Two of the primary concerns facing accountants and bookkeepers right now is how to keep employees accountable while they are working from home and how to make sure your clients’ – and your company’s – data stays safe.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been thrust into a brave – or at least a strange – new world. Social distancing has meant we’ve had to change everything from how we work to how we spend our free time practically overnight.

At the same time, our clients need us now more than ever. Whether they need their books updated immediately to apply for a loan or a cash flow projection to determine how long their businesses can survive with reduced income, business owners are reaching out to their bookkeepers and accountants for immediate advice.

This means that while much of the country has sadly found themselves with a little too much free time, we – and our employees – are challenged not only with handling increased demand for our services, but also with managing remote working environments.

Two of the primary concerns facing accountants and bookkeepers right now is how to keep employees accountable while they are working from home and how to make sure your clients’ – and your company’s – data stays safe.

Employee Accountability

Under different circumstances, your employees might be thrilled by the opportunity to avoid the daily commute and work in their pajamas. Right now, though, they might be overwhelmed by the prospect of turning a part of their homes into office space, managing children who are suddenly being educated remotely, and the distraction of nearly constant updates about the state of our healthcare system and the economy.

Even your most focused and dedicated employees will appreciate some accountability to help them navigate these changes. Implementing these accountability suggestions will also help you feel more confident that client work is being handled effectively and efficiently.

Daily Meeting

Having a brief (15-20 minute) daily “stand-up” meeting helps keep everyone connected and accountable, even when you’re all working in the office. It also gives your employees some semblance of a normal workday start time while they are working remotely.

Schedule a meeting via Zoom or another virtual meeting platform at the start of each day, at the same time your employees would report to the office. Make it a rule that everyone will report on time – just like they would report to the office – and that cameras will be turned on. This ensures everyone is engaged and provides some “face time” with coworkers.

Start with giving an update on your business’s “big picture.” This can be deadlines that are approaching, new initiatives you want to launch, or anything else you would share with your team on a daily basis.

Then, give each team member up to three minutes to share:

  1. What they accomplished yesterday.
  2. What they will accomplish today.
  3. What’s going on with them personally.

This daily meeting (we call it a “Huddle” at Profit First Professionals) will help your employees feel connected to other members of your team. It will also help you keep an eye on which employees might be struggling with their new remote working situation, so you can reach out to offer a hand.

Create a Dashboard

First things first: DON’T GO OVERBOARD. Your dashboard doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple Trello board – or even a Google Sheet – will suffice.

The purpose of the dashboard is to give your employees a place to go to update you on the status of each project they are working on, without you getting inundated with dozens of emails every day. When all employees can see the dashboard – and when they know you’re looking at it, too – a little friendly competition can ensue. This helps keep everyone productive and accountable.

Set Up a Co-Working Environment

Some employees work well in isolation; others thrive on working around others. Open up a virtual meeting using Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, or any other video conferencing software, and encourage employees to log in to work with their team members. This will let everyone continue to collaborate and keep the office camaraderie intact, even while you’re all working apart.

Be Flexible

It might seem counterintuitive, but being flexible with your employees can help them be more accountable. When they know you are trusting them to get their work done, they will go the extra mile to make sure not to let you (or your clients) down.

Data Security

One area where you don’t want to be flexible with your new remote workers is data security. Unfortunately, there are some bad operators out there who see this increase in remote working as the perfect opportunity to steal data for their own uses.

I wanted to go beyond the typical “make sure everyone’s antivirus software is updated and that they are using a secure internet connection” advice, so I asked Chris Burns, owner of Techie Gurus in Sterling Heights, MI, for some tips on keeping data safe while working remotely. “The hardest part about the current climate is trying to bridge the gap between productivity and security,” Chris says. “This outbreak is going to fundamentally change the way businesses think about their IT and security.”

Here is how Chris recommends bridging the gap between productivity and security – both right now and into the future.

Have the Right Protection

Things like firewalls and antivirus are essential but they are not enough protection for most businesses. The single best security protection a business can put in place is Multi-factor Authentication (MFA). Microsoft claims 99% of most attacks on accounts can be stopped by simply having MFA. Nearly every cloud software provider provides a way to enable MFA either through a text message or through an app on your phone, and I can’t stress enough how quickly you should enforce this for all users at your company. With hackers trying to get people to click on links in phishing emails you should have it at least enabled on all email accounts. Both Google G Suite and Microsoft Office 365 offer MFA that are simple to implement and use.

Virtual Desktops

A common misconception is remote access via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) solves everything. VPNs are great when implemented correctly, but they also create different issues. A misconfigured VPN can lead to severe security issues that can expose a private data to unauthorized people. Also, VPNs lack the network efficiency of other technologies so they put a strain on bandwidth that is so critical right now with everyone working from home.

A better solution for remote workers is moving to either a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or at the very least having a remote access tool to connect to computers that are on premise at the business. VDI is hosting virtual desktops on servers in a secure location like a data center or public cloud like Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure.  This allows users to connect from anywhere and work so they can be at the office or at home during the shutdown. Both VDI and remote access software are much more bandwidth friendly, because they only relay things like mouse movements and keystrokes. Both offer better security because data leak vulnerabilities like clipboard mapping and printing can be disabled. VDI takes more planning and offers better security because the data will be in a datacenter and not on premise. Remote access software is far easier to implement and preferable when deployment time is critical…like during a government mandated shutdown!

Seek Expert Advice

Chris has one more bit of advice: “I can’t stress enough how much you should seek out a qualified IT professional to discuss any of these choices during this time. Most of this can be implemented remotely to keep the risk low for your employees, you, and your IT provider. After the dust settles and we all get through this, everyone should really look at their IT overall and develop a better plan for your business to deal with situations like COVID-19 or even natural disasters. The better prepared the business is to handle situations like this the better off it is in the long run.”

As financial services professionals, we are the “first responders” for our clients’ businesses. Just like first responders in the medical field, we – and our employees – must be operating as effectively and efficiently as possible in order to care for our clients during these times. Making sure your employees are accountable and well cared for and that the data your clients trust you with is safe will help you focus more on your clients’ needs.

Challenging times are often the times of greatest opportunity. Even though things have been torn a bit asunder over the past couple of weeks, we’ll get through this stronger than ever before.