Why it’s time to make home working sustainable for accounting professionals

Accounting professionals have managed the initial transition to home working. Colin McArdle, Tikit’s Senior Account Director for EMEA Legal Services, now argues that it’s time to make home working truly practical and sustainable for them, which is why a cloud-based DMS has become essential.

So, the vast majority of accounting professionals are now working from home. They’ve absorbed the initial shock of the move, made all the necessary adjustments – physical and emotional, and have now settled into some kind of routine. Having proved that home working is viable, the question becomes: “For how much longer?” And then the next question will likely be: “Is it sustainable?”

Of course, no one really knows how much longer. It’s contingent on unknown factors such as when or if an effective vaccine or treatment will become widely available, and if COVID-19 remains virulent. Governments everywhere are easing their lockdowns. But no one can depend on that following a linear path.

As well, employers have a duty of care. Where staff are able to work from home, many employers will feel it’s safer not to compel them to return to the office – social distancing and additional hygiene measures notwithstanding – and many employees will agree.

Meanwhile, employers will have begun evaluating the pros and cons of never going back to the office. Many businesses may well conclude that – at the very least – providing 100 percent of the headcount with a physical desk in a physical office no longer makes economic sense. One way or another, therefore, many accounting professionals will be working from home for the long-haul. So yes, we now need to think about making it sustainable.

The long term

What is “sustainable”? In this context, it’s a mode of operation that can be sustained over the long term. There are different facets to that. One is economic. Organizations need to understand the impact that being home-based is having on the productivity of accounting professionals. Even in a global pandemic, accountants still need to be earning their keep.

Another facet is to do with morale. It may be that cumbersome work-rounds are just about bearable in the short term. But if they have too much impact on morale and mental health over the longer term then that’s not sustainable either.

At this challenging time, then, I’d argue that one of the key tools with which we can make working from home truly sustainable for accounting professionals is the provision of a cloud-based document management system (DMS). The critical benefit being that it provides anytime, anywhere, any device access to the documents that they use throughout their working day.

The right web-based DMS also organizes all the documents it stores in workplaces or project files and provides for sophisticated searching, so that any given document is found quickly and efficiently. Users can share and collaborate on files and projects, irrespective of their individual locations; and external parties, such as clients, can also be given access – so they too can look at and edit documents. All of these capabilities have a substantial impact on how efficiently and happily accountants can work remotely.

Productivity is further enhanced when accountants use a system that stores emails alongside documents in the DMS, since emails now make up around 60 – 70 percent of the work product accounting professionals deal with, and that proportion is likely higher now that everyone is working remotely.

In addition, the right system enables predictive email filing straight from Outlook into the DMS. Using machine learning it predicts into which workspace any given email should be filed based on previous activity. Users just confirm the prediction with one click and move on; and colleagues can also see when an email has already been filed.

The ease of this means that emails are filed in a consistent, accurate and timely way. It’s a great help to productivity because accountants can be confident of finding emails in the right DMS workspace all the time without searching in Outlook. It’s particularly valuable when an accountant leaves the firm as historically a lot of emails fall into a black, irretrievable hole when that happens because IT has set up mailbox deletion rules as part of information governance. Simple on-going email filing prevents that from being a big problem.

Remote security

It’s important to add that the right DMS also ensures information security while accountants are working remotely. This is a critical consideration because cybercrime hasn’t gone away. The web-based DMS I work with uses military grade encryption and has never been breached in its twenty-year history. But, of course that only takes care of malignant cyberattacks by external parties.

We know that a high proportion of data breaches are the result of insiders who are naïve about security, or careless, or malicious. To tackle this potential area of weakness, the right DMS can deploy Data Loss Prevention protocols. Once set up, these ensure that even individuals with access to a given document, workspace, engagement or project file are limited by the system from, for instance, sending to a personal email address, copying or downloading documents. Permissions are set up when the system is configured. The firm can decide how they’re applied by level and role. For added security, every document also has its own audit trail which captures what’s done, by whom and when, so as to ensure that all of your client and business files are secure.

In summary, the right DMS can safeguard the integrity of data, and can affect a step change in the sustainability of accounting professionals working from home, at a time when both those factors have never been so important.

About Tikit and NetDocuments

Tikit is a world‐leader in technology solutions for professional services firms. We specialise in end‐to‐end solutions that help firms be better connected and more efficient. Tikit partners with NetDocuments to supply the market’s leading cloud‐based document and email management solution.

To learn more about NetDocuments and its capabilities, join our webinar, ‘Store. Search. Share. Secure.’ on Tuesday 7th July at 3pm (BST). Register here

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Content Management for Accountancy Firms