April 14, 2020

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Programming note

Remember last week when I said that On the Margins would skip its off-week and appear this week? As my 4-year-old likes to say, “TOLD YA.”

So now you won’t see this newsletter again for two weeks. Basically, On the Margins is celebrating the end of tax season without all the months of long nights and takeout. 

OTM will return in the first week of May to resume its regularly scheduled every-other-week programming.

And now, the newsletter.

RTO bribes

We’ve discussed working from home a lot over the last couple of years. Things have run the spectrum from the Pollyannaish early days to WFH paranoia to WFH losing all concept of time and space. We’ve seen accountants swinging from enlightenment to disillusionment; to deja vu to various forms of dress and undress.

It’s been a good run, and now things seem to be thawing out for real this time, so WFH is giving way to… RTO, aka return to office. For some folks, though, there is no RTO; they’re WFH FOEVAH. And it’s understandable. Working from home has provided badly needed flexibility and autonomy to many workers, and many employers are willing to oblige them. If their current employer pushes RTO too hard, workers are finding new employers that won’t. 

So that’s why many employers—often those embracing fully remote workers, oddly enough—are gently nudging their people back toward the office. And by nudging, I mean bribery and seduction:

When Google employees returned to their mostly empty offices this month, they were told to relax. Office time should be “not only productive but also fun.” Explore the place a little. Don’t book back-to-back meetings.

Also, don’t forget to attend the private show by Lizzo, one of the hottest pop stars in the country. If that’s not enough, the company is also planning “pop-up events” that will feature “every Googler’s favorite duo: food and swag.”

I don’t know anyone who will say no to Lizzo or food or swag. One of those things will hit the sweet spot for virtually everyone who’s otherwise not interested in setting foot in the office. 

But this is Google. Lavishly absurd incentives are part of the deal. I have no idea what it costs to book Lizzo, but it’s a lot, and Google could still probably afford to have her appear daily for ten years and not break a sweat. Is this where we’re headed? Will tech companies start having house bands? Will artists start having residencies at 1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy and 1 Infinite Loop instead of Las Vegas?  

Anyway. The point is, regular businesses can’t do this. They don’t have endless pits of money to convince people that coming into the office is what they really want to do. As one economist told the New York Times, employees see right through that sh*t:

[Stanford economics professor Nick Bloom] said companies should focus on developing the right approach to hybrid work instead of wasting time and effort on showering employees with inducements like private concerts.

“Employees aren’t going to come in regularly just for the frills,” Mr. Bloom said. “What are you going to do next? Get Justin Bieber and then Katy Perry?”

In other words, gimmicks will only work for so long, even at places like Google.

Employers have to give people a good reason to return to the office regularly, and the most likely reason will be… other people and the culture they create. But how do employers do that? That’s the tricky part. Plenty of businesses don’t do it well, including many accounting firms. This is where there is still work to be done, and as I’ve mentioned in this newsletter and elsewhere, employers want accountants’ help, and accountants can help.

If they don’t, you can expect many employers to continue trying all kinds of gambits, both old and new:  

To make its work spaces feel more like home, the company moved desks to the perimeter, allowing Clions — what [Clio] calls its employees — to gaze out at the office complex’s cherry blossoms while banging out emails. A foosball table was upgraded to a workstation with chairs on either end, “so you could have a meeting while playing foosball with your laptop on it,” said Natalie Archibald, Clio’s vice president of people.

Will someone let the Clions know that no one will sit in traffic for two hours a day so they can have a meeting while playing foosball?

April 15, redux

Last year around this time, I wondered aloud about accounting firms giving up on April 15. Judging by the chatter on #TaxTwitter or the latest roundup of kvetching on Accounting Today, few people took my advice. My hunch is they missed the rush of cramming a year’s worth of work into the first three and a half months instead of the first four and a half in 2021 and the first six and a half in 2020.

NEVERTHELESS. While it’s not realistic for many firms to quit tax preparation cold turkey, I still stand by the idea that if April 15 was less of a focal point for more accounting firms, those firms could perform better, and they would have happier employees. I said it recently: There’s a certain amount of fatalism to the accounting profession, and I’m not sure it’s a badge of honor or a cry for help.

Happy April 15… um, 18, everyone.

Me, elsewhere

If you find yourself missing this newsletter over the next couple of weeks, the best I can do is to point you to my podcast, Oh My Fraud. Greg Kyte and I have unpacked some interesting stuff, and we have some laughs while we’re doing it.

The best part: If you listen on Earmark, you get free CPE. Consider it my post-tax season gift to you.

Fresh from Gusto (and friends)

Do you have clients affected by the sunset of Intuit Online Payroll (IOP)? Through May 31, Gusto accountant partners are eligible for payouts of up to $400 per new client for switching their IOP clients to Gusto. Terms and conditions apply. (Not a Gusto Partner? Join today.)


Grow Your Firm While Ignoring the Accounting Talent Shortage with Jaclyn Anku and Josh Lance on April 27.

Upcoming webinars on CPA Academy:

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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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