How to collect documents from clients while working remotely

Practice Management, Workflow tools Working remotely

With the tax deadline postponed and many of us working from home due to the coronavirus, being as efficient as possible with the way we work with clients is more important than ever. To be successful, we need to move more clients online. This starts with operating a 100 percent cloud-based practice and implementing an effective process for document collection.

Since my clients’ technical skills varied from highly tech savvy to new online app users, it was essential that the technology and client implementation would be seamless and user friendly for my multiple client types. I also wanted to keep our workflow as simple as possible, so using the fewest number of applications would create the best-case scenario. I wanted to synchronize what I had already implemented in my current operational workflow, while partnering that with serving my clients’ needs to stay connected. Ultimately, these processes provide me the necessary documents to keep our work flowing seamlessly.

I know that making these kinds of changes in your practice isn’t easy – and it takes time, especially now that we’re sheltering in place. According to an Intuit® Accountant Panel survey in March 2020 that asked about the most pressing issues due to the coronavirus, 42 percent of the 247 respondents said that getting documents from their clients was by far their biggest struggle when working virtually.

Whether you’re very experienced in collecting documents from your clients without seeing them in person – or if this is new for you because of the coronavirus, here are several best practices I can share to make the process easier.

The essence of a strong document collection platform, also referred to as a document portal, is a centralized, secure location to share documents and collaborate with clients and staff.

We chose Citrix ShareFile for our preferred solution, but several other options include Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, SmartVault and Intuit Link.

Several platforms allow firms to personalize the document portal experience with their firm branding to provide a more trusted and professional client experience. These document platforms also commonly enable:

  • Collaborating on documents and editing in real time.
  • Encrypted client requests with notifications and reminders.
  • Encrypted email for those times when email is the best way.
  • Sending and receiving of large files.

Most importantly, the document collection solution you choose should include a high level of encryption for your files, large space storage capabilities that can scale with your firm, and online and desktop automated syncing of all stored files. You definitely don’t want to encourage clients to send you their documents over email. The bottom line is that you and your clients should be able to securely share, collect, and collaborate on documents no matter where you are.

In addition, several platforms integrate with other helpful tools. One of my favorite integrations is Slack with Google Drive. What are some of your favorite integrations? Leave a comment below to share your recommendations.

One other concern: What do you do if your clients don’t want to send you their documents through the cloud? These “shoebox” clients may not be tech savvy and prefer physically dropping off their information to you, but if you’re working remotely and cannot see them in person, what do you do? You don’t want to lose a long-term client, so here are several recommendations:

  • Sit down with them over a phone conversation, or if they can figure it out, a web call, to explain how your portal works. Walk them slowly through the process and perhaps have them practice or test uploading something to you.
  • Record a quick video that also explains the process and send this to your clients who may need help using the platform. You can also include a link to the video in your email signature. Here’s an example of this type of video.
  • If a client absolutely insists on dropping off or mailing their documents, the best advice I can give is to go with the flow, and ensure your clients have a secure, private place to leave their documents with you outside your place of work to avoid contact during drop off. Most likely, this will be a very small slice of your client base.

When you find and implement the winning platform, you not only stay safe during this time of social distancing, but you will save time on document collection in your practice and witness the magic of productive collaboration. Good luck!

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