In this session, the three experts speak about the actual need for a physical office for an accounting firm. Amidst the outbreak of Coronavirus, it has become important to work remotely, so it is even more important to introspect whether setting up an infrastructure and spending after a physical office is a fair expense.
Shawn: Hi everyone, good morning, this is Shawn Parikh, from Entigrity Offshore staffing. Today I have with me Marcey Rader and Ted Rosedale. We are bringing to you our series BKOT which is Build a Kickass Offshore Team. This is another episode and we have with us Marcey. Marcey is a consultant advisor to many small business accounting firms, she is the founder of work well play more business wherein she advises on remote working, time management. She is an offshore staffing coach with Entigrity and also helps a lot of clients of Entigrity in advising on remote working. We also have with us Ted Rosedale, my colleague, he is the Vice President with Entigrity and he is in New York City. So, how is New York city Ted?
Ted: Doing okay! We’re surviving. Thank you for asking.
Shawn: And Marcey is from…
Marcey: Raleigh, North Carolina.
Shawn: I am sorry I forgot that. So. Our today’s topic is ‘Do Small Firms Need an Office’ and it is so relevant as we were scheduled to do this and right now because of this COVID 19 it sounds so relevant, not just in the accounting industry but for every business today. So to start with you Marcey, can you share your thoughts around this especially in the accounting industry because we work in that industry?
Marcey: If firms need a physical office? No, not everyone, of course, certain things need to be done in a physical office but for what Entigrity does, No. that doesn’t need a physical space. Why I think this is if we have to look at this situation with COVID 19 in positive way companies are being forced to being creative about working remote and with their internal effect has been hesitant about using offshore staffing or that kind of working environment because they are not used to it, they are not sure how it would be, they would not have direct contact with someone, now they are being forced to see how that works. For a lot of states, like Massachusetts, North Carolina, they are saying that you know, don’t go to your office, work from home and people haven’t yet figured it out and so I think that the positive that will come from the work standpoint is that people will see that it can be done and you don’t need to have everybody in the same office to so the tasks that need to be done.
Shawn: But then my question would be this, accounting industry and of course Ted I will come to you about it too. About the accounting industry, I was reading a data point that probably more than 70% of the people are baby boomers or what we say as beyond 50 in their age, even if their clientele in that range. So what are your thoughts on when you talk about remote working, of course, there are tools and technologies available, we will talk about that, but when we look at this from a practical standpoint about their experience and age, accounting firms and their owners and partners and the demography of their clients?
Marcey: Is that a question for me because I have an answer. Okay, I think that there may be more baby boomers that feel more comfortable working in a physical office but I am Gen X, I’m 45 years old and I work remotely since 2002. I had a manager whom I had never met but one time face to face in six years and I felt that I mean our whole team was remote. This is not a new thing. People have been working remotely, globally, and working offshore for at least 15 years easily. And so for me I don’t think it’s so much age or generational issue, I think it’s more of an industry and some industries are more used to working in an office space and working together than others, so, to me, it’s more industry-specific.
Shawn: So Teddy, currently you are working from home. You would be kind of obvious in favor but still, I would like to know your thoughts on people, accounting firms going virtual.
Ted: Absolutely. Well, what I find is today is that more than ever accountants, individuals over a certain age are receptive of the concept of working remotely. Technology supports working remotely, management supports working remotely today. Just a few years ago without the inventions of TeamViewer and GoToMy PC, and other accounting solutions it was impossible to do remote work. But today accounting firms could use cloud-based software and tracking software for their employees to work virtually. It’s very efficient today and is promoted by firms of all sizes and we see them being used by our clients every day.
