#AccountexUSA: Making remote work... work!

We're joined for a second time, at Accountex USA in Boston, by Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA, and Director of Firm Technology Strategy for Right Networks. This time we're examining the benefits of remote work, and talking about some of collaboration tools and strategies firms should use to enable remote work for their teams.


Show Notes
  • 00:35 – If you're moving to remote work, here are some key things to consider
  • 01:35 – Let's get digital, digital ... When going remote, all your company's data ,  and processes need to be digitized
  • 02:31 -- Having the right software and tools in place, along with digitized date ensures that you and your employees can work any place, any time
  • 03:01 – As we discussed in Ep. 121, security is a crucial component of setting up your remote workforce
  •  06:03 – Roman says most accountants favor Microsoft's collection of collaboration tools, especially for remote work
  • 06:42 – Team chat or collab tools make it very easy to see who's available when
  • 11:19 – Removing the guesswork - collaboration tools, such as Teams, keep all the information  from every conversation in one place, eliminating the wasted time of searching email threads for just one thing | Microsoft.com
  • 12:46 – First things first - what's the first thing firm owners should consider about going remote? 
  • 13:32 – The key ingredient for a successful remote-work situation  is to use the right systems and tools for the situation! 
  • 13:41 – The best candidates for remote opportunities  are those with experience, and who need very little supervision
  • 14:34 – It pays dividends to keep your top employees engaged, and happy, even if that means letting them go remote
  • 16:25 – Letting employees work when and where they want means more productivity and less wasted time
  • 18:09 – You can accomplish more, and still have those watercooler convos, all from the comfort of home 

Connect with Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, CGMA
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Roman Kepczyk: And long term, I think Microsoft teams, and Yammer, even though we love Slack, and we love Zoom, we think, because of that integration with the Microsoft Office Suite is gonna win.
Blake Oliver: Welcome to The Cloud Accounting Podcast. I'm Blake Oliver.
David Leary: And I'm David Leary. 
Roman Kepczyk: I'm Roman Kepczyk, Director of Firm Technology Strategy for Right Networks.
David Leary: Hey, welcome back, Roman. Day two of Accountex USA.
Roman Kepczyk: Thank you. 
David Leary: You're joining us again for another quick interview. I know we caught some of your session, and we wanted [00:00:30] to extrapolate more about your thoughts on remote working and what that's driving inside of firms.
Blake Oliver: I'm a big fan of remote work. I worked in- I had my own online bookkeeping company, where we were all remote, 12 of us, and then we merged with a CPA firm, and there were 25 of us all remote. We were kinda doing that at the beginning. There weren't always the best tools for us to work remotely. That was the big challenge is collaborating. 
We had Zoom, so we could at least all get in a meeting together online. That was fun, seeing like 25 windows up on [00:01:00] the screen - 25 people. Practice management, at that time ... We're talking only five years ago, really still hadn't really gotten there in the cloud. I was wondering if you could share some of your insights with our listeners, many of them who are building remote practices or trying to close their offices and go more remote. What should people be looking at?
Roman Kepczyk: Well, what you gotta look at is the infrastructure they have in place already. A lot of times, people took traditional manual processes and created digital versions of that. The due-date tracking list, something like that might have been a paper list; now it's a spreadsheet. [00:01:30] The problem is that only one person can really look at and update that spreadsheet at a time. To work remotely, we need to have ... First of all, all the data in the firm has to be digital, and all the transactions, workflows, the processes, due dates, they have to be digital, too.
We've seen a transition away from those practice management tools that had projects listed to dedicated workflow tools. Pretty much, XCM, they started the charge. They started out as an Indian outsourcing company, 25 years ago. Then it kind of got pushed away, but the firms that used that loved it, because [00:02:00] it tracked every status of the tax return. It tracked any changes, delivery instructions, updates ... You could attach the files to it, and move it with it, so we could move it to remote people back and forth very easily.
