A hybrid tax office could be the ideal solution for the modern accounting landscape, especially as firms struggle to adapt to industrywide staffing shortages. The “modified hybrid office” or “hybrid workplace” model is a mix of remote and on-site work, which supports a more distributed workforce.

As of March 2022, many tax practices that implemented remote work during the pandemic have made at least a partial return to the traditional office. However, the need for flexibility remains vital. Accounting industry trends like working in the cloud and automating processes are becoming norms. 

Nearly two-thirds of accountants plan to adopt some form of cloud computing technology over the next two years … and a third of them are expecting to do so within the next 12 months. 

Accounting Today, February 2022, citing a recent CaseWare International survey of more than 3,000 accounting professionals

Adopting remote accounting solutions is more than just a cost-effective measure to minimize your office space and supplies. With the right technology in place, you can:  

  • Offer your staff remote and hybrid work options  
  • Increase engagement and productivity  
  • Gain a competitive edge in hiring and retention  

Here’s our case for why hybrid work is the future of tax prep, and how your firm can get on board. 

Why should my tax office go hybrid? (4 Benefits to consider)

Office-based traditions are so deeply ingrained in the accounting industry that it’s difficult for some veterans to imagine an alternative. Younger tax professionals, on the other hand, are not as attached to workplace customs, and their behaviors signal future trends. Many job seekers’ expectations have shifted in favor of flexible work environments and a better work-life balance.

The best way to meet evolving staff expectations is to start new traditions. These are some of the benefits that you and your team could experience from a hybrid tax office: 

4. Increase staff engagement and productivity

Some managers assume that working from home is detrimental to engagement and productivity. Most surveys contradict this assumption, including a January 2021 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)

PwC surveyed 133 U.S. executives and 1,200 U.S. office workers in November and December of 2020. In that survey, both employers and employees expressed productivity gains from remote work. Compared to their pre-COVID-19 work structure, 34% of employees and 52% of employers said they were more productive working remotely. “Productivity improved over prolonged work-from-home period,” according to the survey.  

And there are more positive signs for remote work as “engagement is highest for those who are hybrid or fully remote,” according to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace report. But it’s also worth noting that older 2019 Gallup Panel data showed that accountants “still experienced increased burnout.” Although there’s potential for remote/hybrid work to increase productivity, workload compression is still a distinct challenge for certain roles. 

3. Reduce staff burnout

The average commute time in the U.S. is 27.6 minutes each way, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Making that trip five days a week, twice a day, doesn’t just eat up precious time—it’s also tiring.

Remote work allows people to plan better, limit distractions, and work smarter. This balanced work approach gives people more time back in their day. In an industry known for the toll tax season takes on wellbeing, the gift of time is invaluable. Maybe your staff will use that time to see family and friends? Finish reading a book? Start a new hobby? Extra time and control of their environment empowers your employees to take charge of their own stress management. The decreased stress puts your firm in a better position to conquer busy season and avoid burnout.

2. Improve staff satisfaction and retention

The effects of remote work on stress are not just conjecture. A peer-reviewed study from Frontiers in Psychology determined that remote work decreases psychological and physical stress responses. Tax preparation can be grueling during peak season, which is partly why the labor pool is so scarce. Fewer people are entering the profession at a cultural moment when work-life balance has taken priority. This scarcity has made retention more important than ever. Happier employees are more likely to be satisfied with their position and continue working at their firm. 

But aren’t some employees happier in the office? It’s true that everyone is different. Many firms are seeing success by allowing individual employees to determine their own balance of WFH and office days. Accenture’s Future of Work Study 2021 of more than 9,000 workers around the world found that “83% of workers say a hybrid model would be optimal.” What does your staff think? Survey their preferences and create a plan to offer flexibility.

1. Get the best talent from a bigger talent pool

Labor shortages have put an enormous burden on the tax and accounting industry. Unfortunately, qualified employees are becoming increasingly difficult to find in some locations more than others. With a modified hybrid tax office, you can expand your hiring search from the commuting radius of your local office to the larger region—or even the entire country.

More than a third (35%) of finance and accounting leaders polled by Robert Half said they had expanded their hiring search geographically to find the candidates they need.

CPA Practice Advisor, February 2022

Casting a wider net not only addresses candidate scarcity, but gives you a more talented pool of tax professionals to interview. You’re also more likely to attract candidates because more people are searching exclusively for remote work. “New research from CareerBuilder found that jobs allowing employees to work from home full or part-time saw seven times more applications than in-person roles last month,” according to a March 2022 CNBC article. Maybe it’s time to expand your hiring search? Your next star hire might be a few counties over.

What about security at a modified hybrid tax office?

There’s a good reason why the tax industry is more hesitant than others to embrace the hybrid office. Taxpayer data is sensitive and requires secure transmission. There’s no reason why this should stop you, but it’s essential to choose technology designed for sensitive information.

A trustworthy cloud-based tax preparation solution should use industry-standard 4096-bit Secure Socket Layer encryption—the same encryption used by banks to secure online transactions. Look for other green flags like independent audits and SOC certification. Wherever your team is working, they can stay connected and keep client data safe.

Learn about SurePrep’s security protocols.

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Remote accounting solutions to facilitate your 1040 workflow

Before 2020, there were concerns surrounding the practicality of working from home. When the world was forced to adapt, remote-friendly software and solutions were given their chance to shine. Here are the solutions that remote and hybrid tax offices are using to facilitate their workflows.

Communication solutions

Stopping by someone’s cubicle is more casual and convenient than email. To keep communication flowing in a hybrid environment, you’ll need a digital substitute. Microsoft Teams and Slack are popular business communication platforms that enable workspace chats, video conferencing, and file storage. Quick access to text chats or video calls emulates the accessibility of in-office interaction. Your team can host group meetings, send private messages, and create specific channels for discussion threads and file sharing.

Leverage these platforms to strengthen your company culture in a remote setting. Consider hosting game nights or lunch hours via videoconference, so co-workers can still bond and have fun.

Project management solutions

In a remote environment, a centralized hub to track tasks and assignments is essential. There are many web-based applications designed to help teams organize, assign, and track their work. A few popular names include:  

  • Asana  
  • Basecamp  
  • Jira  
  • Todoist  
  • Wrike

In addition to aiding coordination, project management platforms create accountability by making tasks and deadlines visible to the team as a whole. 

Cloud-based remote accounting software

Running a hybrid tax office obviously isn’t feasible with a paper-based process. You’ll need to make the switch to cloud-based binders that can flex to any authorized workstation—in the office, or at home. There are two major considerations here: digitizing tax documents and managing the resulting workpapers.

The easiest way to digitize tax documents is to collect them as digital versions in the first place. Consider using a client collaboration platform that auto-retrieves PDFs from your clients’ financial institutions. Offer easy ways to upload digital or photo-scanned documents. When you make client collaboration remote, admins can also work from home, since they don’t need to handle paper mail at the office. 

To manage digital workpaper binders, you’ll need a cloud-based solution with version-tracking and role-based sign-offs. Otherwise, you may fall into the versioning trap. This is when multiple people send a file back and forth, but no one is sure who made the last edit.

Lastly, avoid generic Document Management Systems that were not designed for tax preparation. Look for a 1040 Workpaper Management System that has preparation tools (e.g., annotations, cross-linking, calculator) built in. This will simplify your workflow and reduce the number of programs your staff need to juggle.

What cloud-based solutions does SurePrep offer?

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Transform your firm into a modified hybrid tax office

The workplace has been trending in a remote direction for some time now, and recent world events have only accelerated the shift. As offices began moving from paper to digital solutions, it presented opportunities for a more flexible and versatile work culture.

Now, change is here. Hybrid offices are more cost effective and better suited to take on the modern challenges facing the tax industry. Navigating tax season with remote work technology, more efficiency, and less stress is possible. Would a hybrid approach work for your firm? It’s worth exploring.

Download our whitepaper Guide to a remote 1040 tax automation workflow to learn how SurePrep solutions make a hybrid tax office possible.

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