Ask the Firms

New Professional Standards for a Remote World

Last summer I asked the recruiters of Seattle area accounting firms a couple of questions about their ideal candidates and the future of accounting.  Keeping this Ask-the-Firms tradition alive, and given that only one issue exists nowadays, I posed the following question:

Student on laptop
With all the changes caused by COVID-19, are there specific skills, knowledge sets or abilities in employees that have become even more important than before?

The following insightful answers from recruiters reveal useful tips, for all undergraduates, when preparing for a future career.

Nic Enriquez from RSM:

I think a skill-set that really shines through during the pandemic is one’s ability to be as nimble and agile in a predominantly work-from-home environment. Virtual platform connectivity issues, kids screaming in the background, pets walking past cameras – all of those factors outside of our normal work routines beyond our control can really put stressors on you if you don’t maintain a sense of flexibility and adaptability in the situation.

…embrace the unpredictable…

I find that my colleagues that have had easier times during the transition from going into the office to working from home all the time are those that have begun to not just accept, but even embrace the unpredictable nature of their professional lives. That attitude usually translates seamlessly into their personal lives beyond their laptop as well.

 Tamera Pumphrey from BDO

Now more than ever practicing strong communication skills, being proactive and setting boundaries are key! With remote working, it’s easy to isolate yourself, so teams have naturally scheduled more communication, such as daily check-ins, social hours, bi-monthly feedback, etc. That means it’s important to participate and speak up during these times.

…being proactive and setting boundaries are key!

Without obvious visibility, it’s also critical to be proactive. Whether that’s sharing a status update on your project, asking questions on a work assignment, networking with colleagues, or seeking new opportunities. Taking initiative goes a long way in managing your workload and career. Lastly, it’s convenient to roll out of bed and turn your laptop on, skip lunch, or be available to answer chats in the evening, so set and hold boundaries. Schedule time for yourself during the day for breaks and be away from your laptop for lunch. Turn your laptop off in the evenings, so you can have separation and give yourself time to re-energize. Of course, communicate your boundaries to your team, so they can also respect your personal time and commitments.

 

Lizzie Rahm from Clark Nuber

The qualities of a successful employee in public accounting have already included important attributes, such as flexibility, collaboration, independent motivation, communication, strategic thinking, organization, and project management. These attributes are even more needed in a post COVID-19 world. We have all adapted to working virtually in a world that was traditionally office based.

…focus on self-management

To be successful for 2021 and beyond, you need to leverage these skills so that you can proactively stay in touch with clients and managers, stay on target with your engagements, grow alongside your peers, and continue to advance yourself in the profession. There is more of a focus on self-management as we often do not have the team physically sitting with us and we rely heavily on platforms such as Zoom, Teams, Skype, etc. to stay connected with each other.

We are optimistic about the future, continue to grow forward, and believe the current environment is a short-term bump in the road for the market, the profession, and your career opportunities. We look for up and coming professionals who share that vision with us.

 

Diane Borhani from Deloitte

The pandemic has given new meaning to agility, inclusivity, and resiliency in many organizations while unique human traits like empathy and compassion matter more than ever. These qualities were critical prior to COVID-19, but the current environment has challenged all of us to re-imagine how we use those skills to build connection and drive results in a primarily virtual environment.

…the ability to analyze data to provide more focused and deeper insights

Embracing innovative technologies is vital as teams explore new ways of conducting their work and interacting with co-workers and clients. Effective communication skills are becoming increasingly significant in an environment where clients and team members span the globe. In addition, accounting professionals who are tech-savvy are often in higher demand.  Those with the ability to analyze data to provide more focused and deeper insights often enjoy a competitive advantage.

Mentors are also especially important now—by proactively seeking and nurturing mentor relationships, professionals can gain access to essential coaching and feedback that enhances opportunities for success within their organizations and beyond.

Those who actively prioritize well-being are often better able to cope with increased uncertainty, navigate ongoing change, and manage the competing demands on their time. Just as importantly, those who support and encourage the well-being of others are critical to high-performing teams.

