From the March/April 2019 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine (njcpa.org/newjerseycpa)
By Jeanette Gribbon, Mazars USA LLP
Once upon a time you had to be in the office to be a productive member of the team — but no longer! Tax technology has come a long way over the years, eliminating handwritten tax forms, paper filing of tax returns and the need to be in the office to effectively manage your clients. Below are some technology resources that allow your team to work together even when you can’t be in the same place.
Automated tax workflow
If you’re still using a manual workflow system (i.e., workpapers moving around the office from preparer to reviewer to partner), you may be slowing your team’s productivity when tax returns are sitting and waiting on someone’s desk for the next step. An automated system allows team members to watch the return move through the office on their computer and alerts each team member when a return has been assigned to them. It can also allow staff to communicate questions and information directly within the application. There are many workflow solutions to choose from, with most being web-based, providing access from anywhere. Setting up an automated workflow system is as easy as mapping out your office’s processes and finding the application that works best for you.
You may have employees who work from home or multiple office locations using shared resources. You need to communicate with these team members, and an in-person meeting is not an option. Web conferencing is the most common tool used to hold online meetings. In addition to the ability to host multiple attendees, you can share your presentation or workpapers with everyone on the conference. And, if you prefer to communicate face to face, you can add video.
As offices grow and the ability to work from anywhere becomes a reality for your employees, getting everyone together for an important department or office meeting can prove challenging. Live streaming these events can ensure that everyone is getting your message.
Mobile office apps
Smartphones have not only made our personal lives more efficient but they also give us access to our most-used business apps on the go. Build your office suite for smartphones and be sure to include:
- Email. Most commonly used email services offer an app to give employees the opportunity to check and respond to emails and keep up to date on calendar events and tasks.
- Time entry. Most time-entry providers have an app version of their software. It may have limited capabilities but will allow employees to enter their time from anywhere, increasing efficiencies in billing.
- Authentication. Security is the main concern employers have when allowing their employees to work from home or access their systems from a client. An extra level of protection ensuring the person logging into an employee’s computer is actually the employee is available through two-factor authentication at the time of login, either through an app or text messaging.
- Workflow. In many instances, the automated workflow system discussed above can also be added to your mobile office suite (check with the provider). This allows team members to answer questions and move work along while on the go.
- Video/web conferencing. You don’t need to be in front of the computer to join in web or video conference meetings. Most providers offer an app for that.
- Expense tracking. Capturing employee expenses in the current billing cycle can be challenging when the employee is not in the office. Technology in this area has come a long way. Be sure to include an expense tracker in your mobile office suite, preferably one that allows the ability to upload photos of receipts.
While tax technology has certainly come a long way, be sure to encourage your employees to disconnect too. Having all this technology at your fingertips can signal that an employee must always be on and available, leading to burnout. Disconnecting — whether it’s after a certain time of day, on the weekends or an agreed-upon schedule — gives your employees the opportunity to relax and clear their heads, making them more productive when they are connected.
Jeanette Gribbin is a tax manager at Mazars USA LLP. She can be reached at email@example.com.