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What You Need to Work at Home

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August 21, 2008
by Rick Telberg/On Careers

For CPAs who work at home, technology is proving to be an equal opportunity employer.

Today's professionals are both more confident in their home-based office technology setups and more dependent on them than the work-at-home CPAs we surveyed in 2005. The series of CPA Trendlines studies by Bay Street Group LLC has canvassed 2,361 CPAs about their work-at-home habits and opinions.

In a sign that CPAs are growing more confident in their systems, only one in six (17%) of CPAs now working at home identified technology breakdowns as a major challenge, down from 26 percent in 2005.

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Today, new office furniture is the top item on the work-at-home accountants' wish list compared with three years ago when it was hardware (laptop computers and combination print, fax and copy machines).

Meanwhile, 80 percent of today's work-at-home CPAs identify the right technology setup as essential to their success, up from 63 percent three years ago. To be sure, having the right setup ranks very highly in the elements of success list each year.

"Don't cheap out on technology, desk, chair or lighting," says Dick Van Gorder, owner and operator of a Fort Worth, Texas public practice.

The new study finds a number of side-practice CPAs who feel their at-home systems are more advanced than those available in their day jobs. There were few such boasts three years ago.

Home Office Challenges

But there are some things technology cannot improve, such as loneliness. Isolation from peers was identified as a major challenge by 45 percent of today's work-at-home CPAs, only slightly less than the percentage who cited peer isolation as a key issue in 2005.

Marcia Gibson loves the convenience and cost-savings of running a public practice in her home in Helena, Mont., but also admits, "I miss out on daily peer interaction and synergy."

And as state-of-the-art as they may become, conference calls and Web meetings are valuable, but not always an appropriate substitute for real client contact. The 19 percent of today's work at-home CPAs who cite regular face-to-face client meetings among their biggest challenges is down only one percentage point from 2005.

Having the right attitude and discipline will likely always top the list of factors for work-at-home success. It was at the top of the list in 2005, cited by three out of four (75%) of respondents, and, despite new technologies, it again tops the most recent list, cited by 80 percent of today's work-at-home CPAs.

Mary Beth Carnevale, who has an arrangement with her employer allowing her to work from home 11 hours to 30 hours per week, offers advice today that was probably just as applicable in 2005:

"Get in the right mindset that the work must get done," she says. "Make sure you're self-disciplined enough to do it."

With that, I think I'll go check the fridge.

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Copyright © 2008 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. First published by the AICPA.