The remote workforce revolution is catching on, bringing exciting opportunities and unique challenges to the accounting industry. So how can you navigate this new normal and thrive with remote accountants on your team?

Gusto’s goal is to keep you informed of critical trends, so you can stay ahead of the curve and turn obstacles into opportunities. Partnering with our friends at CPA Academy, we delivered a webinar titled “How to Hire, Onboard and Thrive with Remote Accountants,” featuring Jeff Phillips of Accountingfly. You can check out the full webinar here

Named one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People” by Accounting Today, Jeff Phillips is an entrepreneur, accounting industry leader, and recruitment expert. He is the CEO of Padgett Business Services and is the Co-Founder of Accountingfly, a platform for hiring remote accountants. Jeff is an expert on remote recruitment and management and has worked remotely himself for over a decade.

Jeff discussed what’s driving the remote work trend, how it’s an exceptional solution to hiring challenges, and how to best work with remote accountants. 

Getting on board with remote accounting 

According to Jeff, now is the perfect time to create a sustainable remote strategy. While there’s no doubt that most industries have catapulted into remote work, it’s a trend that’s been building momentum for years. Jeff sees this as a golden opportunity:

“I want to build a case for you that remote is going to be a big part of your firm or your career well into this recovery and far beyond. So if you’re dealing with remote work, let’s get good at it. Let’s hire remote people. Let’s onboard remote people. Let’s do well with this new normal because what’s going to happen is a large part of your team will work remotely in the future.”

Jeff Phillips

Jeff pointed out that many CPA firms are apprehensive about making this shift. Most managers don’t know how to hire a remote workforce or how to manage remote accountants. They cite concerns about productivity, connectivity, and team building. But Jeff was quick to point out that with the right strategy and remote work software, it’s an entirely possible endeavor.

Portrait view of female sitting at kitchen table in front of laptop with head phones on

And it’s worth it. Because limiting your firm to local candidates or those willing to relocate comes with costs. These costs will get greater over time.

The war for talent

During economic downturns, you might think top talent would be easy to come by, but Jeff explained that in his experience as a recruitment expert, this simply isn’t true. And he projects that it will get worse. 

He described a compelling, upcoming “war for talent” based on insights from Korn Ferry Consulting’s paper The Future of Work and Gallup’s book “The Coming Jobs War”  According to their insights, the demand for highly skilled workers will exceed the supply by 2030, making it very difficult to hire knowledge economy employees:

“As a global economy, we are producing so many net new knowledge jobs, but we do not have the population to support them. We do not have the growth of education and the growth of training knowledge workers to support them. And that by 2030, there’s going to be 50 million more knowledge worker jobs than there are knowledge workers to fill them in the world.”

Jeff Phillips

Hiring is already tricky for firms that are only open to local candidates. Data from New York State Society chronicles a 25% turnover rate in CPA firms. Jeff reported that he’d seen positions in CPA firms left open and unfilled for 18 months. A post left open for that long is a significant strain on the entire firm, as staff put in additional hours and overtime to compensate. This 

contributes to burnout and low morale, both of which negatively impact a firm and its brand. 

Accountants and auditors had an unemployment rate of 1.8%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jeff shared that this means most accountants are likely employed in your area. So unless you can convince them to leave their current firm for yours, your open position will be next to impossible to fill. Opening it up to the country makes it so much easier and faster, as it often takes just weeks to find a good candidate.

To summarize, Jeff said firms that don’t adapt to the shift to remote risk going under:

“If you don’t have a remote strategy, you can’t win your war for talent, simply put.”

Jeff Phillips

The shift towards remote accounting work

Social changes have disrupted traditional approaches to life and work, driving shifts in values and day-to-day routines.

While most companies have entered  the remote space, changes such as gender equality and a rise in dual-income households have been driving this shift for years. With both parents working and taking care of kids, there’s a much greater need for flexibility and work-life balance. This shift has mainly been observed in millennials:

“Millennials now are the majority of the workforce in accounting. They’re the majority of the workforce at most of the big four, and that’s only going to grow, and they’ve demanded more flexibility. They demand to work when it’s available, and they’re flexible when they work, and they’re flexible where they work.”

Jeff Phillips

These are deep-seated changes. So it’s unlikely that any firm can convince a candidate to work on their terms, according to Jeff. With an abundance of remote jobs becoming available, candidates will simply go elsewhere. And most talented accountants will opt for those more appealing positions.

Female remote worker sitting out side on balcony in front of laptop

In Part Three of this webinar series, we will dive into how you can begin hiring and onboarding remote accountants and employees for your business so you can have the workforce you need to serve your clients. 

The typical remote accountant

If you worked your way up in an office within a traditional firm, you might be wondering why an accountant would choose to be remote. You might picture this employee in their pajamas, missing out on meetings, and disengaged from company culture. These myths just aren’t true.  Jeff explained:

“Telecommuters are 46 years old on average, according to Flex Jobs. So millennials are embracing it, but they’re not the only ones in the remote workspace. 47% of the finance industry—that’s including the finance and accounting industry altogether— … are working from home some of the time and growing rapidly, and now basically at like 90% to 95% levels—that’s according to Gallup.”

Jeff Phillips

In addition, the perception of remote workers as lazy or distracted is extremely outdated. Buffer State of Remote Work research indicates that 94% of remote workers work from home, an office, or a coworking space⁠—not on a tropical beach.

This suggests that most remote accountants aren’t freewheeling digital nomads setting up at any nearest coffee shop, but experienced professionals who demand the work-life balance that their lives require. The acknowledgment of a healthy work-life balance is becoming the standard, so qualified candidates will go for those jobs first.

Hiring remote accountants solves recruiting problems

While Jeff raised several concerns regarding the remote workforce shift, he sees an exceptional solution to the war for talent in the rise of remote workforces. 

Recruiting candidates across the country can quickly bring you the talent you need to outpace your competitors. Positions that were open for 18 months get filled in a matter of weeks. Firms can choose from a number of diverse candidates with different skill sets, giving them a greater chance of finding exactly the right fit. Instead of posting to job boards and hoping for the best, recruiters take back control of the hiring process. And they’re updating their brand image, showing themselves to be progressive and therefore attracting positive press. It’s an all-around win.

To summarize, here are the benefits to hiring remote:

  • Access an entire country of candidates.
  • Fill jobs more quickly.  
  • Prevent staff burnout by more readily filling open positions.
  • Brand your firm as flexible and progressive.
  • Hire permanent or seasonal freelance accountants.

Learn more about the future of remote accounting

With more employees working from home, there’s no better time to develop and refine a remote strategy. Shift to remote is probably going here to stay, and with a coming shortage of qualified workers, that’s a good thing. 

When you limit your firm to local candidates, you miss out on a vast pool of gifted, experienced accountants. Research indicates that CPA firms are already struggling to recruit top talent. By 2030, it may be significantly harder to keep up with competitors for these recruits. By being open to remote workers, you open your firm to accountants across the country, fill positions more quickly, reduce burnout on your team, and show your commitment to progressive workplace values. With the right strategy, it’s a win for everyone.

Check out Jeff Phillips’s full webinar for more insights into remote accounting.  We’ve also captured his wisdom in our posts “Should I Hire a Remote W-2 or Freelancer for My Accounting Firm?” and “Hacks for Hiring and Onboarding Remote Accountants.”

We’d love to partner with your firm! Find out how we can streamline your payroll, onboarding, and HR processes.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
Back to top