January 28, 2021
Round 2 of PPP is here. New Gusto bulk reports let you customize the date range and select clients who are now eligible for additional relief. If you downloaded the PPP report before January 19, 2021, redownload it to ensure you have the latest version, updated with new US Treasury Guidance. Go to the Covid-19 tab in Gusto Pro.
PPP (advisory) 2.0
Last summer, we talked about whether accounting firms should be charging for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) services. At the time, there were a fair number of firms—one-third according to one survey—that were doing this work pro bono. These firms were forgoing short-term revenue gains for long-term social capital. Firms that helped out clients for free would potentially be winning friends and clients for life, and that kind of value isn’t created very often. I understood the argument then, and I understand it now, and I’m sympathetic to the majority of firms that charged for services, too. Either way is fine, and many small businesses got critical advice that allowed them to survive. Still, when PPP closed in August 2020, I have to imagine the pro bono crowd—no matter how good they felt about their choices—were relieved.
Then a funny thing happened on our long way out of the pandemic: MOAR PPP. The latest tranche came to pass late last month, and the accounting profession feels pret-tay pret-tay pret-tay good about it:
“Our profession was on the front line and I’m very proud of how our profession has been on that front line,” said [Barry Melancon, president and CEO of the American Institute of CPAs]. “It’s different than our medical professionals who are on the front line dealing with our health, but they were on the front line dealing with small-business health, being the trusted advisors, helping them find business model changes and transformations to survive, maybe new opportunities to acquire distressed businesses, how to apply and use government assistance programs that were out there, and how to keep employment up.”
Far be it from me to coincide with AICPA brass, but there is only one mention of government assistance programs in that statement, and there’s a good reason for that. PPP will be temporary; the program will close, or the funds will run out, and accountants will still have clients who are struggling. How the firms choose to advise those clients post-PPP is arguably more critical than the advice they give them on PPP.
One lesson of the pandemic that became crystal clear for a lot of people, I think, is that many businesses are fragile and can’t withstand a shock, especially one of magnitude. That’s probably more of a feature of our system than a bug; millions of new businesses joined the fray last year, after all. Which is great! The entrepreneurial spirit is a feature of the system, too. But I think we’d all agree that accountants helping survivors of this crisis become more resilient businesses would make future crises less crisis-y. And that would make for some pretty valuable services that firms can always charge for.
As we all know painfully well by this point, there are a number of annoying things about Zoom calls. I won’t rehash them all here, rather just point out one in particular mentioned in the New York Times that is causing all of us some personal anguish:
[M]illions more Americans communicating completely virtually with their co-workers does not mean our emotional office dynamics have caught up yet to our new videoconference world. Many are feeling a spectrum of new anxieties about their interactions with colleagues.
Employees are asking themselves questions like: Is that Slack message unanswered because I’m getting fired, or because my boss is dealing with remote schooling her kid? Did that joke land flat on that video call because it was a bad joke, or am I falling out of favor?
There’s always been paranoia in office environments. Important emails going unanswered, perceived slights—whether a look or a lack of one—cryptic language, being excluded from a lunch or a happy hour. Basically anything that makes you go, “What does that mean?”
The virtual work environment has intensified this paranoia in no small part because of lack of physical context. We can’t read people’s body language; there’s no feeling, no vibe. Someone could be looking you dead in the eye and wearing the warmest smile during a Zoom call while giving you the finger right below the camera and you’d never know it. Not to mention the fact that everyone is looking straight into your living space and judging whatever happens to be in it. “Atlas Shrugged? Really?”
It’s my personal experience that most workplace paranoia is unfounded. It took three hours for your boss to respond to that email not because you’re getting fired, but because they ate some two-week-old cold cuts. That joke didn’t land because it wasn’t funny, not because everyone hates you. And sure, you might have questionable taste in reading material, but that’s fine as long as you enjoy it.
On the other hand, sometimes work paranoia is practical in a self-preservation-y kind of way, and well-founded, as one subject of the Times story learned:
On a Thursday morning a week after the new project manager started, there was silence on all channels from her colleagues. She was dropped from a meeting without notice — it was just taken off her calendar.
When she finally got an email from her supervisor Friday asking for a meeting at noon that day, she knew that she was getting laid off as part of a restructuring. “I felt paranoid, and everybody I talked to said it was probably paranoid, but I was correct,” she said. “It was actually happening exactly how I thought.”
Yes, paranoia is often irrational, but the worst part of “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some which actually happened,” is that some terrible things actually happen. The silver lining for folks in that situation is that they can put “good business instincts” at the top of her résumé.
Fresh from Gusto
As I mentioned last week, a portion of the On the Margins archive is now online for your reading and sharing pleasure. We’ll continue to add past editions until they’re all available. That is all. About that, anyway. Here’s some other stuff from Gusto:
- IRS Free File, explained by my colleague Anna Goodman.
- My colleague Leah Brite shared the story of Miriam Mueller, a former paralegal who started a remote firm, Happy Bookkeeping.
- My colleague Luke Pardue on how small business workers are going deeper into debt and what can be done about it.
- Is Your Leadership an Asset or a Liability? with Amber Setter on February 15.
Read with Gusto
- Forget everything else and only read Matt Levine on GameStop.
- The Lies We Tell During Job Interviews
- The Enron trial, redux.
- The Dunning-Kruger effect may not be real.
- Cleaning up space junk.
Want more On the Margins? Check out past editions in our archive.