Platt’s Perspective: The Genie Is Out Of The Bottle – For Remote Work And Many Other Activities

For years, a debate has raged within some firms on whether to allow remote work or insist that everyone be present in the office. Younger workers have been pushing for flexibility, and some older partners have been resisting it. How can we make it work? Who gets the privilege of working from home? How will we know they are working when they are not here? How do we manage the staff?

Well, my friends, the genie is out of the bottle. COVID-19 has quickly pushed everyone into the deep end of the pool, and those who planned for it just continued on, while those who were still debating remote work may be doing their best to figure it out on the fly.

Even as we all find ways to adapt to changing the way we work and interact with one another, a growing chorus of thought leaders from all disciplines is suggesting we will not be going back to “business as usual.” Unlike a passing storm when everyone seeks shelter until the skies clear, this time, when we come out of our bunkers, the landscape will have changed. New ways of doing business will emerge. New business models, pricing models, service models and delivery models will forever alter the way you will conduct business going forward. Client interactions, staff interactions and the focus on recovery by truly listening and helping those in need are all changing, and hopefully for the better.

Mike Platt

Mike Platt

I’m an optimist by nature. I believe most firms will adapt and change and be better once they are fully operational again. I believe that the shift to more advisory services, which has been growing slowly every year (for decades I may add!) will kick into high gear as many firms step in and help their clients recover from an economic downturn that no one predicted would come so quickly.

Consider three immediate changes emerging from the current environment:

  • Conversations are already different, both in tone as well as in the technology used to conduct them.
  • Social media, which for years psychologists have indicated has contributed to increased feelings of isolation, suddenly becomes a tool to truly help us be social again.
  • The focus on “we” instead of on “me” is a welcome change and something that will serve us all well in the future.

No doubt there will be difficult times ahead as we crawl out of this natural disaster. To the many who adapt and embrace the radical changes that lie ahead, we stand ready to bring you stories of success, adaptation and evolution that are sure to emerge. To the few who hope that we return to the status quo, we wish you luck in putting the genie back into the bottle.

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Maryland CPAs Share Pandemic Concerns in Virtual Town Hall

More than 400 CPAs attending a recent virtual town hall sponsored by the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA) expressed concerns ranging from counseling clients and understanding new laws and regulations to balancing the bottom line and helping their teams feel safe, productive and connected in the sudden shift to remote work amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The virtual meeting and professional issues update on March 30 took the place of MAPCA’s usual in-person spring events.

In addition to several common business-related challenges, attendees expressed concerns about issues impacting the country as a whole, including uncertainty about what will happen next, keeping those closest to us safe and healthy, work-life balance in an all-remote environment and questions about how long this will last.

By the numbers, some of their biggest concerns included the following:

  • A potential recession – 72%
  • The financial impact on their organizations – 59%
  • The impact on their workforces and a potential reduction in productivity – 45%
  • A decrease in consumer and business confidence – 39%
  • A lack of information with which to make good decisions or to help their clients – 44%

In addition, 65% of those polled expect a slight, moderate or significant decrease in revenue and profitability as a result of the crisis, while 25% weren’t sure what to expect.

MACPA has scheduled additional virtual professional issues updates on April 24, May 22 and June 30 to get ongoing pandemic-related feedback from its members.

“Our next challenge is to continue our advocacy efforts and to provide more resources to our members about the federal and state COVID-19 relief resources,” says MACPA president and CEO Tom Hood.

More news from the MACPA

Mark Baer to Take Reins as Crowe CEO Next Year

Mark Baer

Mark Baer

Chicago-based Crowe (FY19 net revenue of $951.9 million) has announced that firm veteran Mark Baer will be appointed CEO effective April 1, 2021, when current CEO Jim Powers completes his second and firm-mandated final term. The firm’s CEO succession plan includes a one-year transition period for Powers and Baer to work together.

Baer has been the MP of Crowe’s audit and assurance services area for the past five years. He has also served the firm as a member of Crowe’s firmwide management committee, CEO advisory council and partner screening committee. Baer worked with a Big 4 firm for 10 years before joining Crowe in 2001 and being admitted as a partner in 2003.

