Whether you’re on vacation, at a firm retreat or simply away from the office, all of us connect while we’re gone to our work, family and friends. Nowadays, it’s not a matter of “if” you’re going to connect, but rather “how” to do it consistently and efficiently. We asked several tax practitioners for their guidance.
- Create a tech kit. I have a tech kit that contains essentials I need for work when traveling, including charging cables, a mouse, extra batteries and a mobile hotspot. You don’t need to buy any fancy tech bag to keep it in; I bought a cosmetics case that works great.
- Invest in a mobile VPN app. Security of information is important for everyone, but it is vital to those of us who work with our clients’ sensitive financial data. Invest in a mobile virtual private network (VPN) app. These apps secure any open wireless hotspot by creating a virtual VPN between your device and the websites you visit. I use Avast SecureLine that costs $2.99/month, or $19.99 for the whole year.
- Schedule the time you’ll devote to work. When you are traveling or on vacation, the best way to ruin your trip – and irritate your traveling partners – is to check your phone every five minutes. I’ll be honest, I really struggle with this. You should set aside time when you don’t have activities planned to check email, complete tasks and focus on work. I try to do this at the beginning of the day before I get busy with other activities. By doing it first thing, I already feel like I’ve addressed work needs, and I’m able to focus on my family and relaxation.
- Invest in a second mobile monitor. If you use multiple display monitors in the office, consider purchasing a mobile version to use when you travel. Once you’ve become accustomed to working with multiple displays, it can be frustrating to work without them. You can buy a good USB powered monitor for about $150 that is super thin and easy to pack. I use the ASUS MB168B, and I couldn’t travel without it.
Andrew Poulos, EA: A frequent contributor to the Intuit ProConnect Tax Pro Center, Andrew delivers tax and accounting services through Poulos Accounting & Consulting, Inc., and represents clients before the IRS. Here are his recommendations:
- Set up e-fax with Ring Central. Yes, I still have clients who want to fax me information. Ring Central allows me to receive and send faxes from my iPhone, iPad and laptop anywhere in the world. Whether I am on the beach, at home or in an airplane, I get to view faxes as they are received, so there is never a lag in responding to my clients.
- Put files in SmartVault. Interfacing with my website, I can download files and work from my laptop or any other mobile device.
- Use the scanning app on my iPhone and iPad. If I have a paper document that needs to be scanned, I can scan it instantly while on a plane, car or anywhere else, then email it to a client, or upload it in my secure file storage, to use and view at a later time.
- Access Evernote for files that need to be edited on my iPad. I can view, print and edit files while making notes on a PDF file, as well as highlight, cut and copy, and much more. Evernote allows me to view documents when I attend seminars and presentations, without having to carry big binders of presentation material. I can view files while sitting as an attendee at a conference, or while lying on the beach relaxing.
- Install Dropbox to store large files and videos. If files are too large to store and access with Smart Vault or Evernote, Dropbox is my go-to solution. I can save a file and send a secure link to a client for them to access with one touch on my iPhone or iPad.
With all the technologies in effect, I can access my entire office virtually from my laptop or mobile device from anywhere in the world. The days of being stuck in the office and not having access to any information are long gone. I use the same technologies to minimize the number of clients that I meet in person during tax season and throughout the year. Why meet people in person and waste valuable time that you can’t bill when you can work remotely with clients all across the globe?
Christopher James: A member of the Intuit ProConnect Tax Council, Christopher is an attorney and general council with James Management Group in Plano, Texas. Here are his tips, several of which focus on security while working remotely:
- Be wary of public Wi-Fi networks. Security is a very important consideration when working virtually. The dangers of using public Wi-Fi networks have been well documented; however, understanding that you are putting the sensitive data of your clients at risk should elevate that awareness. When using a public Wi-Fi network, always choose the “Public” option the first time you connect to a new network.
- Ensure your mobile apps include the features you need for client work. Know the difference in capabilities that a full website can provide, versus what the app you have on a mobile device will allow. Many software service providers claim they have a “mobile” app, but the mobile version might be a very limited version of the actual software. If you are going to rely on a mobile app for your clients while out of the office, make sure the required functions are available on the app. This will avoid having to connect via mobile device to the full website, which will often not be presented well and might cause more issues if the internet connectivity is slow or inconsistent.
- Enable automatic payments. If you manage the accounts payable (AP) function for your client, have a system in place to make payments without physically writing and mailing checks. Our firm uses Bill.com to manage AP for our clients. We use the cloud-based app to process and pay invoices from literally anywhere.
- Make sure clients know you have limited availability. This last point, second only to security, is to make your clients aware that you are out of the office and will only have limited availability for the duration of your absence. I usually send my clients an email one week prior to being out of the office, in an effort to trigger any critical issues, perhaps setting aside a few blocks of time to answer emails or return phone calls. If possible, give a contact for immediate assistance. Setting expectations at the outset will allow you to come through like a superstar when you and your firm can deliver on client needs while you are out of the office.
Andrea M. Parness, CPA: Andrea is also a member of the Intuit ProConnect Tax Pro Council, and as owner of A Parness Company, a CPA firm based in Belle Harbor, Queens, N.Y., she and her team work remotely year-round with clients. Here are several of her recommendations:
- Set up written processes. We have these for all types of projects that flow through our firm, including onboarding clients, corporate advisory services, corporate, estate, payroll and personal compliance projects such as various tax returns.
- Ensure remote employees have a fully functioning home office. It is critical that each of our remote employees have a fully operating office in their home, similar to what they would have in an office environment. Each person has a computer with easy remote login capabilities, as well as a scanner, printer, fax machine, landline and high-speed internet. They are charged with keeping this equipment in good working order.