Working From Home Works
It Just Takes Strong Communication, Leadership Direction, and Employee Dedication
Christopher P. Stenmon Principal, CPA, MST
17 June 2020
It was April 1, 1997…The April Fool’s Blizzard! I recall listening on my radio to the NCAA college basketball championship the previous night where Arizona won its first National Championship by upsetting Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats in overtime. I had been working at O’Connor & Drew for less than six months, so I woke up early that morning, shoveled out my car and by 8am, I was driving down Quincy Shore Drive on my way to our office at Crown Colony in Quincy. I remember that day as the first time I wished there was a way to “work from home.”
Fast forward twenty-three years and I, like many of you, have been “working from home” since March 13th. I could have never imagined a public accounting firm having 95% of its employees working remotely, especially during “tax season.” I will admit, I am more of a stereotypical accountant who does not like change. However, I am also a realist and understand that the only constant thing in life is change. (Some would argue death and taxes, but a wise Jesuit teacher once told me, both of those situations involve change.)
Over these past three months, I have been slowly adapting to working from home. I have always enjoyed working in an office setting in a team-oriented fashion. I enjoy visiting clients, providing them advice and meeting with their management and Board of Trustees/Directors.
Most successful companies have great leadership. The tone at the top and the ability to move the company forward is even more important during tough times like the Stock Market Crash of 1987, the Real Estate Crash of 1990-91, the DotCom bubble of 1999-2000, September 11, 2001, and the Great Recession of 2008-09, to name a few. However, none of us have seen a leader captain the ship through a pandemic like COVID-19. These past three months have confirmed more than ever how fortunate I am to work at a firm that has that leader at the helm.
For working from home to operate effectively and efficiently, there must be constant communication. Employees need clear communication from their boss in order to know exactly what is expected of them. This is a lot easier when you are in an office setting, while managing people virtually can be challenging. It took me several weeks to get accustomed to this process. I realized I needed to do a better job setting expectations and checking in more often. Even though we had the tools available with Microsoft Teams and Zoom as additional options for communicating with our staff, I was not fully utilizing their features. I was still relying on e-mail and conference calls for communicating. The changes I have made utilizing teams video calls and Zoom video have made the communications much more personal.
For those who are experiencing working from home consistently for the first time, it is important to have a specific area to have your home office. I recommend setting up that area as similar as possible to your current office workspace, away from as many distractions as possible. Having a separate area for your home office can also establish boundaries for others that live in your house. For example, if your door is shut, it should be a sign that you should not be interrupted unless it is an emergency, although pets don’t always adhere to those rules, as all of us have likely encountered with work video calls.
Productivity is best achieved when you have all your tools available to do your job. Perhaps it’s a dual monitor, wireless keyboard, faster scanner, or a laser printer. If it’s important to you, speak up. If you are making a reasonable request for something you need to be more productive in your role at the Company, then it is likely the accommodation can be made.
We have currently moved into phase II of opening Massachusetts. Although this allows many companies to allow some employees to come “back to the office”, for a variety of reasons, many companies have continued to have their employees work from home. As this continues, the consensus from psychologists is that employees are starting to feel isolated, which could potentially have an impact on their morale and productivity. A few weeks ago, our firm had trivia on Zoom with teams of employees and a Facebook group was created back in March to try to keep us connected as best we can under the circumstances. Virtual happy hours where employees dial in and have a drink “together” have also become a popular way to bond.
When employees work at an organization where its leader can push forward in both good times and bad, have a dedicated workspace with the tools they need to do their job, use the technology that is available, communicate effectively, and keep the social aspect of work available through face-to-face social hours and other events, it appears working remotely will be successful.