“Mark was chosen to lead our firm for many reasons but primarily due to his visionary mindset with a focus on our digital transformation, his track record of successful leadership of our audit and assurance practice and his commitment to audit quality,” says Dawnella Johnson, Crowe board chair. “He’s a strong communicator and inspirational leader, with a concentration on building talent and teams.”

More news from Crowe LLP

AICPA Appeals to IRS, Treasury for ‘Extensive Relief’ for Taxpayers

In light of the ongoing uncertainty and challenges caused by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the AICPA called for the U.S. Department of the Treasury and IRS to provide more extensive relief to all taxpayers.

Noting its appreciation for the agencies’ efforts to extend the tax filing and payment deadlines announced in the recent Notice 2020-18, the AICPA is nevertheless stressing the importance of providing additional relief. The AICPA recommends:

Postponing all deadlines and providing additional time to make payments. The AICPA believes taxpayers who do not have an April 15 payment or filing date are inherently disadvantaged and would similarly benefit from a deferral. The group argues that these individuals and their advisors need additional time for filings, tax payments, estimated taxes and gathering pertinent information to include in those filings or payment calculations.

Providing appropriate filing and payment relief for all filers and taxpayers (including tax-exempt organizations and fiscal year corporations) for tax returns, information returns, elections, claims for refund and other correspondence. The AICPA says relief should also apply broadly to all types of taxes (including payroll, excise tax, estate, gift and generations-skipping transfer tax, etc.), noting that deferment of other taxes that are not income taxes is necessary to aid both businesses and their employees.

“With shelter-in-place orders issued throughout the country and a spreading pandemic, there is a significant list of filing and payment challenges left unresolved,” says AICPA Vice President of Taxation Edward Karl. “We urge the Treasury Department and IRS to grant additional relief in these uncertain times and offer our assistance in identifying specific areas in need of FAQs or formal authoritative guidance.”

More news from the AICPA

Maryland CPAs Seek ‘Essential Business’ Designation During Shutdown

Maryland Gov. Lawrence Hogan this morning ordered all non-essential businesses in the state to close, but the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA) is asking Hogan to make an exception for CPAs.

Anticipating the shutdown, a March 21 letter to Hogan asked that the CPA profession be included on the list of essential critical infrastructure workforce exceptions.

Tom Hood

MACPA president and CEO Tom Hood requested the designation, which would allow public accountants to go to their physical offices as needed, while maintaining appropriate social distancing by staffing at less than 50% of office capacity. Hood’s argument notes that while many CPAs have implemented remote work, there are some critical functions that are required to be done in the office, including payroll and banking in secure systems, as well as processing mail with checks, invoices and other financial correspondence.

He further argues that CPAs are essential to the U.S. economy due to their work on compliance with federal and state tax and financial reporting requirements, the preparation of taxes, audits and financial reports for business financing and loans, and projections and contingency planning for businesses. And, since the financial services sector has been designated as one of 16 essential critical infrastructure areas by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, MACPA believes CPAs should surely be included in that designation.

This is a fluid situation, so please check with your state societies for any updates.

PwC Study: CFOs Anxious About Massive Coronavirus Impact

Fifty finance leaders in the U.S. and Mexico are very concerned that the coronavirus pandemic may lead to a global economic downturn, according to a new survey by Big 4 firm PwC.

That No. 1 concern, cited by 80% of those surveyed March 9-11, is followed by worries about consumer confidence (48%), financial operations (48%) and workforce productivity (42%). The CFO Pulse Survey also revealed that every CFO or finance leader says their business is impacted by the coronavirus.

“We don’t think it’s a time for companies, or others, to hold onto original plans for 2020,” says U.S. Chair Tim Ryan during a media briefing, according to CFO.com. “It’s clear that the virus will change the plans of almost every company.”

Companies that are ready will feel fewer impacts, he adds. “Those that have been working very hard to control things like cost structure and liquidity will fare better, and those that weren’t will be more adversely affected.”

Most of the respondents predict the crisis will impact their revenues and profits, with 58% expecting a decrease and while 40% saying it’s too difficult to assess now. The leaders are considering financial actions as a result of the outbreak, with 62% planning cost containment measures, 44% adjusting guidance and 32% deferring or canceling planned investments.

