MPs Take Slow, Safe Approach to Reopening Offices With Dozens of Data Points to Consider

As firm professionals have adjusted – first to the shock of the pandemic and then to working from home – another anxiety-ridden shift is beginning as states slowly allow returning to work.

Firm leaders interviewed by IPA are in no rush to unlock the doors. They are giving staff the option to come back when they are comfortable to do so, while weighing the risks of reopening and consulting guidance from numerous sources: their own HR experts, legal counsel, and state and federal health officials. Some are contacting vendors to conduct temperature checks, hiring sanitation crews and planning for social-distancing safeguards that were unimaginable even a few months ago.

Here are some of their comments:

  • A survey of staff by Miami-based MBAF, an IPA 100 firm, shows close to half are so concerned about their health that they want to continue to work from home at least through the summer. To avoid staff from working too close together when the office reopens, about 40% of the 30,000 square feet will have to remain unoccupied, says MP Tony Argiz.
  • Lou Grassi, MP of New York-based Grassi, says the IPA 100 firm won’t push employees to come back to the office immediately. Staff were invited to return starting June 15, with plans to sanitize offices weekly and implement six-foot distancing and other precautions. Grassi says staff will be encouraged to give feedback. “If there’s something about this that doesn’t make sense, we need to know.”
  • At Atlanta-based Aprio, an IPA 100 firm, Larry Sheftel, vice president of human resources, says the firm has contacted vendors about on-site temperature checks, and he expects far more remote working than pre-pandemic times. He says firm leaders are well aware that many staff will likely feel nervous about coming back. “Things may not really approach normal until the fall.”

Remote work under an extended lockdown has its own stresses and many will welcome their cubicle like an old friend, but even so, employees who walked out the door in March are different people now.

Todd Nordstrom, author, public speaker and coach, writes that some will be fearful of their health; some will be grateful for the care and concern they’ve been shown; some will be raring to move forward; others will be thinking that work isn’t as important as they once believed.

“We must realize that we don’t yet understand the emotional impact this pandemic has created in the hearts and minds of employees. And, we’ll never know unless we ask,” Nordstrom says in Forbes magazine.

Here are some of the considerations, compiled from legal and business publications:

  • Remember that at a bare minimum, follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and state and local governments. Rules are constantly changing and may not be consistent.
  • Create a re-entry task force to write interim policies until the pandemic is over, including disciplinary actions for violations of policies, including frequent hand washing, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces, wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and the like. Even-handed, consistent and thoughtful are the watchwords here. Don’t wing it, the National Law Review
  • Ask employees whether they have been exposed, have a sick person at home, or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or loss of taste and smell.
  • Supply paper towels instead of hand dryers because the jets can disperse virus particles, the Harvard Business Review reported. Disable water fountains and ice machines. Close common areas altogether rather than enforce social distancing.
  • Make a plan for notifying employees if they have been in contact (within 6 feet) of a coworker who has tested positive. Attorneys say the infected staffer should not be named; otherwise employers are in violation of federal privacy laws.
  • Think about how to approach concerns from employees about actions of their coworkers who congregate in crowds outside work.
  • Review time-off policies, including sick leave, and revamp business continuity plans to deal with the next crisis.

“It will be a fragile environment, so you want to be really deliberate and consistent in how you approach things,” says Kent Lambert, managing shareholder in the New Orleans office of Baker Donelson, on the legal news website “Try to be responsible and fair and even-handed and put safety first. If you approach things in that way, you’ll be in good shape.

Other resources:

IPA Pulse Survey: Compensation, Cuts and the Crisis

IPA’s latest pulse survey tapped the knowledge of nearly 150 MPs in late May on several key issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the topics of the pulse survey covered staffing and compensation and what moves, if any, firms had made (or were planning to make) with respect to layoffs, pay cuts and/or partner draws. And while many firms indicated they planned to hold steady in these areas, others were clearly taking action to stem some of the current or anticipated economic repercussions of the pandemic.

For example, only 5% of survey respondents indicated they had instituted across-the-board staff pay reductions as a direct result of the crisis – though the percentage was much higher among firms above $125 million. Meanwhile, 19% of firms had made pandemic-related layoffs (the percentage increased to 43% for firms between $75 and $125 million, and 31% for those above $125 million), but these cuts amounted to less than 10% of the staff for 90% of those respondents making cuts. And while the split among all respondents on partner draw reductions and/or adjustments to partner compensation schedules was right around 50-50, firms above $40 million were far more likely to have taken this route.

In terms of what lies ahead, most MPs seemed optimistic (at least back in late May) that they wouldn’t need to impose pay cuts or layoffs in the coming months, though the outlook among respondents in the $40-$75 million range wasn’t nearly as positive, with 47% in this group saying the possibility was either very likely or somewhat likely.   Catch up on more insights from this IPA Pulse Survey:

Shrinking the Physical Office Footprint

An Interesting Interlude for Internships

A ‘New Normal’ at the Office

Hiring on Hold?

