If this were a typical tax season, right now we’d be talking about how to maintain momentum post-busy season. My tips would include advising managers to focus their junior staff on studying for and passing their CPA and ethics exams, encouraging training and CPE acquisition, and recommending that everyone start planning vacations, even if it’s just a long weekend.
But this is the year of coronavirus, and despite April 15th being firmly behind us, busy season is not. This year firms were handed an extended filing deadline for federal (and most state) returns, along with shelter in place and stay at home orders. Now, in addition to dealing with the usual compression issues, firms must contend with multiple issues affecting productivity, ranging from learning to work effectively in a remote environment with new technologies to a lack of incoming client data.
As we see states begin to ease stay at home restrictions, and modified work arrangements being discussed, the window for firms to adjust their schedules is closing. Unless firms plan now, they will be unable to avoid late-season compression issues as a deluge of client data comes crashing into the office. So how do you keep your staff productive and avoid those late June and July compression issues?
Here are five ways that you can help your staff maintain forward momentum.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. If you do nothing else, focus your firm on continuing client communication and engagement to stress the importance of providing the necessary information to complete returns. Communication can be a double-edged sword; firms did such a great job communicating the extended deadline that clients currently have no sense of immediacy. Engaging with some clients may be as simple as a phone call or email. For clients accustomed to dropping by the office and having a consult, video meetings may create that sense of connection.
- Complete, or start on, everything you can. If you have projects on the books for later in the year that aren’t affected by the current work environment, start them now if possible. For those clients who file extensions every year but have not yet been filed, don’t wait - file them now. Do prep work in advance whenever possible, and make sure that your team is documenting every point and piece of missing information.
- Create models to project future workload. We know that the current filing pace is behind prior years. However, firms can use prior year data, along with current year completion rates, to create models projecting remaining workload and capacity. Ideally, your workflow solution should be collecting this data for you. However, even if your firm is tracking points and engagement status via Excel, you should be able to create a rough model of work left to complete.
- Schedule training now. Consider moving summer training up to avoid the issues that will come from combining training and tax compression. Encourage more junior staff members to wrap up their studying and sit for a CPA exam (maybe not FAR). Prometric is once again testing on a limited basis, with 297 centers scheduled to open. Keep an eye out for CPE opportunities now that most summer conferences have been canceled or gone virtual. How can you ensure your staff earns the necessary CPEs to maintain licensure?
- Educate your clients. At some point, your clients will need your assistance. To avoid them reaching out during your busiest time, look for ways to connect with them now. How can you help clients navigate their way through the changes brought on by COVID-19? Consider what your clients will need to reopen safely – if your niche is restaurants, what new technology tools will they need? Pre-coronavirus, the SECURE act made some significant changes to the tax law landscape; will your clients need assistance navigating those changes?
Bonus tip: Don’t forget about networking opportunities. Summer conferences offer opportunities to learn from our colleagues, discuss new technologies, and create connections for the future, and many conferences have gone virtual. Take advantage of the virtual environment to attend a conference you usually wouldn’t be able to.
As the country slowing begins the process of lifting stay at home and shelter in place orders, firms will need to be prepared for a flood of client inquiries and incoming data. Before you know it, July 15th will be here. Apply these tips to your firm and maintain forward momentum as you navigate through the extended busy season.