by Julia Henderson, VSCPA Marketing & Membership Director
On March 23, 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order that stated:
Although business operations offering professional rather than retail services may remain open, they should utilize teleworking as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such business must adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and apply the relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities. CPA firms can continue operating in person but are strongly encouraged to provide telework and maintain social distancing when in the office.
You may be asking, though: If a shelter-in-place or lockdown order occurs, is accounting an essential service? We think so. On March 21, we sent a letter to the governor asking CPAs to be considered essential service providers, as they have in other states. In the meantime, keep your staff and clients safe by limiting patrons and following health rules.
Many small CPA firms and businesses are struggling with how to protect their staff and clients while maintaining business continuity. Even with the federal filing deadlines extended, you and your clients will face some form of business disruption. We’ve got a VSCPA Coronavirus Resources for CPAs page to keep you updated and informed, as well a list of simple technology tools for small CPA firms.
Here are some basic guidelines and tips to help you navigate these unprecedented circumstances.
- To the extent that your technology allows, you and your staff should be working remotely.
- If you must have staff in the office to perform vital operational duties, consider rotating their schedules to minimize the number of people in the office at any given time.
Replace in-person meetings with virtual ones. You can use technology tools such as Webex , Zoom and Google Hangout to interact with clients or staff when you need to share documents during a discussion. Both have free options and are easy to set up. FaceTime or a Facebook Messenger video call are options if you don’t need to share documents but still want to interact beyond a basic phone call.
- If you’re not already using one, now is a great time to set up a web portal for sharing documents. Dropbox and GoogleDrive are commonly used portals for sharing documents. Other paid services include Doc.it, Sharefile, and SendthisFile. Just be sure to use a secure portal with encryption. Do not send documents with financial or other sensitive information via email.
- If you must receive hard copies of documents, designate a secure place and a specific time for clients to drop off documents. Documents can also be sent via priority mail, with tracking for added security.
- Take credit card and an online payments through a tool like CPACharge, a VSCPA partner. Members can sign up with CPACharge and get three months free. There are other options, too, like PayPal for Business.
- A virtual private network (VPN) is a way to connect to your company’s network and any IT provider can assist with setting that up.
- Check out this list of simple technology tools that could be helpful to stay connected to your clients and staff while working remotely. Many applications integrate with QuickBooks online, which could be helpful for you and your clients.
- Clear and proactive client and customer communication is critical. Share your company’s current operations and include how and when they will be getting status updates. If firm clients are filing and making payments electronically, provide them with clear instructions and deadlines.
- Maintain open and honest communication with your staff. They’re looking to firm leaders for direction. You may not have all the answers or know what tomorrow will look like, but be cognizant that this is a stressful and uncertain time for everyone.
- Keep a running list of the things that you’re doing or things you wish you could do or would have prepared so that after all this is over, you can create a more formalized business continuity plan.
Please be sure to take care of yourself, too. Eat regular meals, get rest and take breaks throughout the day as needed to clear your head and help mitigate stress. All these efforts may seem impossible right now, but it’s worth the reminder that these steps are important so that you remain healthy.
The VSCPA continues to provide updates and resources to you daily. Watch our social media changes for fast-moving news and legislative changes, as well as VSCPA positions, and visit the VSCPA Coronavirus Resources for CPAs page for articles, podcasts, education links and more.
Julia Henderson is the VSCPA membership & marketing director. Contact her at [email protected].
These recommendations are provided to help small businesses adjust to remote working circumstances. Please note, this advice should be taken into consideration with the restrictions and health warnings of the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, and federal, state and local governments.
Portions reprinted with permission from the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs.