As you look forward to reopening your CPA office and employees returning physically back to work, what does the new office experience amidst a pandemic look like? We are already seeing some firms return to the office, but what guidelines or procedures need to be considered before reopening to that environment?
In this episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast, “Return to work considerations”, Paul Miller, CPA from Business by Design, Bill Chase, Vice President of Human Resources at Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting, and I discuss the factors to consider before reopening your firm amidst COVID-19.
Respond, resilience, return, and reimagine
We need to get the economy working. Millions of Americans are unemployed, and we need to find a solution for the economic hit during the pandemic shut down. However, we also need to work as a country to continue to flatten the curve. In the new world of coronavirus, we must take in both health safety and monetary considerations.
“I think a balanced approach should be the top consideration for all of us as we think about returning to work,” notes Bill. “Some of the best practices out there have been: respond, resilience, return, and reimagine.”
While how you respond depends on where you live and your state health officials’ policies, we need to also respond to our employees’ and clients’ needs. Our clients’ tax needs have changed, and as advisors we responded to that change in order to support them. But many of our own employees are going through some of the toughest times of their lives. Are you providing the right tools and resources to help them focus on resilience?
“My viewpoint is when I create a great employee experience and I take care of my employees, they are going to be dedicated to taking care of our customers, and when our customers are taken care of, then our shareholders win,” adds Bill. “When you think about coming back to the office, the consideration needs to be about health, kindness and safety.”
Kindness is key to reopening your CPA office
At his firm, Paul Miller found that everybody has a diverse opinion on the current state of the pandemic.This can make it difficult for some to come to a consensus of how to move forward with reopening your CPA office.
“We are all approaching this crisis slightly differently. For every household who has been identified as high risk, there is one that hasn’t,” says Bill. “I think we need to really be aware that for the first time in our lives, it is just so evident that we’re not all on the same page with regards to how to act. And I’d just say be kind. You don’t know what the other person is going through, so be kind.”
That kindness is about understanding different opinions and perspectives, why guidelines are in place, why somebody would want to wear a mask, why there is social distancing, etc. Respect a person’s choice, regardless of your personal beliefs.
“I also think this is going to come down to how successful you are at working from home. Some industries are stating that they are seeing an increase in productivity from employees in the work-from-home environment. Taking those factors into consideration, in addition to kindness and following local guidelines, is critical.”
Take your clients into consideration when returning to your CPA office
The reality is that COVID-19 is probably going to be around for a long time, and we need to learn how to live within the confines of that. Returning to your CPA firm is going to change, and that change could be permanent. It is best to plan reopening your CPA office with that mindset, not only for your personal firm offices, but also for your client interactions.
Your choice to reopen your office may not necessarily match what your clients are doing.
“Kindness needs to extend to our clients,” says Bill. “We need to understand where they are coming from. How do they want to do business with us? How do you create that safe environment for them in addition to your own staff?”
It is important to create transparency with clients. Assumptions that our clients are on the same page can riddle that relationship.
“Make sure we’re clear. Make sure we understand what our clients’ needs are, what our employees’ needs are, and how we manage through that,” adds Bill. “It’s going to be different but not necessarily less productive. Not necessarily worse than before.”
You have the right to change the guidelines
There has been a lot of information around return to work policies. It’s important to step back and realize that this should be a collaborative effort.
“We are simply trying to create a list of things that will be what we’re going to do on a regular basis,” notes Paul. “As more information is available, then you have the right to change that. I don’t think anyone has a dialed-in policy because everybody is going to be different, and you have the right to change when new information is available. I think keeping that in mind is important.”
“We are all in this together, and it only works if we do it together,” says Bill. “Be willing to change it with data. I think if you do that, you and your firm will stay in a healthy place mentally and be able to respond quickly to the changing environment.”
If we are not finding a way to communicate, we are going to risk our talent being frustrated or our clients going elsewhere. If we are not compassionate in how we move forward, that will be a lasting memory for our clients. We aren’t evolving.
“The number one question that I’m getting in town halls is ‘will I be forced to return to the office before I feel safe’,” adds Bill. “As a firm owner, that is a really important question to ask yourself. If you approach this as a collaborative agreement on what is acceptable, and you decide that some can stay remote and some can’t, I think you’ll get through this a lot better than just creating edicts or policies.”
Listen to the “Return to work considerations” episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast on your preferred platform (Google Play, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher) or here.