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Boosting productivity when working from home

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 19 Apr 2021

Working from home was forced on many businesses during lockdown and for some, it looks like it’s here to stay. How can we make the most of this and why does it suit some people better than others? Author and practice owner Della Hudson outlines how businesses can survive and thrive in the new economic landscape.

For some, the current easing of lockdown restrictions has meant a return to the office but for many others, the reality is that home working will continue indefinitely as businesses adapt to the new economic landscape.

There is a real split between businesses or accounting firms that adapted to remote working last March and those that are still struggling. Small, modern businesses have proved themselves much more agile and, as a result, many have gained extra work but, a year on, others have now started to react.

What management styles does it suit best?

Working from home is easier for some people than for others, so managers need to be sensitive to this and to work out practical solutions where possible. 

Hands-off managers who are comfortable delegating will have little problem adapting to remote working. Those who prefer to micromanage may struggle – from a personal perspective, it has been interesting to see the number of accountants who have insisted that work can only be done from the office.

Managers who judge by output and results will find it easier to adapt to managing from a distance than those who insist on tracking hours of input or working fixed hours. Firms that already allowed flexible working (hours and time) will be ahead of others as they are already used to this.

Training new team members is harder at a distance but still possible. It is easier if the newbie is comfortable asking questions but otherwise you can check in with them at prescheduled times. This is also important from a social perspective as they may not know who else to turn to and probably won’t know what they don’t know.

Which individuals does it suit best?

It may seem simplistic to say, but introverts will probably adapt to homeworking more easily than extroverts. They don’t need the same stimuli that extroverts thrive on and may even work better in isolation. 

For extroverts that may be struggling without the social contact with clients or colleagues, many of whom may also be friends, it’s important to maintain a regular dialogue to check in on their wellbeing on top of the pre-scheduled team meetings. Keep in touch with your introverts but realise they may be worn out sooner by yet another Zoom call, even if it is a team-building one.

Homeschooling flexibility

Homeschooling was a major feature of lockdown, and while the majority of children are back in the classroom it may be that parents express a preference to retain flexible or home working in case pupils are sent home again. 

It is easiest to work from home without interruptions. While many parents are homeschooling it may be easier for them to work flexibly so that one parent is free to supervise young children at all times. For single parents, this may mean effectively working a nightshift or reducing their workload and furloughing them for part of their time. You may lose their working hours, but you will have better quality work and access to their expertise for the hours they can work. It will also enable you to retain staff who might otherwise take an enforced career break or move to a more sympathetic employer.

What technology can help?

It is easiest to work from home with the right facilities. Ensure that you and your team have decent laptops, cameras and microphones, as well as a good internet connection. 

If you already operated in the cloud or using a hosted desktop then you have most of what you need to run a fully remote business. If not, now may be the time to consider moving over.

Paperless offices will already have everything stored digitally. If you are still dependent on paper then it may be worth forwarding all mail to an individual or service that can scan all incoming mail (after disinfecting/quarantining, of course). This can then be stored and distributed through a secure system.

Data security and confidentiality are more important for accountants than for many businesses, so it is essential that your team have secure access to the software and data that they need. Check that your procedures reflect remote working and that they are simple to follow so that staff are not tempted to cut corners or work around them. Secure passwords, two-factor authentication and not sharing work devices with family are simple things that can be introduced.

Even accountancy practices set up for remote working prior to the pandemic were probably mainly officed-based and communication would have revolved around casual chats at the desk when handing over work. A proper practice management and workflow system can do the majority of this. The workflows can ensure that jobs are allocated to the right people and that they are flowing through the system without sticking at any stage. Managers can manage the work remotely by checking this system. Documents and messages can also be attached to clients and jobs, replacing that informal verbal message.

Further reading