Ac­count­ing meets the gig econ­omy

Lever­ag­ing the cloud for every­one’s ben­e­fit

Accounting Today - - Contents - BY BLAKE OLIVER

The tra­di­tional eight-to-five, cu­bi­cled­welling ac­count­ing job is dy­ing. Just like a host of other oc­cu­pa­tions, ac­count­ing is be­com­ing a pro­fes­sion that is mo­bile, tech­nol­ogy-en­abled, and often pro­ject­spe­cific.

The “gig econ­omy” — known for its cadre of work­ers who de­sire flex­i­bil­ity in sched­ules, work lo­ca­tion, and even va­ri­ety in their em­ploy­ers — can be of ben­e­fit both to the em­ployee and the em­ployer.

The cloud’s sil­ver lin­ing

In the past, pa­per-based work­flows and on-premise soft­ware meant you had to be in the of­fice to get work done, which also meant you typ­i­cally had to hire full-time staff. In to­day’s dig­i­tal world, that’s no longer the case.

The ma­jor­ity of work­ers are al­ready mo­bile and are only at their desks 50 to 60 per­cent of the time, ac­cord­ing to data from Global Work­place An­a­lyt­ics. Fi­nan­cial staff are no longer tied to tra­di­tional of­fices as a re­sult of “work from any­where” mo­bil­ity de­vel­op­ments, en­abling ev­ery type of sched­ule and geo­graphic lo­ca­tion.

Or­ga­ni­za­tions of all types can lit­er­ally elim­i­nate the over­head of costly of­fice space. Part­ners, man­agers, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cers and con­trollers can ad­just staff up or down in a fluid way to com­plete spe­cial­ized projects or ob­tain nec­es­sary skill sets, with­out the need to per­ma­nently hire the in­di­vid­u­als.

In ad­di­tion, soft­ware-as-a-ser­vice en­ter­prise re­source plan­ning sys­tems com­bined with cloud stor­age providers and a litany of com­pat­i­ble ap­pli­ca­tions al­low ac­count­ing teams to get work done more ef­fi­ciently through the au­to­ma­tion and in­te­gra­tion of a va­ri­ety of spe­cial­ized tasks. From in­voic­ing to ac­counts payable, taxes to the monthly close, to­day’s ac­count­ing team can run lean and mean with­out the bur­den of the repetitive man­ual tasks that many mil­len­ni­als shun.

Solv­ing the staffing cri­sis

That said, while the cloud can help de­liver on the prom­ise of a mo­bil­ity-en­abled, more in­tel­lec­tu­ally re­ward­ing fi­nan­cial ca­reer, one of the top chal­lenges for man­agers of ac­count­ing teams to­day re­mains find­ing and re­tain­ing fi­nan­cial tal­ent.

There are two main rea­sons for the tal­ent short­age:

1. Gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences. The taboo against “job hop­ping” has weak­ened over the past decade. Mil­len­ni­als feel com­fort­able chang­ing jobs an av­er­age of ev­ery two years, and be­cause em­ploy­ers don’t typ­i­cally grant sub­stan­tial pay in­creases to cur­rent em­ploy­ees, chang­ing jobs is seen as one of the only ways to earn more than just cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments.

2. Sup­ply and de­mand. As of Jan­uary 2018, the unem­ploy­ment rate for ac­coun­tants was 1.8 per­cent, and was ex­pected to con­tinue to drop to near zero as baby boomers re­tire. There sim­ply aren’t enough qual­i­fied Gen X or mil­len­nial CPAS to re­place them, herald­ing the be­gin­ning of a ma­jor tal­ent cri­sis in the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion.

How or­ga­ni­za­tions re­act to this short­age can be di­rectly cor­re­lated to some of the ben­e­fits of the gig econ­omy: the abil­ity for in­di­vid­u­als to work on their own sched­ules, in their de­sired lo­ca­tion, com­plet­ing tasks and projects that stretch their imag­i­na­tion and bring them per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion.

Some ways em­ploy­ers can ad­dress the short­age in­clude:

1. Em­brac­ing flex­i­bil­ity and mo­bil­ity.

It’s prob­a­bly no sur­prise that 80 to 90 per­cent of the U.S. work­force says they would like to tele­work at least part-time, again from data from Global Work­force An­a­lyt­ics.

This means many ac­count­ing firms and de­part­ments will need to drop the tra­di­tional 8-to-5 in-of­fice re­quire­ment in or­der to at­tract and re­tain tal­ent, just as most have elim­i­nated the for­mal dress code. Work­ers will ex­pect an “any­time any­where” work­place, just as em­ploy­ers should take ad­van­tage of the fis­cal ben­e­fits that a vir­tual of­fice can de­liver.

A mix of sched­ules, with both full- and part-time op­tions, can also help re­me­di­ate the chal­lenge this tal­ent short­age poses. In fact, al­low­ing part-time and re­mote work may be the key to re­tain­ing those boomers who are plan­ning to re­tire soon. Many might be will­ing to con­tinue work­ing part-time if they could com­bine a flex­i­ble work sched­ule with the lifestyle they’re look­ing for in re­tire­ment.

2. Hir­ing for skills. Man­agers and CFOS will need to hire a mix of ac­count­ing staff with dif­fer­ing skill sets — some CPAS, some tech­ni­cal ex­perts — as well as utiliz­ing con­trac­tors and out­sourc­ing firms for short-term or spe­cial­ized projects. As tasks like data en­try and book­keep­ing be­come in­creas­ingly ob­so­lete, the rest of the team will need both the fi­nan­cial and tech­no­log­i­cal chops to im­ple­ment, main­tain and lever­age emerg­ing sys­tems.

There are also plenty of mil­len­ni­als who have no de­sire to be cu­bi­cle dwellers like their par­ents were for 20 years or more. Mil­len­nial ac­coun­tants are go­ing to have lots of op­tions as the job mar­ket tight­ens, and one of them may be re­ject­ing tra­di­tional em­ploy­ment en­tirely and in­stead work­ing on dif­fer­ent projects ev­ery few months. Em­ploy­ers need to em­brace this mind­set and cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that stim­u­lates and en­gages, not sim­ply over­sees.

Evolv­ing ac­count­ing teams and the new gig econ­omy — it’s a win-win for every­one. Man­agers, con­trollers and CFOS can lower their costs with a more flex­i­ble work­place and work­force, while part-time and/or re­mote em­ploy­ees or con­trac­tors get the flex­i­ble sched­ules and work lo­ca­tion they de­sire, and every­one en­gages in the types of in­ter­est­ing as­sign­ments this new econ­omy prom­ises. AT

Blake Oliver is an en­tre­pre­neur, ac­coun­tant, writer and speaker who spe­cial­izes in cloud ac­count­ing tech­nol­ogy.

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