Shawn: And more when I think about going virtual, I mean, we have clients who are completely virtual and not just with a team of 4-5 people but of 50 people or 60 people. But when we work with accounting firms we come to know that they have clients age 60 or close, and their needs are different basically. They want to pick up, they want you to know, to even deliver the documents, many ask for that face to face meetings, whether it is at the office of the accounting firm or at the office of the client with whom they are working with. I was talking to one of my clients in New York and I was discussing this point with him and he specializes in those nanny payrolls and helping older people with the financial savings or retirement, accounting tax everything. So when I was talking to them, I asked why they were not going completely when you are technologically savvy. Then one of the reasons he pointed out was ‘my client’. ‘I need to be physically present to serve my clients because my client demography is such.’ So one of the key reasons behind this which could impact your decision of whether to go virtual or whether wholly or partially depends on your clientele apart from the usage of technology. Of course, I agree that going virtual adds more scalability to the business, adds more services to the business, Your reach expands, the flexibility in the work is more, but still one of the factors probably today is just like you have family attorneys needed local, you need your accountants to be local too. But still, you have lots of firms who are growing and they might be headquartered in one place but they are having presence across the United States. So yes, virtual firms are growing but one of the things is clientele and one thing I agree with you Marcey, is that somewhere it is an industry issue. A lot many industries have kind of grown organically and adapted the culture of remote work or the culture of virtual offices, shared workspaces, etc. We have clients who do not have an office per se but operate from offices of WeWork or shared workspaces. Especially in New York City. So we have tons of clients in New York City, Ted can answer that better. You know I was thinking that they might be one or two people firm because they worked from a shared workspace but what we realized after we started working with them was that is making $1.5 M - $2 M revenue and they have a few people in Arizona working from them some working from Tampa also. So it was amazing to know that people are embracing this concept and right now it’s rightly said that in the situation of COVID 19 where remote working is going to grow and people are forcibly required to work remotely given a situation where you are not allowed to have any personal contact and especially in New York City.
Marcey: So talking about your point on your clients that a lot of their clients are over 60 and want a face to face contact, there are accountants and businesses that they like face to face contact too or there are people in their office who enjoy that face to face contact, so it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. That’s a really important point to share with people is that you don't need to be all virtual or all remote, you could serve 80% of your clients via teleconference and there are 20 % of our clients that like the only face to face contact. That limits your geographic regions you could serve but only for that 20% of the clients. And like for your staff you could have, you want the majority or some of them to be with you for that extra work you need to have them into your office but it certainly doesn’t mean that it has to be one or the other, where you are all virtual or you’re an all in one office. Depending on the personality of that business you could have a good mix.
Shawn: Absolutely, it has to be a hybrid model where you decide what percentage and it starts like that. I mean you start working from home without having to go to the office and once you start doing that you will realize that there are ways and means where you can practically work from your laptop going into the cloud without needing to travel like I am talking from India right now, I travel in the United States seven or eight or nine months a year and we are expanding to Canada where we have 25-30 clients, So I travel and what I need to stay connected with all my team in India, with all my team in the US and we have one person in Canada, everywhere it’s my laptop and internet. Everything else is on the cloud, accessible. I am also not worried about data and backup, and these are as secure as a bank. I mean, if you trust a bank you can also trust the cloud.
Marcey: Right! Right! And with Entigrity’s security and your physical office there in India it’s probably more secure than most accounting firms. The levels and the layers of security that you provide, I would say is more secure than a lot of firms even here.
Shawn: Well, security is like a mindset, rather, I would not say a myth, but I would say it’s a mindset that needs to be taken seriously. We have done that as a team and when we were partnering with firms we wanted to build that trust, and I mentioned to you when we initially started talking that we wanted to build that trust and that’s one of the reasons why we need to stay compliant whatever maybe the situation. We do have clients who don’t care about it very much, right Ted?
Ted: Yes! It’s to make the clients comfortable. If they know that work is being done in the right way in a secured environment, they want us to have security, and on a lot of occasions our offices have turned out to be more secured than their offices. We put that work into stress that point, it’s very important, their data and their client’s data is secure.