Blake Oliver: It was like the digital version of that old paper-routing sheet that would sit on the- 
Roman Kepczyk: Yeah, the lead schedule; the tax-routing sheet. The beauty was you could customize the views to what your role was. If you worked the front desk, checking in things, you saw those things. If you were in the assembly department and you saw due dates coming up, you could see which one had finished [00:02:30] review and do all that. Tools like XCM, Thomson's FirmFlow, CCH's Workstream - all those tools are really ... That's the thing we're pushing in our firms today, because we can do the entire tax process in the cloud now. If we have an employee whose spouse gets relocated, or they stay home because they wanna raise their child, they still have access to all the applications, all the data, all in one screen. That's what you really want is having the ability to work any place, any time.
Blake Oliver: How do you address security [00:03:00] concerns for folks?
Roman Kepczyk: Well, what we had is like- the other podcast we talked about - making sure that, first of all, that we have the training on the phishing, so they're not they're not hitting on ransomware and stuff. Then, after that, having a multifactor-authentication tool, so that once I log in from my home, or my cabin, or wherever, client's office, it authenticates who I am into the cloud, and then I can work on those applications.
Blake Oliver: These workflow tools, you're calling them ... They're not practice management? Do you prefer the term 'workflow?'
Roman Kepczyk: I [00:03:30] think it's a digital workflow-
Blake Oliver: Digital workflow.
Roman Kepczyk: -because it's beyond the practice management. It actually has status of things. It has, like you said, the routing sheet; things that we write down; that they're in their Florida home, so we've gotta deliver it there ... All that's captured in one place. You can put your timekeeping in there; you can keep scheduling in there. It's more than practice projects.
David Leary: When you say digital tool, it's more than just like, okay, we scan our paper, and now it's in an e-file cabinet, because that might not have any workflow. It's all about ... It's moving to digital workflows. It's not [00:04:00] just going paperless.
Roman Kepczyk: Correct. What it's saying is this return that's been scanned in, like you said ... Let's say we use fx Scan and [inaudible]; get all that together; AutoFlow ... Then it says the scanning is done, so there's notification that that return is ready for preparation. Then, if it's a complex return, it's usually assigned to a specific preparer, or it's going to a pool, but that can be managed in the workflow from one year to the next, so that it's already decided who is gonna do that return. [00:04:30] Then it gets - if it's a complex return - it can go to a specific reviewer. If it's a super-complex return, it can go to a second partner that has to review that stuff. That's all managed.
The beauty of the workflow tools is once it's captured, it rolls over to the next year, and it's all on the screen. Whereas, the sheet, the lead sheet we used ... Every year, we're reprinting them; we're filling out the information we needed. The notes were going on it. Well, this the delivery instructions, the specialty things that happened; like, during the year, let's say a client sells [00:05:00] a property or something like that. You can go in the workflow tool and say, "Hey, we noticed that this partnership was sold, so we've gotta make sure there's a real estate transaction." You can put that in the workflow tool, so when the preparer rolls it up, they see those notes. You're capturing data one time at its root source and making it available to everyone after that.
Blake Oliver: I wanna go virtual - I need that. What else do I need to be looking at?
Roman Kepczyk: Well, I think it's just the communication; what's going on out there. We had talked in the past that we were using tools like Skype and Zoom. For multiple groups. Zoom is still [00:05:30] the best video for ... I'm in a couple of consulting groups, and we use Zoom for 20 people on screen. When it comes to capturing firm knowledge and then being able to reuse, and re-access that data, we used a product called Socialcast before, but now we've switched to Microsoft Teams. Long term, I think Microsoft Teams, and Yammer, even though we love Slack, and we love Zoom, we think, because of that integration with the Microsoft Office Suite is gonna win.
David Leary: We've talked about that on the podcast.
Blake Oliver: Yeah. 
Roman Kepczyk: I was great at Lotus 1-2-3; I was great at WordPerfect; but [00:06:00] when Microsoft integrated all those, they won. Accountants, we're very Microsoft-specific. If you look at our audit tools, they all link to Word and Excel. All of our calendaring schedule systems, it's all Microsoft. We think getting involved with Teams, and Yammer, and those plugins, that's where we're gonna get the real collaboration.
