The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has all but forced businesses big and small to rely on remote work. While these companies might be hitting their stride when it comes to remote work productivity, they could be ignoring an important consideration—how it impacts accounting. Possible inefficiencies of legacy processes related to billing, payment and employee expenses have suddenly come to the fore, says Brad Shaver, director of outsourced accounting at XMI. Below, he highlights a few of the biggest potential accounting issues for remote work and shares ways to make accounting easier in this new remote work era.
Contactless transmission of information. Since the spike in remote work over the past four months, the secure transmission of sensitive information, including monthly expense reports, has become more challenging. No longer can a document be walked down the hall and left on someone’s chair.
This is where a good file-sharing software comes in handy. XMI uses Citrix ShareFile, which allows users to transmit confidential documents to each other through a secure platform.
“Citrix lets us set up folders that our clients can drag and drop, and we receive notifications whenever any activity happens within these folders,” Shaver says. “It takes a whole step out of the process for our clients who want that visibility. It also cuts down on email, which can involve a lot of back-and-forth and isn’t necessarily secure.”
Cloud-based accounting systems. Shaver urges XMI clients to migrate toward cloud-based accounting systems, whether that’s a web-based product, such as Sage Intacct or QuickBooks Online, or hosting a non-cloud-based accounting system on XMI’s remote desktop server.
Moving accounting processes to the cloud allows businesses to save anything and everything in an online database that can be accessed from anywhere, which makes it ideal for those working remotely.
Another benefit of cloud-based accounting is the document storage and backup they offer, which can help with data integrity and during times when you need to refer to backup documents such as during an audit.
Automated bill pay and payment collection options. Keeping track of money coming in and money going out—that’s the chief concern of any accounting department, and it’s gotten more challenging with so many people out of the office.
“A lot of businesses may not know what bills they have to pay because they’re not going into the office and receiving them through the mail,” Shaver says. “That’s been a big concern—how do you stay up to date?”
Shaver predicts that more businesses will be relying on digital business payment services like Bill.com to automate such payments. Bill.com also syncs with the client’s accounting software, which speeds up account reconciliations and minimizes the chances of duplicate invoices.
Shaver also touts the benefits of electronic signatures, which allows XMI to print and send checks on behalf of their clients once given the appropriate approvals.
“A lot of times, business owners are against electronic signatures,” Shaver says. But if you’re operating with a fragmented workforce, all of a sudden there are complications around check printing, which require special printing equipment and ink, and check signing—how does the person who cuts the check easily get someone else to sign the check?
“By allowing electronic signatures or bill pay, companies can bypass a lot of those challenges by setting up electronic reviews and signoffs and having that system send the check on the company’s behalf,” he says.
Tracking and anticipating employee expenses. You probably noticed an increase in expenses as you rushed to get your workforce suddenly working from home. As employees continue to settle into remote work, they may continue to require purchases to make their work-from-home setup as productive as possible. What’s allowed? What’s not allowed? How do you ensure employees are reimbursed for allowed expenses in a timely manner?
To address these concerns, Shaver recommends creating—or revising—a policy that takes remote work into consideration. At XMI, employees communicate their expense requests to their supervisor. Additionally, a receipt is required for everything that is purchased.
“A policy is important, first so that everyone is on the same page and understands expectations,” he says. “In times like these, with so much unknown, if you can make it clear and concise how to navigate this on a daily basis, that’s going to make this new norm that much easier.”
What’s more, he says, a policy can also help the company keep tabs on spending. “You may notice that everyone is requesting paper,” he says. “You could start buying it in bulk or get employees on a subscription service.”
While many employees may one day return to the office, it’s a safe bet that remote work is here to stay. With this in mind, accounting departments will want to get up to speed while they still can. For XMI’s accounting clients, they’re already familiar with many of these processes.
“Our client services are designed to be performed off-site, so all of our accounting practices are inherently adaptable to a remote working environment,” Shaver says. “We could never have anticipated a global pandemic forcing offices to close, but it turns out we were ready all along.”