Tax Season 2021 vs. Tax Season 2020

With COVID on the rise at the beginning of this New Year and vaccination availability months away for most of us, it appears that this busy season will mirror last year regarding the number of personnel working remotely.

However, with the April 15 deadline unlikely to be extended, it is more important than ever for all firm personnel to be just as productive working remotely as they are within the office.

We encourage you to take a step back, evaluate your remote work environment and tune it up where necessary using these tips for equipping your remote workspace.

 

Equipment

Is your remote workspace as productive as your office workspace?

Having a similar computer with the same display capabilities makes a huge difference. Utilize similar (or the same) peripherals while working at home as you do when you’re in the office, then connect them all with a docking station.

Bring your “work computer” home.

Natural disasters prompted many firms to move to laptops as their primary computer, which made it easier for those firms to transition to remote work. Not only did this allow firms to standardize security and remote access, but allowed staff to become familiar with one machine, particularly if the keyboard and mouse were the same.

If you’re splitting time equally between your remote and office workspaces, buy two of the same mice and keyboards to avoid lugging these peripherals back-and-forth.

If staff use a separate keyboard and mouse in the office, it would be worth it to get the same devices at home if they are going to be splitting time between both locations regularly.

Get a docking station to use at home and keep your peripherals (mouse, keyboard, displays, etc.) plugged in and ready-to-go.
To facilitate quick plug-ins both in the office and at home a docking station with power, displays, and peripherals already plugged in will save setup time and promote consistent usage.

Make sure you have enough display “real estate” to view at least four applications at once. (Four applications ≠ four monitors.)
Having as much screen space remotely as in the office will help maintain efficiency, particularly if the monitors are in a similar setup.

Our general rule is you need to have the ability to view at least four applications concurrently at normal resolution, similar to in the office.

Buy a monitor that is large enough to display multiple, full pages in their natural, vertical format without having to scroll or reduce the image size.

If you need to print, make copies, or scan documents…there are cost-effective multifunction inkjet devices. However, then you would need to invest in a shredder. To save yourself time, resources, and the headache of maintaining another device: go virtual. Buy a larger, more capable monitor as your main screen and flip your older monitors into a vertical position to optimize their use.

Bonus Tip: Existing widescreen displays that are 20” or less can be flipped vertically, into a “portrait” mode, to make viewing scanned full-page documents easier.

 

Communication

Virtual collaboration is the new normal for communicating internally, and with clients, and should always be done professionally.

Most people will forgive a wandering child or pet for showing up onscreen, but they will quickly become frustrated with poor video quality and more importantly, poor audio quality.

Buy a noise-canceling headset with a built-in microphone that integrates with your computer and cell phone.

Utilizing a noise-canceling headset and microphone that integrates not only with your computer for webinars and collaboration but also answers your cellular phone is a worthwhile investment. While devices with physical cables provide optimum audio quality, Bluetooth devices provide mobility.

It’s worth buying a standalone webcam if your computer’s built-in camera isn’t facing you.

If your computer’s built-in camera is not conducive to straight-on eye contact, it is worth buying a standalone webcam that can be optimally positioned with a swing arm mount.

And don’t forget lighting. If your workspace is dark or has extreme natural lighting (side glare), this can be offset with inexpensive lightboxes, filters, or smaller LED light kits that can be mounted on swing arm mounts for a perfect setup!

Learn how to troubleshoot basic AV problems to make the most out of every virtual meeting.

Remote collaboration will be around for the long haul so you might as well get good at it! Firms should consider providing specific best practices training on the most common platforms (Zoom, WebEx, MS Teams) and how to troubleshoot basic problems with audio and video (AV).

 

Connectivity

If your internet bandwidth is strained by multiple family members concurrently using it for school, work, and collaboration…you need to re-evaluate your service plan or provider.

If your internet access is normally good when working alone but suffers when multiple family members log on, the easiest solution may be to increase bandwidth.

Increase your bandwidth at the first sign of slowness.

If increasing bandwidth isn’t possible, look at other internet service providers including those that offer digital cellular (4G/5G) services, which is what we regularly rely on while traveling.

Prioritize work traffic, and maintain network security, by segmenting your router.

To make sure your connections are secure it is recommended that you segment your router to separate work from family and to prioritize work traffic.

It is also important to make sure your WiFi is secured by updating the firmware and changing the password.

Set up your mobile hotspot to make sure you stay connected if your internet goes down.

Most accounting offices have dual internet service providers, which isn’t always an option when working at home. We suggest users become comfortable working from their mobile hotspot as an emergency backup.

 

Location

In the rush to go virtual, many “newly remote” personnel set up a temporary workspace. And while these solutions were convenient at the time, they’re most likely not optimized based on what we know now.

No one anticipated (nearly a year ago) that they’d still be in close proximity to their family members; distance learners were expected to go back to school in the fall…and we know now, they’ll be learning-from-home through busy season.

Is your workspace conducive to work privacy for video calling/collaboration? The kitchen table does not promote “keeping client data confidential” or privacy when making calls. Do you have the ability to separate from others by shutting the door?

If you don’t have your own office, find a low-traffic area of your home and make it the “quiet zone.” Use this zone when you’re making video calls or collaborating.

Step back and evaluate if the ergonomics are conducive to good work and whether the workspace is free of clutter.

If you need a dedicated workspace, have you considered a standing desk that promotes better health?

And from a focus perspective, you should consider what direction you are facing. Avoid facing doors, family common areas, or windows that look out onto a lot of activity.

Desktop: Declutter your desk and prioritize your health with ergonomic equipment.

Seating Position: Are you working on a couch, hard kitchen chair, or bench? Maybe it’s time to upgrade that chair or buy a gel cushion for long term comfort and proper ergonomics.

Proper Lighting: Working onscreen for hours is a requirement for remote accounting work and can be hampered by a room that is too dark or is impacted by external glare, particularly if you are doing a lot of remote collaboration through video.

Noise Dampening: Can your workspace be closed off to minimize external noise during calls? If not there are white noise devices to neutralize ambient noise or you can utilize a noise-canceling headset and microphone.

 

Improve your workspace, starting today.

With remote work being the norm for the foreseeable future it is well worth pausing to optimize your setup to be more productive from the start of this busy season.

 


 

Download our eBook Homework and Working from Home to learn how else you can improve your remote work setup (especially for those with kids as their colleagues!)

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