Shawn: I mean, one of the things that I would like to highlight today is that technically when you talk about security, today we are in a world where the only thing that is secured in a computer is where you chain it and throw it in the middle of an ocean and expect never to retrieve it. That’s the secure thing, in mean, in the Google era. But yes we respect security because we are an organization where a client has to have a certain level of security by the regulations, by the environments, by their clients. That’s where we have made clients an important part of our performance culture, our overall organizational culture. Having said that, some of our clients didn’t give, you know, don’t care about it. They say that as long as I am working with you and I am responsible for my clients and I would like to work with partners who know what they are doing, but it is our mandate that we would stay on top of this. So if you see an accountants office, most of them have papers everywhere, you can plug in USB drives and you can download anything, you are not allowed to do that in Entigrity’s process. There are restrictions on websites, no downloads and uploads, and no mobile phones and there are no printers. So that way it is too much higher security. Talking about that, you know, I would like to ask you, Marcey, I was going through your website and you have recommended a lot of applications, which can be used to facilitate remote working, to facilitate offshore working, especially in accounting space, I mean, your application list, our partner list is very high, but what would be your thoughts when it comes to accounting firms who are thinking of going virtual, what are the typical applications or tools that you would tell them to start and then gradually kind of move on?
Marcey: Yeah, so the first thing is to get a password management system, and to people that are still writing their passwords on a sticky or they have an excel spreadsheet for all their passwords, or it’s the name of their cat with number 5 and the exclamation mark or something like that, you have got to stop doing that. There are so many benefits to a password management system, one, it creates a password for you that would take three hundred thousand tries to break because it is just a randomly generated password, but also you share. My Password management system is Dashlane and when I share my password with anyone that works with me I can choose to share the whole rights which I never do or limited rights. And when you share limited rights that means that they don't have access to the billing, payment, sections, or may not have access to change the password. The other thing that is a great benefit is that if something were to happen, say you had a relationship that went out and you can revoke at one click, everything that you have shared with that person, every password you’ve shared with that person, you can revoke it. So to me, the password management system is number one. Number two would be a really good project management system. As a productivity coach and speaker, if I could get everybody out of their inbox, I would. Tasking in an inbox is not efficient, You are not able to prioritize, there’s a lot of back and forth in emails. So using a project management system in my choice is ****, but you could use Trello, Microsoft Teams, Basecamp, any of those would work but, what’s great about it is that I can email like my assistant, like email maybe once a month I don’t even know when I would do that because everything is in our project management system and I can just go in there and see the status, I can write a due date, communicate in there and there isn’t that back and forth in the inbox. The other great thing about it is, that if you have freelancers or offshore staff you can just easily provide them access to specific projects or specific tasks & you can again easily revoke any access in one fine swoop. You can also get access to an entire project in just one click & so to me the two of the biggest productivity tools would be a good password management system & a project management system that you use.
Shawn: Thank you! Marci for that input onto the applications & that you specifically highlighted the password keeper and project management system, Ted would you like to add something to that?
Ted: Yeah, I mean I kind of touched on it earlier but I find accounting firms the one point that makes a difference in networking in working remotely is the software, is the software that you are using to connect virtually to either your to dedicated machine or working in the cloud; so, for example, we see a lot of clients using Teamviewer, go to my PC, log me in & these solutions make it much simpler for our remote staff to work on dedicated machines firm’s accounting space. So having access to this type of software you know is extremely important for an efficient relationship so that’s what I like to suggest & highlight having very good remote access and today there’s many software packages that are available to accomplish that very easily.