Optimism was reflected in the survey as well, with 66% of respondents saying “business as usual” could return to normal in less than a month if the COVID-19 were to end today. Another 24% said it would take up to three months.

“The longer-lasting effects of the outbreak on consumer habits are difficult to predict, but some companies are already updating strategies in the face of temporary – and potentially permanent – changes in some markets or business models,” the survey report says.

PwC is conducting biweekly surveys of finance leaders in the U.S. and Mexico. The next set of results will be released on March 30.

More news from PwC

Create a Wow Factor Workplace for Remote Employees: Ways to Nurture Employee Engagement

When you create a culture of ‘wow,’ it makes a powerful impact on all employees – including the growing number of people who work away from the office. Deb Boelkes shares a few of her best practices for inspiring and empowering your remote workforce.

In 2020, there’s a good chance at least some of your employees work from home, a coworking space or some other distant location. And while the arrangement has benefits for all parties, the trade-off is that remote workers get far less (if any) face time with leaders and coworkers. This may lead you to wonder: Can you truly engage remote employees? Is it possible to shape a positive company culture that encompasses everyone?

Boelkes says yes – and the solution lies in your ongoing pursuit of the “wow factor.” This is her terminology for those “Best Place to Work” leaders who consistently motivate and inspire employees, fill them with purpose, challenge them, and make them feel safe and supported.

“Many companies don’t work to deliberately shape a positive culture,” says Boelkes, author of The WOW Factor Workplace: How to Create a Best Place to Work Culture. “They think it will just happen, but that’s rarely true even when everyone is in the same place. And if a company has remote employees, the need to get intentional about culture-building is intensified.”

Engaging remote employees comes down to making them feel like they belong and are part of a cohesive team. They should feel valued and understand that their contributions are seen and appreciated, and that they are making an impact. That’s job No. 1.

Boelkes says there are plenty of simple engagement practices that make your virtual team members feel supported, connected and empowered.

Make sure remote employees know why they’re there. All employees should know (and embrace) the mission, vision, values and objectives of the company. They are a big part of how you convey the sense of meaning and purpose that’s so vital to engagement. Talk about these guiding factors explicitly and regularly. These things can change and when they do you need everyone in the loop. Additionally, make sure remote employees understand how their work aligns with and supports goals of the company, division and department.

“All team members need to know what they do really matters and that their efforts ­– and results – make a difference,” says Boelkes. “Acknowledge them in the way they prefer to be acknowledged.”

Never leave them hanging or assume they know what’s going on. This is vital, says Boelkes, especially regarding decisions made at upper levels. The biggest complaint most large or multi-site companies hear from employee satisfaction surveys is lack of communication from senior leaders. Don’t be a micromanager but do communicate, communicate, communicate…and be consistent in your messaging from the top down.

Make yourself available (on their timetable). Managers need to make sure meaningful one-on-one conversations with remote reports happen. Out of sight (and off-site) should not mean out of mind or out of the loop. Be willing to be flexible versus forcing employees to adapt to your schedule and communication style.

“Find out what works for your remote reports,” says Boelkes. “Some team members may prefer to establish a fixed time each week to catch up while others may prefer to call in for a quick update as project schedules permit. Let the employee know when you will be available and how they can get a message to you if it’s critical. Otherwise, be there for them.”

Be proactive about removing their roadblocks. If something is preventing a remote worker from being able to do their job efficiently, make sure they know to immediately come to you. In fact, ask them regularly if they need anything. It’s the manager’s job to remove any obstacles impeding team members’ efforts and to get them the resources and information they need.

Bring all team members together often. If possible, have an all-hands, on-site meeting at the start of a major project or at the beginning of the fiscal year. At the very least, schedule weekly all-hands team calls to update everyone on what’s going on, to see who needs help, to announce major accomplishments and recognize team members, and to brainstorm new approaches.

“Team members need to know each other,” says Boelkes. “They need to know what the other members are working on, and how they can help one another. They need to trust each other. Regular meetings can help achieve all of that.”

