Accounting firms and other types of small businesses face different kinds of challenges every day, but right now they’re both having to prioritize one initiative: enabling employees to work from home.
Remote work from a virtual office is likely to be the new normal for a while, as some experts are now predicting a total lockdown of American life that could last for three months. A lockdown would involve measures much more severe than just school closures and suggestions to work from home. It could mean total isolation and forced closure of offices, as it has in parts of Europe.
For instance, in an attempt to avoid the type of crisis that has gripped Italy, France is currently requiring people to fill out a form and submit it to the government before leaving their homes for any reason, including just taking a walk, for the next two weeks. The fine for non-compliance is $150, and 100,000 police officers are ready to enforce the measure.
Could something similar happen in the US? This is uncharted territory, but the likelihood of government stepping in to keep people from leaving their homes is strong and growing stronger by the day. San Francisco is already under a shelter-in-place order with an indefinite timeline.
Even outside the context of a total lockdown, social distancing, a practice that certainly requires working from home, could go on for quite a bit longer than a couple of weeks or even a few months. The US government’s own plan to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus says the pandemic is likely to last for 18 months. Some experts suggest that social distancing could be necessary for the majority, or possibly all, of that period of time.
All kinds of businesses need to prepare as best they can for restrictions on movements the US hasn’t experienced in a century, if ever before. Some are better placed to weather the storm than others, but all must act—now.
Compared to consumer-facing businesses that require large gatherings of people, such as restaurants, museums or theaters, CPA firms are in a good position to weather whatever storms the coronavirus panic might bring.
As is essential for any business right now, accounting firms need to ensure that their employees can work from home in real time. Emailing files from one person to another in a remote setting just courts disaster, as version control becomes a serious issue and firms lose time waiting for one employee to send a key document or spreadsheet to others.
The ability for multiple employees to work in an application such as QuickBooks Desktop, or any application integrated with it, is paramount. And QuickBooks Desktop is still the standard, driving more revenue than QuickBooks Online in fiscal year 2019. Only operating in the cloud can ensure that employees can access QuickBooks Desktop together and in real time.
But there’s more to surviving the coronavirus scare for accounting firms than just getting their operations into the cloud. They need to counsel their customers to do the same.
First of all, while an accounting firm is a fairly recession-proof category of business, failure to operate in the cloud could put small businesses out of business. That will be a problem for CPA firms if their clients are the small companies that go under. Advising clients to move operations to the cloud helps accountants protect revenue because in doing so, CPA firms ultimately keep their own small-business clients afloat.
What’s more, small businesses need help from their trusted advisors at accounting firms now more than ever. In an era of unprecedented confusion and fear, owners of smaller companies are unsure of how long they can survive with the shutdowns that are happening and those that are to come.
CPA firms that step up now and point their clients in the right direction are likely to form lasting relationships with the businesses that pay them for guidance. Those that don’t might find themselves losing clients when the pandemic panic finally ends.
Of course, there’s more to CPA firms counseling clients than just advising them to move operations to the cloud, but a cloud migration is an absolute necessity for many small businesses that want to still exist after the COVID-19 panic ends.
As for small businesses themselves, especially those connected to manufacturing, distribution and professional services, they need to be able to check on orders, shipments and customer status in real time from anywhere. Employees in different locations need to safely work in the same application at the same time and in real time.
Businesses that aren’t equipped to get access to their systems from any location that has an internet connection will be in the dark—the worst place to be in a time of uncertainty. Right now, that’s the case for a lot of small businesses. It can’t continue to be that way. A relatively small financial investment in moving operations to the cloud, which won’t disrupt the business at all and happens entirely in the background, could be the key to keeping the business solvent for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
The fact is that nobody knows right now how long coronavirus panic will grip the US and the world. What seems almost certain is that most employees won’t return to their offices for at least a couple of months and possibly for much, much longer. Moving to the cloud is a survival tactic for all sorts of businesses across many categories, and the time to move is now.
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