Reflect on morale and team spirit as you consider reopening your office

Shutterstock_1742168762Across the country, CPA firms are deciding when best to reopen their offices, knowing employees are integral to the success. Here are solutions for maintaining employee morale and team spirit while ensuring a good flow of communication between staff and clients.   

Address key concerns.

Given an uncertain economy and rising unemployment numbers, staff may be worried about their futures. At the 13-person Hutchins & Haake, LLC, Chad Allen, CPA, CITP, says “the main concern was putting people’s minds at ease that the firms weren’t planning layoffs.” Chad did that by holding individual video conferences with each team member to answer questions and offer reassurance. Even if jobs are in jeopardy, it’s best to be transparent — secrecy and surprises can damage employees’ trust in firm leadership and lower morale and engagement among remaining staff.

Show a willingness to adapt to employees’ needs.

Firm members may worry about keeping their jobs if they have concerns about returning to an office, especially if they lack childcare or have another family obligation that make it hard to work away from home.

Many firms are taking a flexible approach and leaving the decision about where to work up to the individual. Some firms don’t see an immediate need or compelling argument to reopen their offices right now.

“Since we’ve been effective working remotely, we’re not necessarily anxious to reopen,” says Erin Roche, CPA, CGMA, of Elliott CPA Group in Santa Rosa, CA. Her 10-person firm has accommodated the needs of one team member who didn’t have access to a dedicated workspace and was allowed to work alone at the firm’s satellite office.

Create a healthy workspace.

Employees will want to know that they can return to the office without fear of contracting coronavirus and that efforts are being made to protect their health. In addition to following any local or state guidelines, firms should monitor recommendations on testing and sanitization throughout their facilities and communicate their efforts to the staff.

At Forbush and Associates, most staff members have returned to the office, but none are required to come back and all have access to tools that would allow them to continue work remotely, according to Brent Forbush, CPA, CGMA. The 14-person, Reno, NV-based firm uses a filter that’s similar to one that casinos employ to maintain air quality. The office manager disinfected the entire office before staff returned and regularly wipes down common areas, entryways and door handles, as well as the break room. With clients now coming to office meetings, all appointments are held in a large conference room that is sanitized after each use and that allows for social distancing. Masks, gloves and hand sanitizer are available to staff and visitors.

Keep the connection going.

Consider bringing people together by hosting virtual weekly staff meetings and Friday afternoon happy hours. One-to-one meetings with firm leaders make it possible to get feedback from those who don’t speak up in group meetings. To engage staff further, CPAs can solicit ideas about workspaces — at home or in the office — and alternative ways of working once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Rethink your management approach.

Enabling staff to continue to be successful is an important part of maintaining morale and firm productivity.

Firms are in a great position to leverage all they’ve learned about managing staff remotely in recent months. “It’s not different from managing face-to-face as long as you focus on output and production,” Allen says. “That’s really what management of staff is about.” He oversees the attest group and checks in with them on a daily video call.

Even given all these steps, firms may find that their people are more anxious, sensitive or distracted than usual. Since we have all been through an extraordinary time together, the best approach is to focus on the common connections and experiences that all your firm members share and on the reasons you are all together.

Erin K. Carson, PMP, Manager - Young Member Initiatives, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants