Accountants Are Cool With WFH Now

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
remote work

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WFH: Accountants…got this?

Accounting Today has some interesting results from a recent survey:

Two-thirds of accounting firm leaders reported a drop in staff productivity during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study, but they’re still committed to allowing employees to work from home even after they reopen their offices.

The study, conducted by Accounting Today’s parent company, Arizent, surveyed accountants at firms of all sizes across the U.S., as well as leaders from a range of financial services and professional services companies, including banks, credit unions, financial planners, insurance brokers, and mortgage brokers.

How committed? More committed than those other businesses, apparently:

Overall, 82 percent of accounting firms were “very” or “somewhat” likely to allow employees to work remotely even after the pandemic, compared to 73 percent of businesses in the broader survey.

This is a limited sample, obviously, but it’s still a surprising result: 80–90% of accounting firms are open to letting employees work from home going forward. For years, firms resisted the idea of a virtual, decentralized workforce, and then when the day came that most of them just had no choice but to do it…they just did it. Sure, there was some lost productivity, but lots of people’s attitudes seem to be: “We’re going to have to do this, so we’ll figure it out.” You’d be hard pressed to find any business that hasn’t lost productivity in the last four months. Accountants, for their part, have realized that productivity knows no one environment, that professionals remain professional even when they’re working sans pants.

I’ve been in and around accounting for a while, and I’m pleasantly surprised by this. I’ve received several emails from folks proud of the fact that they were virtual/remote years ago, and that is commendable. But what I’m intrigued by is how easily the firms that resisted change came around to it.

It lends further credibility to a counterintuitive hypothesis from my pal Greg Kyte, which is: Accountants are GREAT at change, especially change that is foisted upon them with very little notice. New tax laws, indecipherable accounting rules, and, apparently, global pandemics that force countless businesses to close and everyone into their homes—it does not matter; accountants will roll with it. Congratulations, everyone.

The modern workplace

Many of us are still working from home, but for those returning to offices, the Wall Street Journal reports that there’s a new social minefield to navigate:

As lockdowns lift, employees returning to the workplace—as well as those who never left—are clashing over different views of the pandemic. Some say their colleagues aren’t taking it seriously; others say their co-workers are going too far to stay safe.

Nose-out mask wearers, close talkers, and hyper-disinfectors are the new office pests, but people are doing their best to adjust. Still, then there’s the risk of insulting someone:

Some workers say the best solution is steering clear of colleagues with whom they disagree. Warehouse worker Tom Whaley of Northfield, N.J., tries to stay at least 6 feet away from his colleagues at all times. “If they walk too close, you take a couple steps back and talk louder,” he said. “I try to do it subtly because people get weirdly offended.”

There you have it, folks. The irony of trying not to offend people who may get you sick is where we are in the modern workspace. It’s like trying not to hurt the feelings of an elderly relative whose driving threatens your life:

“Grandpa nearly drove us headlong into a tree. Why didn’t you say something?

“I didn’t want to be rude. He’s very sensitive about his driving.”

There seems to be a simple solution to this problem: POSTERS. Yes, pull down all the inspirational posters and replace them with coronavirus inspiration ones. There’s already plenty of old wartime posters remixed for COVID, so that seems like a decent place to start. Plus, the vintage art will be nice to look at through all the plexiglass. 

What I’m into this week

When I started this section of On the Margins, I somewhat expected unsolicited suggestions of music or movies or series or books or articles or whatever to start dropping into my inbox. It’s only been a couple of weeks, and so far, no one has written an email that begins with, “OH, YOU’VE GOT TO WATCH/READ/LISTEN TO [THING]. IT’S AMAZING.” And, I’m relieved.

It’s not that I don’t want your suggestions for things to watch or read or listen to, it’s just that the state of the internet is such that there’s simply too much stuff to get to. I’ve stopped saying, “Oh, I’ve got to watch that,” because frankly, I don’t. Season 2 of Westworld? Nah, I’m good. Upload? Meh. Love Is Blind? DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH. I’m just not that interested.

I find enough to do without getting people’s recommendations on top of it. So I’m just sharing things that may be obscure or easily overlooked. Maybe it’ll spice things up for you, or maybe you’ll hate it. It’s only one thing a week, so none of us should get too worked up about it.

Anyway, this week I’m into something that’s not obscure or overlooked. Netflix has distributed a reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, and that’s exactly what we all need right now: real life stories that are disturbing, confusing, completely unexplained, and have nothing to do with coronavirus.

Unsolved Mysteries originally ran from 1987 to 2010 on various networks, but the NBC series that ran from ‘87 to ‘97—especially the episodes from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s—are what stick in my memory. The eerie theme music. Robert Stack’s commanding narration. And why was he always shrouded in smoke? And wearing a trench coat? There was an early episode about ghosts that one of my childhood friends made me watch when I was 10 or 11. Every bump, creak, and shadow in my childhood home had me terrified. I don’t think I slept for a week.

The Netflix version has six sufficiently spooky episodes. Unfortunately, Netflix couldn’t or wouldn’t pay Robert Stack to come back from the dead to host it, but his image lurking in the background at the end of the title sequence is enough for me and should satisfy fans of the old show, too. 

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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