Blake Oliver: For those who have not used a team-chat tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams, what does it look like? How do I visualize it? [00:06:30]
Roman Kepczyk: It combines a bunch of tools into one screen. For instance, we used to have a thing called a check-in/check-out board of availability. First of all, when you look on the schedule of who's available, if you wanna chat with somebody [cross talk]
Blake Oliver: This is everybody in the firm, right, on the list?
Roman Kepczyk: Everybody in the firm. You could have hundreds. What happens is you can customize it to your team. If I am, let's say, in a bookkeeping department, client access- client services, and I'm dealing with the payroll people, I can have all the payroll people on my top. I can see, if there's a red bar, it means they have an appointment [00:07:00] that's there. If it's a yellow bar, it means I've stepped away for 10 minutes. These are circles, or little dots. If it's red with a white line through it, it says 'Do not Disturb,' but if it's green, I'm available. I can click on the person, and I can do a small messaging - type of message to them - that says, "Hey, do you have two minutes to look at this tax return, or review this document?" They can respond it in one minute.
Blake Oliver: That's very familiar to people who have been using Skype to chat with co-workers, right?
Roman Kepczyk: Correct. 
Blake Oliver: That's similar. What I really like about Teams that I've been missing, I think, in other [00:07:30] applications, like Slack, is I think Teams, the presence integrates with your calendar, right? So, it knows-
Roman Kepczyk: It knows your calendar, if you've got appointments-
Blake Oliver: -if you're busy or not, based on that.
Roman Kepczyk: It automatically updates that in real time, as you're adjusting things. The other cool things is you cannot only, you know, the SMS, but you can talk with audio; you can talk with video chat.
Blake Oliver: They've integrated Skype into it, now. Okay. 
Roman Kepczyk: Absolutely, and the best parts of Skype, so it works, which is wonderful. Then, you can also do screen-sharing. One of things we try to promote in our firms is that, when [00:08:00] you're doing a tax return, the prep review back to ... Writing notes back to- this back and forth kills the profitability on a tax return. What we're saying is if we can get a reviewer to basically connect to the preparer and say, "Hey, I need to finish this tax return, but instead of sending it back to you, let's see if we can fix it and do it done-and-one." 
The cool thing is I can show you on the screen, while I'm talking to you, even if you're in another- if you're in a home office working late at night, or something like that, I can show you that return; take over the mouse [00:08:30] and explain what I'm doing. Then, if we can fix it, we can actually get it done, and out the door, and billed, as opposed to taking the time to write the notes, taking it back to the preparer to interpret those notes; then having to go back and forth ... Because, you know, a reviewer will look at it two days later and doesn't remember it. Those are the features that we think that the tools like Teams and Yammer provide that real-time capability. Do it, do it right, do it right now.
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Blake Oliver: One of the cool features about Teams is this ability to have persistent threads or chat rooms. What are you seeing people using those for, most frequently?
Roman Kepczyk: We build chat groups. There could be like a tax group, a security group, a client-services group. Let's say, in the tax group, we're a Florida firm, and we have some kind of weird Florida franchise thing that impacts certain kinds of corporations or partnerships. While someone [00:10:30] does the research there, they document it in there. Then, if that comes up again - there's new legislation - everyone who responded to that, you write a note there, and they all get automatically notified that there's been an update to that. Then, if there's people that were not part of that conversation, what's cool is they can do a search on that, 'franchise tax for 1031 exchange,' and it pops up as one of those things. You can see all the thoughts that already went into it, as well as add to it, or say, "Hey, there's a new form."
David Leary: In a bigger organization, you know Blake was [00:11:00] all over that chat. I'm gonna track Blake down to ask some questions-
Roman Kepczyk: Exactly. 
David Leary: -instead of just randomly asking partners, "Who should I talk to about this problem?" 
Roman Kepczyk: Well, that's stuff we used to write in the notes. A lot of my firms, on the business returns, they might use like a CCH engagement binder, and the notes are just there. But, with engagement, you can't search across binders. This, you do a keyword, and you get- you're capturing firm knowledge.
