By Michael Steinitz, Senior Executive Director, Robert Half

Let’s face it: Tax season will never be a breeze. That’s true for every firm, large or small. But with a solid plan, the right tools and thoughtful management, you can position your accounting team for success. They’ll appreciate your forethought and organization — and so will your clients.

Follow these steps to help keep your team’s productivity and morale high throughout tax season:

1. Look to the past for insight

Most firms navigated last year’s season with all-remote teams. If things went smoothly, that’s great. But don’t assume that history will repeat itself this tax season. Evaluate what you would have done differently or better and make appropriate adjustments.

Also, identify any training needs. Do you have any new technology systems or software that everyone must learn to use, for example? Or do you have new hires who need to understand your remote workflow? Don’t delay in helping everyone on your team get up to speed.

2. Stay flexible about the ‘where’ of work

Some firms have moved or plan to transition to hybrid workforce arrangements, with staff dividing their time between home and the office. But just because a team member agreed to come into the office three days a week doesn’t mean you can’t rethink that arrangement if their commute starts wearing them down and their productivity suffers.

Reverting to full-time remote status (during tax season, at least) could be good for both the employee and the firm.

Hiring remote workers can benefit your business in several ways. Learn more in this post.

3. Align the right tools

Cloud-based platforms can automate many accounting functions, but software can also be used to engage new clients and manage expectations. Internally, collaboration software like Slack or Microsoft Teams can help remote and office-based accounting professionals stay connected, productive and at the ready to solve problems together in real time.

A couple of tips: First, make sure you roll out any new applications — or upgrades to existing ones — as soon as possible so your team has time to learn how to navigate them. Second, beware of automating processes just for the sake of it. If a tool doesn’t create time for employees to work on higher-value tasks, then don’t hesitate to shelve it.

4. Keep stress from running rampant

Filing deadlines and other pressures inevitably create stress during tax season. Most accounting pros know how to manage it and keep themselves sharp and energized. However, if stress becomes constant and prolonged, your team members may need some help. Here are some ideas:

Emphasize productivity and excellence, not total hours logged.

Setting a workday cut-off time of 9 p.m. (or similar) may have worked in the past, but evening shifts are routine for many remote workers now. Instead, talk to individuals to ensure they’re getting enough rest and monitoring whether they’re producing higher-than-average rates of error — the canary in the coal mine for chronic stress.

Lead by example.

If you habitually fire off emails after midnight or never leave your desk to stretch your legs, don’t be surprised if your employees do the same. Even during tax season, you should model the behaviors you recommend. Maintain an upbeat tone, especially when things go wrong. Handled right, employee errors can be learning opportunities for the whole team.

Encourage downtime.

Consider adding employee perks to promote rest and relaxation during tax season — for example, providing subscriptions to popular streaming services. You can also turn one of your digital communication channels into a “virtual watercooler,” where employees can simply hang out for short periods and discuss fun topics that have nothing to do with work.

Demonstrate your appreciation.

Another way to dial down team stress is by getting everyone together to thank them for any significant achievements as individuals or a team.

Perhaps you’re beating your pace from the previous year, or maybe a valued client has sent you a thank-you note? Demonstrating to employees that their regular tasks are part of a broader success story can boost morale and engagement during this especially stressful time of year.

5. Add reinforcements

And finally, assess your team’s bench strength. If you think you have just enough talent to get you through tax season, then you’re probably understaffed.

Consider the fact that tax season occurs during cold months in many locations, so factor in lost time and productivity due to staff members’ seasonal coughs and colds. COVID-19 infections are still a concern right now, too.

Even if your employees stay well throughout tax season, you (and they) will benefit from having highly skilled contract professionals on hand to help manage heavy workloads and deadline pressures. Working with a talent solutions firm like Robert Half can make it easier for your business to align these vital reinforcements, including remote workers, quickly.

See this post for more insight on how seasonal employees can help your workplace — and not just during tax season.

Follow Michael Steinitz on LinkedIn.