The future of work is more digital, less physical. This is good news for accountants who don’t see most of their clients in person (unless they absolutely have to); and for those who happily phased out paper-based processes using digital technologies such as cloud-based accounting years ago.
Industry-wide digital transformation across the accounting profession delivered multiple benefits, including:
- time savings by reducing the need for data entry
- richer data from integrations of cloud-based accounting software with other business tools
- improved quality of reporting based on more timely, accurate and detailed data
- increased opportunities to collaborate ‘on the same page’ by sharing business reports with colleagues and clients in the cloud
- more opportunities to provide higher value advisory services.
Given the importance of the work accountants do for clients – especially their growing status as trusted advisers – they’re well placed to help SME clients with a digital reset. And if there’s one positive of the global pandemic, it’s that more SMEs are now much more motivated to embrace digital.
Cloud technologies increase collaboration and productivity
In December 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, business software online marketplace G2 published its 2021 Trends and predictions in collaboration and productivity software. These trends are relevant to businesses large and small.
Though the technologies identified in the report were already emerging before the pandemic, two important trends entered the mainstream as more businesses brought forward their digital transformation plans.
“At the start of lockdown, businesses focused on finding cloud communication software like video conferencing and VoIP [voice-over-internet protocol] solutions,” it said. “By [mid-2020], many businesses were more concerned with refining their remote work strategies, focusing on tools like note-taking management, OKR [objectives and key results] and screen sharing.”
The key business technologies for 2021 and beyond are designed to help people and businesses work better together. They include:
- secure cloud-computing platforms for managing access to data, software and communication tools whether in an office or working remotely, 24/7
- internal (team) and external (client-facing) communication tools, including phone and chat tools linked in the cloud to customer relationship management (CRM) tools; some businesses also use AI-based chatbots on their websites and call-management systems to help direct people to the right person and/or information
- video conferencing and audio-conferencing tools
- screen-sharing tools
- OKR software for setting, communicating, tracking, and measuring goals and results within businesses
- visual collaboration platforms, including digital whiteboards and other note-sharing tools; this includes virtual whiteboards and electronic whiteboards in offices capable of sharing almost real-time information to virtual whiteboards
- meeting-management tools integrated with email and calendar software to help plan and run effective meetings with people joining from multiple locations.
Digital transformation is driving a hybrid working model
International and local research shows this acceleration of digital transformation across businesses large and small is driving a hybrid working model (a combination of in-office and virtual/remote work). And it is here to stay:
- CBD office space vacancies continue to increase in 2020/2021, as many businesses decide they don’t need as much floor space.
- Physical workplaces are being reimagined for activities that benefit most from face-to-face interaction, such as training, collaboration on projects and events that support the business’s culture and identity.
- Despite scepticism among some bosses, employees working from home are not less productive; however, too many check-ins or meetings can eat into their productive time.
- Remote work or work from home is growing in popularity among employees: respondents to surveys by Global Workplace Analytics say working remotely/from home makes them happier (77 per cent); better able to manage work-life balance (77 per cent); less stressed (72 per cent); and just as, if not more productive (75 per cent). Similarly, a Swinburne University report found most workers identified a range of benefits in working from home, including: not having to commute (90 per cent); financial savings (65 per cent); and more social time with family and friends (48 per cent).
The ‘always on’ accountancy business
Many accountancy businesses already have flexible and remote working models. However, increased focus on accountants as trusted advisers brings significant pressures.
“The days of the ‘rear-view mirror’ accountants who only deal with the production of end-of-year accounts and tax returns are over,” notes a May 2020 report from Prism about Digitalising Accountancy.
“In the new digitally connected world, the role of the accountant now needs to be that of the ‘constant – always-on consultant and trusted adviser’ … on current issues which are impacting the bottom line well before the end of the current financial year.”
While it’s unlikely a client will want to contact a specific person in an accountancy business any time of the day or night, they will expect a timely response – if not immediately, then at least within a few hours.
What is more likely is clients will want any-time access to the important business information their accountant manages – securely, in the cloud.
An important question, therefore, is what information should accountants make available through cloud-based technologies so clients can help themselves – and what do they need to explain person-to-person?
Do you need to take a look at your business with fresh eyes? Our specialist team at MYOB are here to help. Click here for further information and business resources.