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Accounting solutions on the cloud can help keep stress low during tax season.

As a general rule, accountants have one of the least stressful jobs in finance — most lists rank it last in terms of overall stress, according to eFinancialCareers. However, there’s one exception: tax time. While private citizens worry they won’t be able to claim a big refund or may face the stress of an IRS audit, finance pros are likely just trying to survive with their existing accounting solutions. From handling revenue reports, tracking employee hours, and communicating with multiple team members to ensure no form is missed and no number is inaccurate, it’s easy for professional accountants to feel overwhelmed this time of year.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom — automation and simplification have made their way to the accounting space. The following are four ways to lower tax season stress and keep your CPAs sane:

1. Collective Clouds

The cloud is quickly becoming a go-to technology solution for accountants, and for good reason. As noted by Accountancy Age, cloud-based offerings are easily integrated, can save your company money, and are ideal to help minimize IT risk. And, the biggest benefit of the cloud for accountants is the ability to quickly and easily share tax documents, which are automatically updated and versioned whenever changes are made. Instead of relying on laborious email chains and locking down files when finished, cloud accounting solutions make it easy for multiple professionals to tackle the same target.

2. Cross-Company Collaboration

Taking this a step further are cross-company collaboration tools, some offered as part of cloud packages and some as stand-alone solutions. These are ideal for companies with multiple, global office locations, which need to reconcile tax data across more than one jurisdiction. For example, your company may need to report taxes in the United States and in specific European Union countries, depending on what type of data you store and how it’s used. These collaboration tools allow tax pros to work simultaneously and in real-time on large-scale tax projects, in turn reducing both the total time required and total spend.

3. CRM Number Crunching

One of the biggest headaches for accountants during tax time is reconciling billable hours — aka how much time accountants (or other departments) are spending with clients and what the final amounts owed are. With accountants pulled in so many directions during tax time, it’s easy for clients with smaller hour totals to get lost in the shuffle, missed on tax filings, and then circled back to as part of late-year audits.

However, new unified communications tools not only provide automatic call tracking with detailed call logs, but also the ability to easily record calls for auditing or reporting purposes. You can go even deeper with Salesforce integration to track call times, notes, and call logs for all accounts across CRM in the cloud, in turn reducing the stress of tracking, sorting, and reporting billable hours.

4. Critical Automation

Also on the horizon for accountants? Automation. As noted by TechCrunch, startup Smacc recently secured $3.5 million in Series A funding to digitize and automate the accounting process. There are big promises here: Ideally, customers submit their receipts to Smacc, which converts them into machine-readable formats, encrypts them, and then assigns them to the correct account. In theory, the platform also self-learns over time to track data such as invoices, sales, and costs.

While some futurists see the next generation of accounting as dominated by intelligent machines, the complexities and nuances of large-enterprise tax returns suggest a hybrid solution: automation tools for error-prone processes such as data capture and storage, combined with human oversight to ensure data is properly managed, reported, and tracked for potential audits.

Tax time is here, and that means big stress for accounting departments. By making room for tech-driven accounting solutions, however, it’s possible to reduce stress, improve productivity, and keep CPAs happy this tax season.

To learn more about how cloud accounting solutions can help during tax season, contact a Vonage Business consultant.

About Doug Bonderud

Doug Bonderud is an award-winning freelance writer with a passion for technology and innovation. His ability to create compelling, thought-provoking and timely content helps empower the voice of corporate vision. From UCaaS to VoIP to cloud computing, Doug has experience covering all aspects of evolving digital environments and their effects on both people and policies.

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The right technology can make managing virtual teams easier and more effective.

Few things are less quantifiable, more important, and more difficult to directly influence than a company’s culture. In the modern era, where managing virtual teams and other distributed entities is the rule, a measure of cultural consistency is a written-in-stone necessity. This is something small fish and big players alike must manage for the sake of the name on the awning.

And, despite the challenges a long-distance working relationship can represent, today’s executives can’t just give up on imposing a singular culture because their virtual enterprise operates under more than one roof. Giving your locations the same feel, regardless of geography, can yield productivity benefits and make sure remote employees get a consistent workplace everywhere.