Remember: face to face matters, so make it happen however you can. You may not be able to meet in person often, but try to make it happen at least occasionally. And of course, conferencing technology like Zoom, WhatsApp or FaceTime can be incredibly valuable in helping remote employees connect and engage with the rest of the team. “Observation of facial expressions and body language can be just as important as hearing the words being spoken,” says Boelkes.

Don’t let meetings become time-wasters. Call meetings only when necessary and keep them succinct. When preparing for a remote team call or video conference, ask individual members ahead of time what, if anything, they want to present, what they want to hear or learn, and if they have anything to share. Then stick to the agenda.

Encourage team members to connect with one another regularly. “Feeling like part of a team is vital,” says Boelkes. “The boss doesn’t have to be the one who coordinates everything. Make sure they feel free to text, phone or email each other when they have questions or need guidance or feedback.”

Pair new employees with a “buddy.” Newer employees need more hand holding – especially if they’re telecommuting. Among other training, the buddy’s job is to make sure the employee knows who does what on the team, who is an expert at what, and who to go to for what.

Be sensitive to cultural differences. Not everyone interprets communications the same way. Cultural differences can occur regionally within the same country but may be especially problematic between major geographic regions and countries. If this occurs, managers must really listen for understanding, then reframe and restate what they heard, and ask the remote worker to do the same.

“Managing multi-country team members can be difficult if members never have on-site meetings over multiple days during which people can get to know each other,” says Boelkes. “When possible, it’s helpful to know locals or expats who are from the remote region and can interpret what may be intended or how things could be interpreted in various situations.”

Occasionally, oversee employee/client interactions. From time to time, managers should try to participate live when an employee has important events with a customer or client; listening to the clients’ feedback is just as important as employee feedback. While it is important to show trust and confidence in the team members serving the client, it is equally important to acknowledge when things need improvement or when action must be taken.

When in doubt, reach out. If things aren’t feeling right with an employee, they probably aren’t. Meet in person for a heart-to-heart off-site and talk through their concerns or problems. And again, as a general rule try to get together in person at least once a year if not quarterly; these meetings keep the lines of communication open.

Request feedback (from your customers AND your remote workers). During one-on-ones with each remote employee as well as during one-on-ones with clients, ask for honest feedback. Then based on that feedback, strategize ways the organization could better leverage the skillsets of the team members while moving the organization closer to its goals.

Know when an employee isn’t suited for remote work. Pay attention to signs that an employee is not cut out for being a remote team member. For example, they may frequently turn in work late, get distracted or lose sight of the project at hand, or need frequent interaction with coworkers.

“Some workers need daily live interaction to do their best work,” says Boelkes. “Be attuned to this and don’t be afraid to make changes to ensure the employee is in the right environment with the needed support and/or freedom.”

Finally, make sure every employee knows you have their best interests at heart. Be a heartfelt leader.

You can’t inspire anyone – in-house or otherwise – until you start leading with your heart,” concludes Boelkes. “Check in with your own passion and make sure it informs all of your interactions. Your heart-driven engagement will spread to your workers near and far, and together you will make a difference.”

AICPA Survey: Coronavirus Concerns Grow Among Business Executives

Business executives’ outlook for the U.S. economy rose sharply in the past quarter, but concern is growing about the potential global fallout from the spread of coronavirus.

This is according to the first-quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey, which polls CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other CPAs in senior management roles.

Some 61% of respondents expressed optimism about the U.S. economy’s overall outlook over the next 12 months, up from 50% last quarter. But responses in the final week of the survey, following dramatic stock market declines as the coronavirus spread, were decidedly more pessimistic.

Most businesses said they have seen no impact from coronavirus yet, although 21% reported at least a slight impact. Those impacted said they had seen some combination of supply chain interruptions (10%), factory shutdowns in China or other affected regions (7%), and decreased sales to China (5%) or other markets (3%).

Some 7% of business executives said their companies had made a minor downward adjustment to their profit and revenue forecasts due to virus concerns, while 51% said they had made no change but were closely monitoring the situation.

Forty-two percent said they didn’t expect to have to make any coronavirus-related adjustments, but – like the U.S. economic optimism question – responses late in the survey cycle showed much less confidence.

The AICPA survey is a forward-looking indicator that tracks hiring and business-related expectations for the next 12 months. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Labor’s February employment report, scheduled for release tomorrow, looks back on the previous month’s hiring trends.

