Foundation and intentionality in the age of COVID-19

Practice Management technology can aid growth

I’ve been practicing yoga for the past three years, and while I always thought yoga was about flexibility and stretching, I never saw it as a means for learning management techniques for my firm during COVID-19. One of the biggest takeaways I have learned is the idea of being grounded, having intentionality in movements and in breath.

When the pandemic hit and we were all forced to work from home, the accounting profession was thrown off balance. Some firms had a tough time managing a remote workforce and collecting on accounts receivable from clients struggling to survive. This led to a reduction of salaries, decreased morale, and even layoffs.

But these are not problems; they are symptoms of a much more serious managerial disease of the lack of being grounded in how we see our firms, and a lack of having intentionality in how we move and operate. What will you do to survive COVID-19?

Being grounded: Implement a subscription pricing model based on outcomes

Firms have been grounded on the idea that they sell hours instead of outcomes. The firms impacted the most during the pandemic are hourly firms that bill for their services after the work is completed. Years ago, our firm moved to a subscription pricing model where we price our services once a year, send out an engagement letter and fixed price agreement for the following year, and draft bank accounts monthly. This allows us to have zero accounts receivable throughout the year, and also spread out the cash flow to consistently make payroll.

Intentionality in movement: Getting back to the office

These past few months have been the most efficient, effective, and profitable we have ever been in our 22 years of existence – all despite COVID-19, a brand new team who has known each other less than a year, and everyone working from home. This resulted in multiple bonuses paid out to staff, increased morale for our team members, and an increased level of client satisfaction.

Once we decided to go back to the office, it was time to do what we could to make our office a safe environment for our employees. In addition to social distancing and mask protocols, here are some best practice recommendations:

  • Employees wash their hands when they arrive at the office.
  • If employees experience any symptoms of illness, they are asked to stay home.
  • We provide all disposable kitchen items, including a single-serve brew option for our coffeemaker.
  • We provide antibacterial wipes at different locations throughout the office. If an employee touches any refrigerator, coffee, and water dispenser handles, for example, or eats in a common area, they are asked to wipe these areas down after every use.
  • We checked with our building management to see what they are doing or what protocols they have for our building. For example, our landlord is installing an air purification system throughout the entire building to reduce the spread of airborne viruses, mold, and bacteria that pass through the normal filtration systems.
  • If your firm is larger, consider A and B teams with alternating in-person schedules.

The question of “when” or “how” to move back to the office depends on every firm’s context. The deeper question we had to wrestle with was, “Why come back if we experienced unprecedented success working from home?” We have been conditioned to think that work happens in the office from a generation of partners who expect to see warm bodies fill office chairs. Instead, we had to think of the intentionality of gathering and the intentionality of scattering.

In our firm, we gather in person because we want to see culture and cohesion among our team. We believe that a highly satisfied team synergy will translate into highly satisfied clients. On the other hand, there have been experiences in my past where “in office” workdays would be filled with internal meetings with our team where we would gather to talk (or complain) about work without ever actually doing work.

We scatter to achieve results. COVID-19 has forced us to be a Results Only Work Environment firm, where the focus was meeting results for the client. The pushback I get from people all the time is, “Well, how do you know they are working if they aren’t in the office?” My response would be, “How do you know they are working if they are in the office?” If you can’t trust someone to work from home, then you probably hired the wrong person to begin with.

COVID-19 was the catalyst for us to rethink what we are grounded in, and how we need to move toward the future with intentionality. Every meeting you schedule or every time you decide to work from home needs to contribute to either value to the customer or value to the team. Anything that takes away from those two value drivers needs to be removed from your practice. However you choose to steer your firm during COVID-19, we all need to agree that we cannot be firms of the future if we continue to assume the shoddy foundations of our past.