By Selene Sullivan, CPA for The Accountant
In my first chair’s message for the OSCPA magazine, I talked about embracing change with curiosity and participation. Little did I know that my year as chair would begin with an unprecedented event that would not only impact our profession, but change the nation and the world around us. COVID-19 has not only altered our work environment, but transformed how we interact with our colleagues, clients, friends, and family.
Being a partner in a predominantly tax-centered firm, we’ve faced some challenges. The first and most notable is the individual extension of time to file from April 15th to July 15th. This tax season has turned into the longest one in my 27 years of working for a public firm. We couldn’t have anticipated what this would mean for our clients and our team. Coupled with an unprecedented number of tax law changes and new federal funding available, a member of our firm has attended almost weekly webinars to get the latest updates on the changes and try to understand how to best assist our clients. At times, it feels like a full-time job keeping up with all that is happening in our profession.
Clients are grappling with different issues now than when we were meeting with them in the first two months of 2020. In January, we were helping our clients prepare their 2019 taxes and plan for the year. As our nation and communities slowly began the transition to a shelter-in-place lifestyle, our clients had to deal with business interruption and concern. Clients continue to face issues they could never have imagined or anticipated. Dentists and doctors with thriving practices were told to shut down until “sometime in the future.” They were faced with letting loyal employees go and somehow trying to maintain their practices in the interim.
The impact of COVID-19 has been widespread. As accountants, but more importantly as people, we have had to put our tax hat aside to aid our clients as their trusted advisor and financial counselors. Our profession has never been more necessary to the health of our economy and those around us.
CPAs in the private sector are dealing with these same issues and have taken on an even more important role in managing a nationwide crisis and mitigating the impact that it could have on their industry and individual businesses. We have all put in countless hours to help our own practices, businesses, organizations, clients, and customers remain viable and survive during these uncertain times.
Interacting with clients and colleagues has changed dramatically from the beginning of 2020. During tax season, I normally have 15-20 face-to-face meetings with clients each week. I love these meetings as they always provide me with an opportunity to connect and catch up on what is happening in their lives. Having to cancel many of those meetings and come up with another way to serve clients’ needs was challenging and sometimes frustrating, as we all had to try something new.
In these last few months, I have expanded my skills on platforms such as Zoom and Adobe Connect. I admit Zoom and Adobe Connect meetings always used to make me feel a little awkward because I didn’t want to see myself on screen. Now I’ve hosted virtual meetings with clients and other professionals, and attended livestream seminars. Beginning in March, all OSCPA Board of Directors meetings have been virtual via Zoom.
During a time when so many of my face-to-face meetings were cancelled, it has been so nice to see people in any format. Seeing someone in a virtual face-to-face can bring depth to a conversation that is hard to replicate on a phone call or conference call. I’ve now ordered webcams for our senior staff to implement in their own communications with clients. Sometimes, a crisis brings about the change that we have been avoiding. Often, we discover the change wasn’t so bad after all.
At the OSCPA, we hosted our first ever virtual Strategic Leadership and Decision Makers Forum (formerly known as the Strategic Leadership Forum or SLF). I couldn’t be prouder of OSCPA leadership and staff and their ability to be flexible and creative in their thinking. By opening the registration to all members, we hosted one of the most well-attended forums in the Society’s history of leadership events. Over 100 people were able to participate from across the state.
Internationally acclaimed keynote speaker and award-winning CEO, Hamish Taylor, was able to join us remotely from his home in Edinburgh, Scotland. His presentation included:
• The Customer Promise: Lessons in putting the customer at the heart of all activities within your organization.
• Playing Reverse Football – Lessons in making sure you take the organization with you!
• Master Thief – Lessons in driving innovation and change by “stealing” ideas from outside.
Even though Hamish delivered his message via screen, he was able to grab and keep the attention of the participants for nearly six hours of thought-provoking, inspirational discussion. And through the magic of technology, we, in Oregon, witnessed a stunning Scotland sunset through Hamish’s large office windows.
David Rabiner of Rabiner Resources was able to join us at the forum as well. The peak performance expert delivered his thoughts in his presentation, How to Succeed, Stay Sane, and Have Fun at Work. It is always good to hear David, as it gives us a chance to focus on what we can and cannot control or influence. He gave us an opportunity to look within ourselves and acknowledge our internal dialogues that hold us back professionally and personally.
This year’s virtual leadership forum, although not what we had originally planned, allowed us to see the possibilities for forums of the future. The virtual platform was born out of necessity, but the result was that we were able to deliver a great program, including valuable inspiration and practical insights, to a much wider member audience than ever before.
During these times, technology has never played a bigger role in our daily lives and in our social lives with friends and family. In my house, my daughter has been distance learning for what remained of her 7th grade year, and my husband has worked from home since the second week in March. Our home office has definitely gotten a few upgrades in the last couple of months to make the transition easier. To keep myself social, I’ve FaceTimed with friends, most for the first time. Our family has also enjoyed several Zoom cocktail and happy hour events with family across the nation. It has given us all the chance to visit more frequently and get some much-needed laughter and connection while we were all sheltering in place and wondering when things may return to “normal”.
There is a lot to be said about the ability to connect and socialize during a time of social and environmental chaos. As we navigate new territory during this pandemic, may we embrace change and lead with an eagerness to discover new opportunities for our profession.