By Amanda S. Marcy, CPA
Graduating college and entering the public accounting world can be a daunting step in one’s professional life. The COVID-19 pandemic surely has not made it any easier as public accounting firms have adopted remote, flexible working arrangements for staff. Public accounting firms and professional organizations, such as the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs, American Institute of CPAs, and National Association of State Boards of Accountancy have guidance in the form of articles, blogs, and webinars to help those entering a new work environment from their own homes. This blog includes tips for emerging CPAs in acclimating to this evolving work environment.
It is important to develop a routine to help remain focused and productive. Get up each morning and dress for the workday. This does not necessarily mean business professional, but you should at least change out of your pajamas. Maintain similar hours and treat your assignments as you would in the office. If possible, create a separate workspace that mimics an office. If there is certain office equipment that you need to replicate – dual monitor, scanner, office phone – talk to your firm about obtaining them for your home. Set a schedule and stick to it – designate times for completing tasks, answering emails, making phone calls, and attending virtual meetings. More importantly, ensure time for breaks, whether that be for lunch or simply to stretch your legs.
Self-discipline is among the biggest challenges during this unusual time. Remember: you are not on vacation and you need to maintain an “at work” mindset. Set boundaries with your family members, roommates, and friends. Indicate that there are certain hours you are working from home, and, unless it is an emergency, they should reach out to you during your lunch break or at the end of your workday. Additionally, distance yourself from other potential distractions, including pets, unnecessary electronics, social media, and cell phone. Work during you work hours and leave personal tasks for your personal time.
Communication and transparency with your supervisors, teammates, and clients will be critical. There are numerous video conferencing tools available – find out your firm’s preference and familiarize yourself with its features. Make sure to stay connected with your supervisor regarding expectations for project deadlines, budgeted hours, and acceptable end-products. Additionally, coordinate with your supervisor as to your intended work hours and breaks to ensure that they mesh with your team. As you work through your assigned tasks, it will be critical for you to be more forward about needing assistance and asking questions for clarification. Ihyisha Simms, PwC tax director, advises emerging CPAs “to get out of your comfort zone…. It is not going to be as easy as it was before when you could physically see people…. You are going to have to do direct reach outs.” Consider setting up a routine phone or video conference meeting with your supervisor to discuss your progress and any challenges you are facing in completing assigned tasks as well as to get feedback to help you to meet your goals.
The virtual work environment is new not only to you and your firm, but also to your clients. You will need to expect that firm- or client-driven schedule changes may occur, and you must be able to adapt to such changes. Having regular communications will keep you abreast of and help you to prepare for modifications. Your supervisor might ask you to work or attend a team or client meeting during a time that is not your “regular” work time. You must be willing to accommodate these needs to show that you are a team player and a reliable employee.
Physical and mental wellbeing is important to remaining productive. As such, it is essential to schedule some “you” time throughout the course of your workweek to disconnect. This could include reading a book, watching a Netflix series, taking on a new hobby, studying for the CPA Exam, or going for a run. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans states that, in addition to its physical health benefits, adequate activity can promote emotional and mental health by reducing anxiety and blood pressure and improving sleep quality.1 Look for ways to build a connection with coworkers. Firms and professional organizations have had to discontinue their regular networking events, which were essential in developing a sense of belonging and effective teamwork. As an alternative, consider scheduling and hosting virtual lunches, happy hours, or game nights with coworkers. In addition to developing a connection with them, it will provide a much-needed outlet for socialization during this time of social distancing.
Finally, do not forget to celebrate your victories. Ihyisha advises, “Make sure that you make time to celebrate even your smallest victories; this is why you work so hard.”
1 U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. (Washington, D.C., 2018).
Amanda S. Marcy, CPA, is an assistant professor of accounting at the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sign up for weekly professional and technical updates in PICPA's blogs, podcasts, and discussion board topics by completing this form.