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WFH: History, repeated

The story of working from home during this pandemic has more or less gone like this:

Phase 1: Employees are like, “This is great! Who knew?” Employers are like, “They’re working even more. This is great! Who knew?”

Phase 2: Employees are like, “Maybe it’d be a good idea if I actually took a shower and put on regular clothes.” Employers are like, “What if everyone just worked from home forever? Think of the money we’d save on rent.”

Phase 3: Employees are like, “I hate Zoom. Or do I just hate looking at my face? My co-workers must hate looking at it, too. Ugh, I’m skipping this meeting…and the rest of the day.” Employers are like, “Are people working when we can’t see them? Should we start monitoring everyone?”

For many people, this boom and bust of WFH might seem novel, but for some of the more vintage among us, this is just history repeating itself:

Richard Laermer has some advice for all the companies rushing pell-mell into this remote future: Don’t be an idiot.

A few years ago, Mr. Laermer let the employees of RLM Public Relations work from home on Fridays. This small step toward telecommuting proved a disaster, he said. He often couldn’t find people when he needed them. Projects languished.

“Every weekend became a three-day holiday,” he said. “I found that people work so much better when they’re all in the same physical space.”

Fun fact
: In 1989, management idol Peter Drucker said, “[C]ommuting to office work is obsolete.” 1989! So we’ve been here before. OK, maybe not global-pandemic-everyone-stuck-at-home-please-stay-productive here, rather the gushing enthusiasm for WFH here.

But I don’t know how that enthusiasm holds this time around. This isn’t a WFH revolution by choice. We’re all plunking away at our laptops in our pajamas under duress. And, maybe you’ve noticed, some people are itching to get out, pandemic be damned. Thankfully, most folks are sitting tight and will fight through their cabin office fever until it’s truly safe to return to the workplace.

When COVID vaccines do hit the market, though, I imagine people running into the office, mask-free, high-fiving every person they encounter, and licking doorknobs to celebrate. People might even bring sleeping bags in so they can immerse themselves in a non-home-office again, waking up to fluorescent lighting.

So, yes, this WFH era will also come to an end. And it will be weird, and it won’t be a moment too soon.

Post-PPP plans

The Paycheck Protection Program is on its way to being extended, and that’s good news for accountants who have been advising clients on the program. Small businesses have needed assistance applying for the loans, determining how much to borrow, and navigating their eligibility for forgiveness. Accountants have been instrumental in helping businesses do those things.

The extension is also good news because it gives accounting firms eight more weeks to figure out what they’re going to do once the ride on the PPP gravy train comes to an end:

While a subset of firms is launching new services (mostly related to PPP) or enhancing existing services, some are taking a wait-and-see mentality here as well. The critical task for firms looking to grow is how to pivot from PPP and other compliance work toward more long-term advisory services.

I don’t know about you, but the last several months for me have been dictated by triage. That is, I do the thing that needs to get done immediately, and then I do the next thing that’s needed immediately, and so on and so forth. I have to believe that for many accounting firms, the experience has been similar. The March 15 deadline arrived, and people were working toward April 15. Then the April 15 deadline got moved to July 15, but the initial PPP bumrush kept everyone occupied, and now it’s almost July 15, and the PPP is…still…going…

But it will end eventually. And what firms choose to do next will be pretty important. Because nothing is going back to the way it was. Except maybe the April 15 deadline.

What I’m into this week

There are days in this pandemic when I feel like I’ve watched everything worth watching, read everything worth reading, or listened to everything worth listening to. And then I stumble onto something new, lock into it, and it’s the BEST. Even if you’re late to the party, you’re never late to the party.

Anyway, I figure I can share a few of these things with you in case you’re feeling stuck in the same internet routine week after week.

Earlier this week, I came across a tribute to Miles Davis from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and I’ve been listening to the other full concerts on their YouTube channel non-stop ever since. It is impossible to listen to this music and not be in a good mood.

So if you’re thinking of going to a large BBQ gathering this weekend, I recommend staying home and listening to as much JLCO as you can instead. I know, I know, there’s nothing more quintessentially American than a July 4th BBQ…except jazz music.

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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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