Blake Oliver: That's the thing that's amazing. The reason to switch away from email threads to something like Teams is this ability to search the entire history across the whole organization of every conversation [00:11:30] that's happened in public and be able to find that guidance, or that person that has that expertise. That's a game-changer.
Roman Kepczyk: Yeah, and when people like you pointed out, when you're on a project, you know all the other project people that were writing on that, so someone usually knows, in that group.
Blake Oliver: David, and I actually ... It doesn't have to be a large organization for this to be helpful. David, and I switched from- we were using Facebook Messenger to coordinate for the podcast-
David Leary: Super-professional [cross talk]
Roman Kepczyk: Hey, we all start that way.
Blake Oliver: We didn't wanna do email, [00:12:00] because we felt like that would be taking a step back, so we set up a Slack, which is similar to Teams. We set up a Slack organization. We create channels for every conference that we wanna go to- 
David Leary: Helps keep things organized. 
Blake Oliver: -we have all the conversation about Accountex in the Accountex ‘19 channel. That way, if I lose something, I just search for it, and find it.
Roman Kepczyk: We love Slack. I think Slack is actually a better product than Teams, but, in the long term, we think Teams will-
Blake Oliver: Well, the integration, right? 
David Leary: Slack's like the compromise, because I'm [00:12:30] an Office 365 Teams guy and Blake's a-
Blake Oliver: Google Apps-
David Leary: -Google Apps guy. Slack had to be the [cross talk] we could've gotten either ... I have a question. I have an accounting firm. I know it's stodgy, and I know I'm not moving to the future, but I have employees that are asking me to do- they want to work remotely. What's the first step I could take as a firm owner? Should I try to work remotely myself? Should I say, "Let's just go to a chat program"? What's the very first baby steps I should be taking to let my young millennial employee that wants to work at Starbucks ...? [00:13:00]
Roman Kepczyk: The one thing you need to do is, first of all, make sure you have an infrastructure that supports it, you know, as the quality of the work, as well as the remote site is, internally. A lot of firms, what they try to do is they shortcut it with like Windows Terminal services, Remote Desktop. If they don't know how to install it, the experience for the remote user is actually worse. All the sudden, it becomes negative. If you start by using applications in the cloud - QuickBooks Online, XCM -  those applications will work- they're designed to work [00:13:30] well or use cloud-hosting providers to do that. That's the first step - make sure it's not gonna be a negative experience.
Second of all, you need to pick people that have experience with the firm, that have a track record of success. You do wanna put someone who's never worked remotely; they're not sure they're doing; that needs a lot of supervision. People that ... A lot of long-term bookkeepers, client access services, they have certain payrolls they do every week; they have certain monthly-end reports. They're really good at that ... And you have track-record realization. Those are the first things we put out there.
Blake Oliver: I [00:14:00] think that's one of the misconceptions about remote work, is that, actually, it's not necessarily about keeping your younger employees happy; it's often about retaining your employees, who would otherwise retire-
Roman Kepczyk: Or, if it's someone that wants to go on the family track.
Blake Oliver: Yeah.
Roman Kepczyk: I remember, one of my mentors was Bob Bunting from Moss Adams. What he said is that you look at your employees, you're A's and B's; you do whatever it takes to retain those A's, or B's, because they'll make you more profitability, and there'll be more success in your firm. [00:14:30]
Blake Oliver: They're five times more effective or more- than a disengaged employee-
Roman Kepczyk: What he said is if you have an employee that wants to go on the family track, for instance, keep them engaged 10 hours a week. They will retain their technical edge. They will help you with their clients. As their kids get older, they can go to 20 hours a week and 30 hours a week, but those people ... Or, let's say someone's spouse gets transferred. That's an ideal situation, where you retain those A and B employees ... The clients love them. 