Many leading employers also want their people to be driven by mission and have a sense of purpose. Top employers often look for professionals who are personally committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, and embody that commitment through the actions they take every day.

 

Arin Miller from Frank Rimerman

In adapting to this new COVID-19 reality, communication skills, virtual etiquette, and time management have become more significant than ever here at Frank, Rimerman. While the importance of team communication has not changed, the way that we connect has shifted in this work from home environment. Learning to communicate over virtual platforms is the new norm and in order to strive in this environment, asking questions and consistently staying in contact with your team will keep you in the loop and prevent things from being lost in translation.

Another key to working from home is understanding the importance of proper virtual etiquette. This includes wearing presentable attire, having sufficient lighting, and ensuring your audio is clear for virtual client meetings, as well as internal team meetings. While this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how easy it is to join a meeting wearing the same pajamas you slept in!

…separate space for work…

One final thing to keep in mind when working from home is effective time management. We recommend learning to set boundaries, create a schedule, and give yourself breaks throughout the day. Setting up a separate space for work will help limit distractions, minimize fatigue, and keep you productive all week long!

 

David Pearce from Grant Thornton

The ability to be agile and adaptable to ever-changing situations is more important now than it has ever been before. There is no longer a sense of ‘normal’ or ‘routine’; how you handled a project or situation in years past may no longer be the right approach.

…be more intentional and deliberate with our communication and interactions

We also must be more intentional and deliberate with our communication and interactions with teammates. It used to be that we could have quick check-ins and updates by dropping by somebody’s office or cube, or even in passing. Now it takes a deliberate IM, email, or phone call to have that same conversation.

Nobody knows what our profession will look like coming out of this unprecedented situation, but those with the ability mindset to adapt and communicate well will certainly be one step ahead of those who don’t actively think about these two skills.

 

Jason Broenneke from KPMG

While KPMG has had the tools, one aspect COVID-19 has forcefully pushed along its connecting online. As our world increasingly connects digitally, there are additional skill sets that may set the highest performers apart.

  1. The ability to connect with others and develop relationships through technology. While many ways of the world may change, the emotional aspect of humans and the importance of relationships remain. Those demonstrating vulnerability and strong relationship development will be able to virtually gain the trust of teammates and clients while exercising professionalism.
  2. The ability and confidence to know when to ask for help and how to do it. When each interaction takes additional initiative, it’s increasingly important to be able to determine when being resourceful and thinking critically can problem solve, or when to pick up the phone or initiate a video call.

Those demonstrating vulnerability and strong relationship development will be able to virtually gain the trust of teammates and clients…

Whether it be COVID-19 or other needs for change, KPMG continues to provide meaningful and valuable training, tools, and experiences for our professionals to successfully work in teams and serve our clients.

 

Sadie Robinson from PwC

PwC employees have been given a unique opportunity to demonstrate their skill sets in different ways while making the transition from working at our clients sites, to working remotely. Two key pillars of PwC’s core values revolve around ‘Re-imagine the Possible’ and ‘Care.’ COVID-19 has given our employees a platform to further exemplify these values.

…empathy and flexibility…

Our employees demonstrate how we practice ‘Care’ by showing empathy and flexibility towards peers and our clients. With the environment constantly changing around us, we have created a sense of community with one another within PwC by leading with care to better understand everyone’s unique situation. We have shown clients how we can evolve for their unique needs. PwC practices and exhibits ‘Re-imagine the Possible’ by assisting our peers and clients in discovering how we can do things differently in this ever-changing environment while still delivering PwC value.

Further, our firm-wide focus over the years on ‘Your Tomorrow’ has established a platform for each employee to work from home efficiently and effectively. Putting our digital up-skilling first has helped enable employees to use our digital tools to work more productively for our clients and teams, even while at home.

Learn more about and the Master of Professional Accounting and the Master of Science in Taxation.

Foster School Accounting students, graduate and undergraduate, have the outstanding Foster Career Services to help you prepare for the recruiting process. Visit them right away.