Report: Women Twice as Likely Than Men to Leave Employer Within a Year Following Pandemic

New research conducted by the WerkLabs division of the Chicago-based The Mom Project reveals the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic on employees – particularly women and working moms.

In a recent survey of approximately 2,000 professionals across the country, women reported they are twice as likely than their male counterparts to leave their employer in a year’s time due to their workplace experience during the pandemic. That number is deeply connected to workplace satisfaction during the pandemic, with women scoring an average of 15 points lower than men on all drivers, meaning their work experience was more negative.

The impact of COVID-19 continues to hit many working moms, who are trying to juggle day-to-day lives and childcare on top of their careers. The economic impact of working moms’ coronavirus-related anxiety is estimated at $341 billion. Not only are women and working moms balancing a plethora of responsibilities, they are also fearing for their jobs – approximately 60% of the jobs eliminated in the first wave of pandemic-induced layoffs were held by women.

Of the professionals surveyed, more than one-third (38%) reported both their work and well-being have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Many participants who volunteered to offer more information on how the pandemic has impacted them and/or their work experience note that leadership believes because social activities are lessened or nonexistent as a result of the pandemic, the employee has more time for work and thus can handle a larger workload – regardless of work-life balance or other responsibilities like child care.

With the lines between parenthood and career blurred indefinitely as a result of the pandemic and various shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders and mandates, parents need greater support now more than ever. More than 50% of working parents are currently without childcare, and 1 in 5 working parents said either they or their partner are considering leaving the workforce to care for their children.

Full-time working mothers in two-parent households average 22 hours of childcare per week during the current climate while maintaining their jobs. Married men provide an average of 7.2 hours of childcare per week compared to 10.3 hours for married women, among those employed full-time.

“The pandemic has forced an unprecedented rapid shift in workplace culture and it’s important we understand and address the positives and negatives of this change because this may be the ‘new normal’ moving forward, or at least for an indefinite time,” says WerkLabs president Dr. Pamela Cohen.

IPA Pulse Survey: Hiring on Hold?

IPA’s latest pulse survey tapped the knowledge of nearly 150 MPs in late May on several key issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, given the disruption that many firms have endured and the uncertainty that lies ahead, we were interested in how firms are altering their hiring plans (if at all) for the remainder of 2020.

Among all respondents, more than half (51%) aren’t letting the pandemic interfere with their hiring plans. Some, however, are either pushing back start dates for new hires (17% of all respondents, but more than 50% of firms over $125 million) or putting a freeze on new hires altogether for the time being (24% of all respondents, but more than 40% of firms in the $75-$125 million range).

Other firms, meanwhile, are playing offense when it comes to hiring amid the ongoing crisis, with about one in five of all respondents planning to ramp up hiring. This aggressive stance is most prevalent among firms in the $75-$125 million range, where 57% of respondents are not letting the pandemic derail their quest for new talent.

Catch up on more insights from this IPA Pulse Survey:

Shrinking the Physical Office Footprint

An Interesting Interlude for Internships

A ‘New Normal’ at the Office

2020 Marketer of the Year Discusses Sales Culture in Awards Video

Annie Somermeyer, the 2020 Marketer of the Year for the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM), shared sales advice and the importance of focusing on client success during a recent video awards presentation.

IPA managing editor Christina Camara interviewed Somermeyer, director of business development at Madison, Wis.-based SVA Certified Public Accountants, an IPA 100 firm, during AAM’s virtual awards event June 3. This is IPA’s seventh year sponsoring the most prestigious award in the accounting marketing profession.

Somermeyer discussed the numerous initiatives she led to create more business for the firm, including a sales program for young professionals launched last year. Additionally, a sales entrepreneurs program for principals produced over $700,000 in new sales in FY19.

“We were trying anything and everything to create a sales culture because the more you do it, the more you talk about it, the more it’s top of mind, the more opportunity there is for it to develop.”

The panel of five Marketer of the Year judges was impressed by SVA’s Measurable Results campaign. The Measurable Results tagline, implemented as part of a firm rebrand several years ago, highlights the successes of its clients through popular video or written stories. Last year, CEO John Baltes encouraged the team to boost its output with eight client videos.

Not all accounting firm marketers have $1 million at their disposal and a team of eight, but understanding the business of accounting lays the groundwork for good results, no matter how many dollars you have to work with, Somermeyer says. “It’s less about the money and it’s really more about the impact that you’re making, so regardless of how big or small a budget is, it has to do something for the firm, and you need to be able to prove that out with some sort of data or measurement.”

Watch the video.

