For better or worse, the pandemic has disrupted the accounting industry forever. Dave Francis, General Manager of APS, has witnessed enormous changes industry wide.

One of the most significant has been a distinct shift in where work is done.

Since the onset of COVID-19, adopting new working patterns has been a necessity for many firms. While some pandemic-borne trends are fleeting; hybrid and remote work models are here to stay. Keep this front of mind when investing in business technology.

“COVID immediately accelerated working in places other than offices,” explains Dave. “As a result, demand for digital technologies that support remote collaboration has exploded.”

Dave sat down to chat with Alex (writer at Reckon) to distill the perks and perils of hybrid and remote work for Australian accounting firms.

Why do you think some accounting practices embrace remote work more than others?

Current research suggests that flexible work patterns benefit both employees and employers. Yet some businesses yearn for a return to pre-COVID ‘normality’.

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella notes that navigating flexible work will be “the challenge of the decade” for businesses and staff.

Aficionados argue that completing large volumes of tasks is easier working from home. But for many businesses (even accounting practices) productivity is only one measure of success.

Those who champion traditional working patterns might see office culture, work friendships, and team spirit forged in person as cornerstones of creative thinking, and therefore fundamental to innovation.

Weighing in on the conundrum, Satya says remote work improves productivity but hinders creativity.

How do business leaders navigate the remote work productivity paradox?
Start by acknowledging the tension between creativity and productivity in modern workplaces.

Ask yourself two important questions. First, ‘what’s the Goldilocks zone of when, where, and how my staff and I work’ and second, ‘how do I optimise short-term productivity, and long-term success for my team?’

What are the upsides of moving your practice online?

For many practices, the sheer cost savings in shifting online are undeniable. Since COVID-19, business travel has dwindled. Real-life corporate gatherings have also been few and far between.

By and large, the pandemic has also reduced office-costs for firms. While this has resulted in a lot of empty office spaces, the decline is arguably offset by happier and more productive staff.

How do firms best protect their digital workspaces from cybersecurity threats?

A lot of accountants I speak with feel under-prepared when it comes to cyber threats. As custodians of sensitive and valuable data, accountants are often targeted by cybercriminals.

Like other savvy entrepreneurs, these nefarious villains capitalise on new operating systems, and not surprisingly, such activity has spiked during the pandemic. Worldwide, the impact is set to surge even further, hitting US $10.5 trillion by 2025.

It’s an opportune time to put solid cybersecurity measures in place that support remote work. Indeed, digital solutions–with outstanding credentials–have advanced rapidly as of late, making implementation easier than ever.

But even with the latest firewalls, anti-virus, and network monitoring technology, your people are your biggest security risks, and educating them on cyber safety is vital.

Day to day, I stress that a little investment in cybersecurity training may prove critical when you least expect it. There are many online learning tools which you can deploy to help with this.

How might worldwide skills shortages impact the accounting industry?

It’s no secret. Key staff are harder to find and keep than ever.

Closed borders and restricted travel have magnified skills shortages across many industries, while staff turnover has reached historically high levels worldwide.

But for many accountants, the struggle to secure qualified staff has been eternal, and talent shortages were palpable industry-wide, well before the pandemic.

Despite skills shortages, our industry has been particularly busy during the pandemic. In 2021, Commonwealth Bank reported 83% of accounting firms were planning to grow their headcount. Yet the same practice leaders said finding and keeping quality staff were their biggest challenges.

The conversations I’ve been having with mid-to large size firms suggest skills shortages have continued through 2022. Although most accounting firms are actively trying to hire staff, the current supply versus demand means many won’t hit growth targets. In some cases, they may not even maintain their headcounts.

How can firms attract (and keep) staff through The Great Resignation?

A 2021 Microsoft study revealed that 40% of staff are considering a move in the next 12 months. But as a business leader I’m more interested in why 60% of staff were not intending to move.

Key factors include strong benefits packages, support from leaders, career development, and offering flexible work. If you can offer these things, you’re about as resilient as you can be in a climate of major change.

*Absorbing the learnings from working with some of Australia’s top accounting firms, Dave Francis presented ‘smarter ways to run your practice in 2022’ at ABExpo. It was the first industry in-person tradeshow we’ve attended in a long time!