Marcey: Umm, I’m gonna add another one because that made me think virtual conferencing is so important & seeing people face & even just one brief meeting a week with because my longest time employee full time is in Philippines & we only meet once a week over zoom sometimes more but once a week over zoom for video conference & it makes such a big difference with that sense of connection but also you know when people are pausing because they’re thinking if you’re on the phone; are you there? Are you there? And you feel this rush to speak, but I can look at Shawn right now and know he’s pondering something you know. Then you can also share your desktop so know if I need to quickly show you or explain something I can share on my desktop & one way that I can recommend when my clients are bringing on remote staff or new team members is to simply record themselves doing tasks. But I just open up an application & record myself doing the steps within the application with a voiceover while I am doing the same & I save that recording & I put it into our manual; we call it a success manual & then you know in the table of contents includes all of that is our standard operating procedures along with there’s also a video that we’ve recorded cause sometimes people are good with visuals. What’s great about video is that you can pause the video as the new person is going through the steps, so that’s another way to use technology so that you’re not constantly retaining people or reminding people you can just say refer to the video exactly.
Shawn: This reminds me of one of my friends in Canada who is also a client ‘monal Shah’, he also came to India last week & he started his practice 2 years back in Toronto. He was confused about how to scale this up and then he decided to create videos for clients and now the whole book onboarding is so you can say if not automated but systematized but only partially systematized so he uses this video technique as one of the things. One of the things I would like to add is that you both said that its a collaboration & communication so its very important to have a good communication tool like skype, slack are the best examples. In our firm, we have many people using American phone numbers even if they are in India, so you can talk & text with them the way you normally do here if the firm permits but they are webs based us phones. But more comfortable are the zoom or skype or slack that we use for video meetings, video conferencing, audio calls, instant chat to resolve, or share instant documents. There is one interesting application called ‘Liso’ you can route work that is promoted by one of the great advisors in the accounting industry, especially for accountants & professionals who want to share secure data with clients. So according to me, communication is very important, when you work with the team & yes especially it is way more important when you have somebody who is not in your office; because you cannot show and tell them to please do this work, you are limited to communications lin term of body language and facial just like Marcey pointed it out; When you’re on a call or what kind of mood he is in or his mental situation.
Marcey: Tell when somebody’s working,
Ted: Yeah! I think it's important to put a face to a name, people want to know who they are working with & sometimes when I'm talking to a prospective client & when you’re explaining virtual working & working remotely you have to explain to them you’re working with real people; You can FaceTime with them or skype with them you know if you want to see who you're working with & you’ve to stress that point cause sometimes people lose that it gets lost in the translation you’re working with a real person who works in India, they’re working for you they’re an extension of your team. I like to stress that point that you’re building an extension of your office
Shawn: So yeah! Communication tools are very important & as Teddy rightly said; you have to treat them as part of your team members. When you hire a new team member you want them to understand the basic processes of the firm, you also know to train them on things that are unique to your firm about clients and your processes, you do a review and meetings; so all these things are done whether it's onshore or offshore hiring. Well, that brings me to a very interesting case study example which we are going to put it in our description when we publish this episode on YouTube, it's about a firm called HPC Cloud accountants, so HPC was started by Bruce Philip & it was started as a brick and mortar which later they converted them into the completely virtual firm. It is a very interesting story and they have a whole video on YouTube on this story. Eventually, after converting in they were about 40-50 people firm completely virtual & working from the United States. They got acquired by one of the largest accounting firms called ‘Aprio’ accounting firm, they have this division called Aprio cloud which is like HPC is now. So, Bruce Philips is kind of heading that division or is a partner & heading that division after Aprio cloud merged with the larger firm. They saw the firm that they are buying, they’re buying the whole system which can be replicated into their own larger firm; it is one of the very good case studies and we’re gonna put the link in the description of the YouTube video. The next thing that comes to my mind is when it comes to remote working, especially in accounting industry reference, Marcey; you can hire somebody onshore who works remotely from their home. With Entigrity or partners alike Entigrity, you can hire somebody who is working remotely but they work remotely from an office of Entigrity which is in India. So basically what do you think, I mean practically there are limitations with remote working what are your thoughts? Marcey, I mean what do you think about somebody because you are also advising people on offshore staffing. How would you differentiate or filter about what profile is onshore or offshore?
