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Accounting

How top firms are using technology to optimize staff productivity

Technology has become an indispensable part of modern business by automating mundane tasks, increasing efficiency, and reducing costs. However, technical tools can’t solve everything and should be viewed as a complement to – rather than a substitute for – the human element.

In this episode of Pulse of Practice, “Do I have to choose between tools and staffing?”, I’m joined once again by Paul Miller, CPA from Business by Design, to talk about how best to use tools in a way that optimizes staff productivity.

Recognizing the indispensable contribution of human input

Despite what all those sci-fi films promised us, robots haven’t replaced the human race just yet. However, automation with software is becoming increasingly effective at reducing our daily workload and freeing up our time. Rather than seeing this as a replacement for human input, it’s an opportunity for staff to focus on more complex matters that can’t be—and, indeed, shouldn’t be—automated.

In the past, employers have noticed how the ‘copy and paste’ nature of some accounting tasks has rendered employees robotically minded, unable to apply critical or innovative thinking, “There’s a place for a copy and paste as a starting point, but you have to step back a little and use some kind of other logical thinking, or something else has to come with it,” Paul explains, lamenting on the robotic work ethic of past employees.

By delegating mundane tasks to technology, you may find your workforce is more motivated to put forward ideas for further development and innovation. Ask your employees, “What if you had zero data entry to do in payroll or bookkeeping and you had that 10 hours a week to do something else to help our customers? How would you spend that time?” You may be pleasantly surprised by the answers.

The importance of prioritizing people over tools

As tools become more prevalent in the workplace, it’s important to recognize the staffing challenges that will arise and focus on guidance and training to combat them. It’s vital that staff become a part of the data development and delivery process rather than just the ‘people that run the tools.’ From a retention perspective, staff can benefit by learning new ways to communicate output to the client and provide essential human context.

It’s important to explore what the client’s goals are and how you can use the tools at your disposal to help them achieve those goals. As Paul notes, “We need staff that are more premium thinkers to work on premium items, not the duplication or things that are highly duplicatable.” Sometimes you need to pull staff off the redundant tasks that they’re currently doing to find out who is good at what and where they can be best utilized.

Embracing technology as a means to reduce workload

As technology continues to drive evolution in the workplace, people are beginning to recognize the absurdity of unnecessarily long working weeks. If technology can reduce the amount of time we spend in the office without sacrificing productivity, then that’s a win for everybody.

This kind of ‘reimagining’ has been on Paul’s mind lately, as he feels embracing this level of change is going to be a key factor that determines the future success of a business. “I just think we’ve got to reimagine what we’re doing,” Paul says. “Do you think that’s going to change? Are you going to have more people lined up to say: Sign me up for the 80-hour workweek?”

It may have seemed a radical philosophy only five years ago, but as Paul points out, it doesn’t necessarily mean radical change. It simply means approaching the issue with an open mind, a fresh set of eyes, and a focus on how this new strategy can actually bring more value to clients.

Focus on the end product, not the route to achieve it

Whether you are using technical tools or the talents of your staff, what matters most, in the end, is the quality of your product and how well you serve the customer. Rather than focus on what’s more important—technology or staff—look at how you can combine the two in a way that achieves the best results for you, your team, and the client.

As I discussed with Paul in the podcast, we must find where people’s passions lie and how these line up with their skill sets. Then, we can use technology to free up their time so they can focus on making the biggest difference in the most effective way they can.

“What are you trying to achieve? And then how do we use the skills that our people have and their passions to put focus there? And then technology to help make it efficient and to free up capacity to go execute those things. So it really shouldn’t be an either/or,” Paul concludes.

Listen to the full “Do I have to choose between tools and staffing?” episode of Pulse of the Practice on your preferred platform (Apple, Spotify, Stitcher) or here. Ready to start your advisory journey? Check out Practice Forward.

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