IPA Pulse Survey: An Interesting Interlude for Internships

IPA’s latest pulse survey tapped the knowledge of nearly 150 MPs in late May on several key issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, what changes (if any) are firms making to their internship plans at a time when money may be particularly tight and the majority of their offices may still be working remotely?

While only 4% of respondents reported having had to rescind offers already made to interns, 14% have made the decision to suspend their internship programs for the time being. Meanwhile, 12% of survey participants are moving ahead with their internships as scheduled but shifting them to an online experience, while 22% are keeping their intern commitments but pushing back start dates.

The highest percentage of respondents (47%), however, fell into the “other” category, where the range of explanations included the lack of an internship program to begin, plans for scaled-back program durations and some firms pushing ahead with their programs as scheduled.

Other firms, meanwhile, have opted for a combination of some of the measures noted above by reducing hours, curtailing program durations and cutting back on the number of internship offers going out. Still other firms continue sorting out their plans, while several with fall interns are holding steady for now and hoping for the best come September.

Catch up on more insights from this IPA Pulse Survey:

Shrinking the Physical Office Footprint

IPA Pulse Survey: Shrinking the Physical Office Footprint

As firms face a variety of difficult choices brought on by the logistical and economic fallout of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the months ahead – from staffing and compensation to office reopening and hiring plans – our latest IPA pulse survey checked in with close to 150 MPs from around the profession during the latter half of May to see where they stand on several key issues going forward.

For example, with almost every firm having had to quickly move to remote working in the wake of local safer-at-home shutdowns at the outset of the crisis – and with this experiment-by-necessity having gone so well for so many of them – some may be considering making more of their staff permanently remote when things return to some semblance of normal. In fact, 41% of respondents noted that it is either very or somewhat likely that more than half of their staff will continue working remotely for the foreseeable future.

For those firms that do in fact decide to go this route, it may stand to reason that they won’t need quite as much real estate to accommodate fewer people returning to the office. How many, then, will be looking to potentially reduce their physical square footage the next time their lease is up for renewal?

Among the respondents in our poll, almost half (46%) reported they will be looking to possibly reduce their physical office space as their next lease comes up, with 37% of that group planning to cut square footage by 10%-30% and another 10% planning to shed 30%-50% of their space.

While smaller firms (under $10 million, and with presumably much smaller office footprints) were less likely to be considering a reduction, those firms in the $75-$125 million range appear to be ready to leave behind their big offices (and big rents) like recent empty nesters fleeing a high-tax school district, with 86% in this group saying a square footage reduction in their next lease is either very or somewhat likely.

Of course, the trend toward physical downsizing may be one that was merely exacerbated by, rather than explicitly inspired by, the pandemic. In comments, several respondents noted that their firms had too much office space prior to COVID-19, so the crisis-inspired move to more remote work only served to confirm their preexisting plans to shed some of the excess capacity.

Somermeyer Named AAM’s 2020 Marketer of the Year

Annie Somermeyer, director of business development at Madison, Wis.-based SVA Certified Public Accountants, has received the Association for Accounting Marketing’s (AAM) 2020 Marketer of the Year award, sponsored by INSIDE Public Accounting (IPA).

The winner was announced by IPA June 3 at AAM’s virtual awards event.

Somermeyer and her team promote the CPA firm – ranked No. 67 on the 2019 IPA 100 list of largest accounting firms in the country – as well as SVA Wealth Management, SVA Trust Company and SVA Consulting. She is responsible for a $1.2 million marketing budget and supervises eight business development team members.

Somermeyer brings marketing and sales together, and she leads several initiatives to bring a sales culture to the firm, including a business development training program for early-career professionals and a two- to three-year sales entrepreneurs program for principals. SVA’s Sales Entrepreneurs produced over $700,000 in new sales in FY19.

About a dozen firm professionals are selected bi-annually to take part in another Somermeyer initiative, a public speaker training program (SVA Speaker Source). The firm markets their program graduates as experts on a variety of business topics to speak at trade shows, conferences and expos primarily in the Wisconsin markets of Madison, Milwaukee and Fox Valley.

The “Measurable Results” branding campaign is one of her most successful initiatives to date. The campaign features two-minute videos and/or written stories that highlight the results clients have achieved while working with SVA. High interest in the Measurable Results stories pushed her to produce an additional eight videos, which have been well received on both social media and in print advertising, pushing the total to 34 in the CPA firm and 23 in SVA Consulting.

“Our tagline ‘Measurable Results’ became more than just branding, it set a benchmark in how we internally measure our own success,” says CEO John Baltes. “We now have a growing portfolio of success stories told by clients, in their voice, on how SVA helped them be successful. Delivering measurable results has become the driving force in how we service and attract clients.”

COO Jennifer Hoege, who nominated Somermeyer for this prestigious award, calls her visionary, tenacious, knowledgeable, dedicated and an exceptional leader. “Her team are raving fans and will walk through fire for her.”

