’t need help and giving extra support and guidance to those who do need it.
Even if a company has its remote working arrangements perfect, remote working isn’t for everyone. Consider some of the issues associated with remote work and ask yourself whether you could do well with these challenges or if they are not a good fit for your work style or personality.
- Cybersecurity: In accounting, you will have to take many steps in your home office to prevent data breaches. The company should have protocols in place, but you should also do your own research and set up your own procedures at home – like shredding all trash, not talking about work-related information around a listening device such as Google Home, Alexa, etc. Are you able to spend the necessary time and money to research and create a cyber-safe office?
- Working with a remote team: Will you be able to consistently communicate and be available to share data with the rest of the team, including those who might be in a different time zone? Communication is more limited when you’re not all together in the same building, so you will need to set goals and expectations at the beginning of a project and keep reiterating them in order to keep on track. Successful teams try to have “virtual coffee breaks” so they can get together outside of the project and just get to know each other.
- Feeling lonely: This is a very real problem, even for people who tend to be introverted and like being alone. There really is only so much “alone-ness” that is healthy for a person. Can you handle being alone all day, every day, only seeing co-workers on a screen or talking to them on the phone?
- Productivity and distractions: Maybe you’re not alone all day. Maybe your spouse or children or pets are with you. While this can solve the loneliness problem, it can cause a lot of distractions. Will you be able to set boundaries at home that you and your family can stick to, so that you put in the hours you need to without interruption? You will have the flexibility to take breaks to spend with your family or walk the dog, but will you be able to get back to work? And whether you’re alone or with a household of other people, there are lots of other distractions, especially the distraction of the cell phone. Are you able to set boundaries to protect yourself from distractions that lower your productivity?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Every person is different. Remote accounting work may be for you, and it may not be. Or it may be that the company you are considering is not sufficiently set up to support remote employees and you need to look elsewhere.
Reach out to other accountants for their feedback and experiences. PSTAP membership gives you access to our large network of accountants who can answer your questions and help you find the right fit.