More news from the AICPA

Eide Bailly Merges in HMWC

Fargo, N.D.-based Eide Bailly (FY19 net revenue of $341.7 million) has merged in Tustin, Calif.-based HMWC CPAs & Business Advisors (FY19 net revenue of $17.9 million).

The deal, effective May 18, will add 13 partners and 80 staff to Eide Bailly and a new office in Orange County, Calif., in addition to the 10 it already operates in the state.

“The addition of HMWC enhances our California team with a strong commitment to client service, talented staff and a culture that matches our own dedication to being a firm of choice for clients and staff,” says MP and CEO Dave Stende.

HMWC , founded 52 years ago, specializes in medical, dental, construction and real estate clients.

“Joining forces with Eide Bailly will help us serve our clients even better by allowing us to offer additional resources and services to our clients that will help them achieve their goals,” says MP Steve Williams. “We will be able to enhance our ability to serve our clients with additional expertise and talent in areas such as technology consulting, specialized tax services and more that will help them succeed in today’s business environment.”

He adds that staff will also benefit with opportunities for learning and professional growth “to pursue their passions, which in turn will enrich our clients’ experiences.”

Koltin Consulting Group and Gary Shamis of Winding River Consulting advised both two firms.

“HMWC had opportunities with many regional and national firms, but the culture match with Eide Bailly, as well as the leadership and growth opportunities for both clients and their people, made this a great match between two high-performing and well-respected firms,” says Allan Koltin, CEO of Koltin Consulting Group.

Eide Bailly will have more than 350 partners and 2,500 staff after the merger takes effect.

More news from Eide Bailly and HMWC.

If You Want Growth, Your Company Must Have These Three Non-Traditional Roles By: Josh Linkner

From the local barbershop to the giant, multinational corporation, businesses of all shapes and sizes desperately want one thing: growth. Regardless of industry, geography or scale, a company’s ability to grow is directly linked to the inherent enterprise value.

In working closely with organizations around the world, I’ve noticed that the ones who really savor consistent growth have three critical archetypes in their leadership ranks: The Hipster, The Hustler and The Hacker. In smaller companies, a single person may have two or three of these traits. In larger businesses, each role may be filled by an entire team. But if you’re missing one or more of these mission-critical personality types, you’re undercutting your ability to grow.

Let’s examine each of them:

The Hipster. Our first key role understands the times. They’re up to speed with new trends, know what’s relevant and what’s yesterday’s news, and is deeply connected with the zeitgeist of the day. The Hipster ensures the organization is catering to today’s – and tomorrow’s – customer needs, helping to avoid complacency and ultimately irrelevance. Picking up on subtle cues and understanding the convergence of macro-trends, it’s the business equivalent of being fashion-forward.

The Hustler. Every business needs a promoter, and hopefully yours has the wizardry of legendary boxing promoter Don King. Ensuring that the message cuts through the noise to customers, investors and employees, this person paints a compelling vision and communicates with passion. The role may be a traditional rainmaking role such as VP of sales or chief marketing officer, or it could be something more progressive such as chief evangelist. Someone has to really embrace the core message, and then scream it from the mountaintops.

The Hacker. What organization can grow without a figure-it-out czar? Business is all about tackling insurmountable challenges in creative ways – from sales and marketing obstacles, to production and manufacturing pitfalls. The Hacker believes that every code can be cracked, wasting no time saying it can’t be done. Deconstructing existing approaches, defying traditions and sticking a finger in the eye of conventional wisdom are the hallmarks of this important role.

How does your company stack up when considering these pivotal personalities? If you’re down one, it’s time to recruit or promote quickly. If you lack two or more, you’re in danger of stalling or losing ground. Instead of ensuring traditional roles such as CFO, CMO and CIO, fill your leadership ranks, make sure you’ve got these three growth drivers staffed with A+ talent.

Your biggest leaps forward in growth will occur with the formidable combination of The Hipster, The Hustler and The Hacker.

Josh Linkner, a keynoter at IPA’s PRIME Symposium in 2015, is an author and frequent public speaker on innovation, leadership and creativity.