Somermeyer says she is a straight shooter and is passionate about what’s best for SVA, which may not always be the best for individual partners or principals. “The other thing I do is ask – ask for support, ask for funds, ask for technology tools, ask for people – one has to have the courage to simply ask for what you need in order to have impact in a greater way than in the past.”

In addition to her work developing the firm’s strategic vision and serving on numerous firm committees throughout her tenure, Somermeyer is heavily involved in the Madison community, where her volunteering has helped the Girl Scouts, Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, among other organizations.

This is the seventh year that IPA has sponsored the Marketer of the Year award. A panel of independent judges, themselves leaders in the profession, were selected by IPA to review and score each of the 2020 nominees.

AICPA Votes to Advance New CPA Licensure Model

Targeting the need for a fresh approach to CPA licensing that better recognizes the rapidly changing skills and competencies of the profession, the AICPA governing board voted in its May 20 virtual meeting to advance the new CPA Evolution initiative.

Developed jointly with NASBA based on feedback from more than 3,000 stakeholders in the profession, the proposed CPA Evolution model requires candidates to complete a core in accounting, auditing, tax and technology, to be supplemented by a chosen discipline consisting of deeper skills and knowledge. Regardless of the chosen discipline, the model would lead to a single CPA license, with no requirement that the licensee be limited to his or her chosen practice area.

In putting forth the CPA Evolution model, both AICPA and NASBA have noted that this combination of a common core and specialized disciplines will provide a deeper knowledge base, while better reflecting the realities of practice and remaining open to adaptation as the profession changes over time.

For its part, the NASBA board of directors will consider a vote to support the initiative in July. If approved, the organizations will work together to implement a new uniform CPA exam by January 2024.

More news from the AICPA

Managing the Turbulence of COVID-19: Advice From a Former Fighter Pilot

Joel “Thor” Neeb

The past few months have seen countless business gurus weigh in with words of wisdom on how companies can navigate the economic and organizational upheaval of the ongoing pandemic. But even with their many decades of experience, few of those experts have ever confronted the kind of high-stakes, life-or-death decision-making that a combat fighter pilot faces every day.

That’s why the perspective that Afterburner Inc. CEO Joel “Thor” Neeb brought to his recent webinar “Secrets to Making the Right Strategic Shifts During the COVID-19 Crisis” was a little bit different from what most leaders are probably used to hearing in a typical Zoom education session. Neeb, a former F-15 pilot and trainer (and a popular past keynote speaker at the PRIME Symposium), spent an hour detailing the first of what he calls the three A’s to responding in a crisis: (1) Assess, (2) Align and (3) Act with Agility.

The insights Neeb passed along came from what he militarily referred to as a SITREP, or situation report, which involves virtual debriefs consisting of hundreds of interviews with company leaders to find out what went right during a crisis, what went wrong and what should be done differently the next time. A crucial component of every mission he flew, Neeb noted that these types of debriefs were critical in helping his pilots understand how to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively, with the feedback being used to shape plans and tactics for future missions.

Among the takeaways from the Afterburner debriefs Neeb thinks leaders should consider as they steer their companies through this pandemic – and whatever comes next – are the following:

Team Morale: Those leaders who rated their team morale as average to above average, even amid the personal and professional chaos of the past several months, tended to be fronting successful organizations. The important thing to keep an eye on going forward, however, is that ongoing team morale is not something that can be taken for granted – leaders need to make sure those good feelings and positive contributions continue as the crisis drags on.

Individual Morale: Here again, leaders of organizations that were doing a good job amid the pandemic reported average to above average morale among individual team members. And, here again, that morale is something that will need to be closely monitored going forward.

Virtual Working: Almost every company has had to pivot – quickly and often with little lead time – to working remotely. And while 87% of leaders felt they had been successful in making that transition within their organizations, Neeb raised an important question to ask: How are clients doing with the same transition? It’s easy, in other words, to think the move to virtual working has been a big success based on what one sees within his or her own company. But if you’re not paying attention to how your clients are doing during this time, you’re probably missing the bigger picture.

Uncovering Threats: While 80% of leaders have noticed new threats to their companies during the pandemic, the flip side of that statistic is that 50% have discovered new opportunities as well. Neeb gave the example of a uniform manufacturer that was facing massive losses as the world shifted to work-from-home staffs, but was able to quickly and deftly reimagine its operations to start cranking out much-in-demand face masks.

The Competition: A majority of leaders (52%) did not believe their competitors were outperforming them during the crisis, but 26% thought they were and 22% simply didn’t know. It’s those latter groups Neeb says need to get moving – and quickly – noting that it’s more important now than ever to pay attention to competitors in order to make sure your organization is keeping pace or staying one step ahead.