There are many things about 2020 that we won’t miss. COVID-19 resulted in health, business, and economic challenges that continue to evolve. In response, individuals and businesses have reimagined their path forward, and determined new strategies for operating, including hiring and managing talent for tax season.
We often hear that necessity is the mother of invention, and that couldn’t be truer, especially when considering new ways of engaging team members. Stay-at-home orders meant that we were living at work via the office/guest room, while many began homeschooling almost overnight. Fortunately, in the public’s interest, tax and accounting practitioners were considered essential during the extended tax season. The ability to continue working outside their offices required new processes and technologies to handle the increased workload.
For example, cloud solutions enabled artificial intelligence-driven tax preparation, secure transmissions, and confidentiality of client information. For many firms, the transition from on-premise to the cloud represented a significant shift in mindset. The benefits of technology were underscored during COVID-19, even though we had the most unusual tax season many of us can remember. Deadlines were met, and clients received above and beyond service.
As we look to the upcoming tax season, it’s time to consider the full benefits of technology, and new ways of hiring and managing talented team members. In quite a few cases, while firms used technology to process returns from multiple virtual locations, the “essential” designation was used to work with socially distanced team members in the office.
Unfortunately, the often-lamented long hours of tax season did not significantly decrease, despite the use of technology. As a result, tax season hours are yet another reason we must continue to advance our technology approach, adoption, and usage across all aspects of the practice. The very thought of 60 hours each week is enough to dissuade prospective hires, and perhaps discourage existing team members from returning. If this isn’t difficult enough, the perspectives on tax season hours permeates across all segments of the profession, and is a reason students state about not choosing public accounting. Without key changes in hours, we will find it increasingly difficult to hire high performing talent. If team members are able to work flexible hours, from remote and virtual locations, there could be less pressure on some to complete the tax season workload.
It’s also no surprise there are increasingly scarce team members where tax firms – big and small – are looking for similar skillsets. This means that tax professionals can be choosy about where they work. According to Adzuna, there is a 600 percent increase in jobseeker inquiries that include the words “remote,” “telecommute,” or “work from home.” Offering virtual and remote options is an undeniable competitive differentiator.
With technology, not only would remote team members that are out of the commuting area be considered, but local team members would be able to work virtually. Team members in lower cost of living geographies, as well as areas that may have more talent for hire, would also benefit by leveraging technology in administrative processes, such as human resources.
It’s a win across the board, if we can determine creative ways to improve the reputation and feedback about the profession. Consider hiring remote and virtual team members who can access your firm’s system based on flexibility and according to workload. This is not nearly as challenging as it may appear:
- Job descriptions can be updated to reflect the duties and expectations of the role, with virtual interviews and follow up as needed. Concerns about confidentiality of data can be discussed and evaluated during the interview process through reference checks, and by implementing a non-disclosure agreement and cybersecurity leading practices.
- Onboarding processes and training can be performed remotely, and conducted live via web conferencing and/or using recorded sessions.
- Team meetings, feedback, and performance evaluations can also be conducted virtually by leveraging any number of teleconferencing options.
The upcoming tax season amidst COVID-19 will surely require even more updates and new regulations to learn. Tax preparation solutions that reinforce consistent and accurate processing, and reduce errors, will promote team confidence. It will also help your team get to up to speed faster, thereby decreasing preparation timeframes and hours.
Talent management is not easy during a typical tax season, but the complexities are accelerated and dramatically increased when there are new updates, long hours, team members with varying familial responsibilities, and increased tax workloads. Technology enables transformation, as well as new and improved ways of hiring and managing talent. Maximize all of this to its fullest extent.
Editor’s note: Kimberly Ellison-Taylor will present more information on this topic at the Season Readiness virtual conference, Dec. 2-3, 2020. Register today.