At a glance
In the last few decades, many small and medium-sized accounting firms have remained cautious when it comes to adopting new technology. But the pandemic is disrupting the profession – in some cases, irreversibly.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way we work, and will continue to do so into the future,” says David Garvey, office managing partner, BDO Melbourne office.
Garvey says businesses will see this time as “an opportunity to provide greater flexibility for their workforce (in turn attracting strong talent) and reduce the need for increased office space – improving productivity and the bottom line.”
Karl Durrance, head of enterprise for Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Australia and New Zealand, says: “New digital capabilities are enabling flexibility and agility, and helping organisations innovate faster and respond to changing consumer needs and market conditions – factors that may prove critical in navigating the post-COVID-19 world.”
In the office of the future, technology will play an even more critical role in enabling professional services firms to empower their workforce to respond to changing customer needs.
Here we look at the tools and technologies professional services firms may need to navigate the new normal.
1. Collaborate virtually
“Collaboration between clients, colleagues and other service providers is the lifeblood of successful professional services firms,” says Garvey. “New investment in technology should be driven by collaboration with customers and within an organisation as a key priority.”
To maintain productivity and collaboration, the boundaries between being physically in the office and out of the office will need to be blurred with the support of collaboration tools.
Garvey recommends collaboration technology platforms such as Mural that enable internal and external teams to think and collaborate visually.
2. Get on the cloud
Cloud storage is a way of storing data on the internet so that everyone has access to the same information, no matter where they are. Reliable and popular cloud storage platforms include Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, Google Cloud and AWS Cloud.
“The pandemic has seen many organisations adopt cloud technology to quickly mobilise remote workforces, scale operations to handle an increase in customer inquiries, and develop new solutions to respond to changing consumer demands,” says Durrance.
Australian superannuation fund CBUS managed large spikes in customer enquiries during COVID-19 by adopting Amazon Connect, an AWS cloud-based contact centre platform.
“This enabled the organisation to migrate its advice teams, complaints, enquiries and reception to the new system and provide training for new users to help with the transition,” says Durrance.
Durrance believes the move to the cloud will have a long-term impact on how organisations manage their workforce and how they deliver services to their customers.
3. Seamless business communication
According to a study by Gartner, the rise in virtual meetings has put pressure on enterprise leaders to ensure employees have the right technological capabilities to maintain consistent, high-quality connections with colleagues, customers and partners while working remotely.
“Video and streaming technology platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams will continue to be key communication enablers with colleagues and clients, as they have been during the pandemic,” says Garvey.
In addition to videoconferencing, instant messaging tools such as Slack will also become the mainstay of communication because of the ease of organising conversations in channels and the rich integration with email and administrative tools.
4. Enhance customer and employee engagement
“Creating personalised digital experiences will be especially important in a post-COVID-19 world, where brands will need to maintain close relationships with customers even if they are no longer able to visit their physical properties.”
Durrance gives the example of Local Measure, a customer experience specialist, that launched Engage, a new customer engagement management system built on AWS, that enables organisations to handle inbound customer enquiries across multiple platforms.
“This single interface simplifies customer interactions and helps Local Measure’s clients to track and measure all forms of engagement with their customers, regardless of whether they are taking place in the physical world, or online," says Durrance.
According to Garvey, driving change post-pandemic will be influenced by the culture within an organisation and its approach to flexibility. “Leadership needs to focus on the outcomes of team members rather than time spent in the office.”
Recent workplace trends show that sophisticated technology solutions that improve wellbeing and engagement for remote teams have become essential. According to the Gartner research, 68 per cent of organisations introduced at least one new wellness benefit to aid employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anxyz, an AI-powered platform for employee engagement, enhances the productivity of teams working remotely by giving them access to tools to boost wellbeing. A few companies have introduced employee wellness platforms like Headspace and Calm for their workforce.
5. Upgrade cyber security
From personal laptops to wi-fi routers, security concerns are paramount for any business in the finance and accounting industry.
“Cyber security and data governance controls need to be implemented and enhanced for businesses to mitigate risks which are heightened with remote working conditions,” says Garvey.
For teams working from home, adding an extra level of protection is recommended to avoid critical personal and company information being compromised. Third-party encryption tools, such as VeraCrypt, can help create a virtual encrypted disk within a file or encrypt a partition or the entire storage device for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
Sonakshi Babbar is the co-founder of employee wellbeing and engagement platform Anxyz.