Marcey: Sure! Well in offshore most of the time it’s gonna be in a very different time zone & for me, some people might see it negatively because they can’t connect or they can’t talk to them whenever they want. To me, it's a huge benefit to have my staff offshore because when I wake in the morning & boom the stuff is done & it has been done while I’m sleeping but we always have this window time. Some people have the window excuse at night but we have our window in the morning & even just this morning we were chatting back and forth & yesterday morning because I wanted to get an article out about working from home unexpectedly due to coronavirus. From here in the Philippines and me here still knocked out an article & put it in an email campaign and posted it on Linkedin. We did all these things by 8 am just together & she was in the Philippines so I think that the benefit can be great that your company is in downtime & if you can bring people from offshore. What's important to note about Entigrity is that it is still in office cause some people look like they are working from a coffee shop or so but they have an actual space that they’re getting up every day to go to work. So I think that it’s a way for businesses to scale because they can work 24hrs & 5days a week job & also for businesses that need to save money or cut costs somewhere it’s also a benefit. After all, what you pay your staff over there at Entigrity is good. But here it may be out of reach for the smaller firms. To bring on and bring one person onshore whereas they can go and bring 2-3 people on & build their business up that way effectively. For me you know I can tell every negative about three positives.
Shawn: Ted, you’re talking about that?
Ted: You know I think there are two buckets: onshore & offshore you know when someone works remotely or domestically over here in the US for example, they could work from home & that's one way of going about working remotely but when you work with Entigrity you’ll know people are working remotely however they ‘re working in controlled situations in an office with great internet access & security, they’ve colleagues by them you know there’s a whole management team in place so you know something as simple as having a question on accounting concept I mean you can ask since they’re your team members just like you have, working in the US so it creates this concept of team and our employees in India are working with their colleagues which is an experience and you’re creating a great work environment for the folks that work there. It's a completely different play, I'm working remotely and I happen to see that firm favors that because it creates a controlled environment; where you know people are sitting in an office every day on a set schedule it's a fabulous way of working remotely.
Shawn: Yeah, how I put it is like working offshore has all the advantages of working onshore plus it kind of covers the limitation of working remotely onshore, so when you work from home there are certain limitations while you get distracted at home & nobody is there to monitor you or view your timings. When you work in an office and controlled environment as you said that you would typically not behave in a certain way, you 'll do your work and especially here your mobile phones are not given but deposited before they enter their work area so with remote onshore there are certain limitations in terms of the work environment, the work culture, security & the most important is productivity. When there can be no real-time monitoring can be mitigated, when you’ve partnered with entigrity on one hand you’ll have a staff that works at some office so you’ll have the advantage of working in the office environment. That's how I would like to sum-up, different positions can be handled only by onshore team, like when it comes to the client relationship when it comes to handling extensive or comprehensive decision making; it has to be handled by the core team placed in America, talking to clients, resolving their problems, advising them on various issues & with an offshore team can all back them up by providing them good and accurate work along with all business intelligence as well as reporting that they need & also completing their backlogs as well as tasks; which typically saves them from a lot of work. Their focus is constantly on clients, I’ll be also putting uplink of one of our client's Summit CPA & here he did a podcast with us 2-3 weeks back, where he highlighted that after partnering with Entigrity; our KPI’s for our team has changed and it is now all the KPI’s are more driven towards customer engagement and customer relationship for our onshore team but that has kind of transformed their practice post partnering with entigrity and they’re completely remotely & he has so beautifully articulated in his video that he would like to scale with Entigrity, they are a virtual CFO firm.
Entigrity™ is a trusted offshore staffing partner to over 500+ accountants, CPAs, and tax firms across the US and Canada. Our flexible and transparent hiring model gives helps firms of all sizes to hire staff for accounting, bookkeeping, tax preparation, or any other task for 75% less cost. As a firm 'run by accountants, for the accountants', Entigrity captures the hiring needs of accounting firms most precisely, providing staff that works directly under your control and management, still, you are left with least to worry about compliance, payroll taxes, overheads or any other benefits.