At the end of the day, the unique [00:15:00] thing we have, as CPA firms, is we have a relationship with the client that trusts us. If they have that senior, who's always been with them, they want to keep that person. That's one of the big- best way to retain people. One of the statistics that came out of Accountingfly GFO that we quote all the time is that firms that offer remote work get eight times as many candidates to apply for that position. Just by virtue of firms offering remote work as an option, you're going to be a more attractive employer. [00:15:30]
Blake Oliver: There's huge demand for it and, like you said, especially, I think, a ton of moms would benefit-
Roman Kepczyk: In our accounting profession, you look at it, there's a lot of females, and they normally get the home responsibility; they're our best accountants [cross talk] 
Blake Oliver: Yeah, and you look at the discrepancy between the number of women who enter accounting and then the number who become partners, it's this steep drop off. I mean, I don't have evidence to back it up, but it seems completely obvious to me that women wanna spend time making a family, and that [00:16:00] is not compatible with the traditional-
Roman Kepczyk: Structure of a CPA firm- 
Blake Oliver: -structure of a CPA firm, which, it's like you have to live at the firm. It's not that you have to be working all the time, it's just this is the culture. You have to be in the office all the time. If you allow people to work remotely ... I don't even think that it's that they need to necessarily reduce the hours, because it's ... A lot of that time in the office is wasted completely.
If you let people work when and where they want to, they can be just as productive, [00:16:30] while raising a family. I know that because my wife works remotely, and she works for a big company. She works for Anthem Blue Cross - 50,000 people - and her team is remote. It can be done, even if you're a big firm, and it enables her to work full time, while we raise our son. The benefit of just being able to take off and go do a doctor's appointment without that being a big deal is amazing.
Roman Kepczyk: And going to your kid's basketball game ... Those junior-high/high-school [00:17:00] years when they're participating actively, you could go see the game, and then you log in afterwards, from home, or early in the morning and knock it out.
Blake Oliver: I can work ... I was fortunate in that, in my entire public-accounting career and after, I've always been able to work remotely. I have been at home, when my son gets home, every day for his whole life. I've been able-
Roman Kepczyk: You'll never miss that. You'll be so glad you did that.
Blake Oliver: Yeah ... Then I hear about people who like to make partner; they had to never [00:17:30] have dinner with their family. I just think that's so old; just crazy that-
David Leary: Well, it doesn't make sense in our industry. I get it. If you work construction, or you're in farming, there's only so much daylight, or if you're building a bridge, you physically have to be there to build the bridge. In our industry, there's no deadlines, in a way. If somebody-
Blake Oliver: Well, there's lots of deadlines [cross talk]
David Leary: -there's deadlines, but-
Blake Oliver: You don't have to be at the office to do the work.
David Leary: Yeah. 
Roman Kepczyk: I think that's the point he's making. 
David Leary: If you take the family track, and your kids are in bed at 7:00, 7:00 to 9:00, you have some [00:18:00] downtime, and you can catch up and do some work. For some people, that's what they can do. If people can work when they can work, it's just better for everybody.
Roman Kepczyk: That brings us back to the whole collaboration thing. The tools today are so good to manage all the workflow, plus to have the collaboration and communication. You really don't miss things, because the coffee cooler is now on the screen as opposed to the two people that are standing in the lunchroom.
David Leary: That seems like a good way to summarize this.
Blake Oliver: Yeah. Thanks, Romans, so much. I really [00:18:30] appreciate you joining us for these episodes. If people want to get in touch with you, find out more about what you're up to, where's the best place for them to do that?
Roman Kepczyk: Probably on ... I'm Roman@rightnetworks.com, but we have a blog - Right Networks Blog, where all the articles and content that I develop, all is published there.
Blake Oliver: Head over to ... What's the URL for that?
Roman Kepczyk: Right Networks.com/blog.
Blake Oliver: /blog ... And, as always, you can reach me on Twitter. I'm @BlakeTOliver. If you wanna subscribe to our show notes, head [00:19:00] over to BlakeOliver.com and click the blue Subscribe banner at the top. You can put in your email address, and you'll get new episodes emailed to you automatically after they publish. How about you, David?
David Leary: You can just get ahold of me on Twitter - that's the easiest way - @DavidLeary, and you can track The Cloud Accounting Podcast on all the socials. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Blake Oliver: All right. Thanks a lot, Roman.
Roman Kepczyk: Thank you, guys.

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