Here are a few takes on making your culture more portable in the mobility era:

Formalize and Centralize

The word “formalize” doesn’t always conjure images of a happy, productive workforce, but according to Recruiter, building a distributed culture gets a lot easier when you know what it is and what you’re trying to get from it. The first step in that process is asking yourself and your team questions about the company’s end goal, core values, and approach to productivity, and coming to thoughtful, collaborative answers.

You may discover that your company puts a lot of stock into communication and collaboration. You could also find that you’re in a laid-back workplace that doesn’t dictate process or strict behavior standards as long as the ethical end results are there. Maybe you’ll discover a more formal, buttoned-down environment. Or, maybe you’ll discover something else entirely.

Whatever that “something” is, write it down. Since this is an attempt to instill or influence culture, you may wish to only include positives to emulate. That said, this could also be an opportunity to identify and eliminate negative factors, which can obviously affect employee engagement and productivity. Either way — and even if you think you have a good grasp of your company’s culture — be sure to put it on paper first. You may be surprised at what you find.

Ears to the Ground

At the risk of sounding cheesy, it also goes without saying that workplace culture — both company-wide and on the individual-location level — is a living, breathing, organically cultivated thing. Keeping every location in cultural lock-step may not be fully possible because of this, especially considering how hard culture is to force.

However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be influenced or nudged in a certain direction. More, the high-level aspects you noted earlier can often be implemented through policy, management behavior, tone of internal communication, and other obvious and not-so-obvious avenues.

When managing virtual teams and other branches, one such not-so-obvious avenue — asking employees directly — can be huge in determining and dictating culture. This is especially pertinent since employees at all levels, from management to HR to ground-level reps, tend to believe their particular roles are the primary cultural influencers within their workplaces. Though you may not be present in every location long enough to get a real feel for their internal culture, and while employees are undoubtedly likely to understate any reservations, pinpointing trustworthy sources within branches and speaking to them regularly can yield real, workable results for individual roles and the company at large.

Translate with Technology

Once you’ve located positive cultural aspects and things worth changing, the next challenge is to replicate them. When you’re managing virtual teams, chances are you’re making heavy use of unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools. Just like they enable basic work, these solutions will likely play a key role in replicating your culture across office walls.

The “laid-back” office referenced earlier provides one example to follow. While lax attendance policy may be acceptable when the job’s getting done, there will still be times when productive but MIA employees are desperately needed. This problem is easy enough to handle in single settings but increasingly difficult with a growing number of branches. Presence tools and cloud-based collaboration solutions can make it easier to track these troublesome-yet-productive employees and continue with the get-your-stuff-done atmosphere across locations. This will enable a greater level of collaboration than businesses working without cloud collaboration tools would be able to muster.

The other, more formal office can glean similar benefits from communication and collaboration tools. For example, weekly performance meetings could be held on a company-wide basis despite a growing number of locations, while particularly zealous regional management could use video tools to check on compliance concerns at multiple branches at once.

In both cases — and countless others — the goal is to nudge branch office culture in the same direction as the rest of the business. In some sense, the policy governing these locations should do most of the heavy lifting. Instead of trying to force its hand, company leaders concerned about replicating a successful culture should do what they can to identify the positive aspects, then cultivate them everywhere within the company.

To mangle the old saying, you’ll know you’re doing the right thing when it seems like you haven’t done anything at all. Happy growing!

To learn more about how technology can help you develop your company culture, reach out to a Vonage Business representative.

About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is an author and editor from Carmel, Indiana. As a veteran tech writer and lifelong tech enthusiast, he focuses his writing and research on communication, mobility and security. Alongside work with leading cloud technology providers and industry news sources, Evan has extensive sales and end-user marketing experience, giving him a unique view of the individual’s relationship with technology — and how organizations can realize huge benefits from it.

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Your BYOD policy can let your employees enjoy their new tech toys while improving productivity.

It seems new mobile devices are hitting the market every single day, touting exciting features and innovative advances your employees cannot get enough of. So, it’s probably no surprise when employees want to use their devices for work, whether it’s for convenience or efficiency. Tell them they have to leave their shiny new tablets at home, and you’ll likely have some unhappy campers. But allowing personal devices for business, without a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, may not be wise for your company.

There are definite productivity and cost benefits to allowing employees to use personal devices for work purposes. For example, when you have cloud-based communications that integrate mobile devices with the office phone system, employees can be productive wherever they’re working, or even off-hours, and maintain a consistent business presence.

To make everything go smoothly and keep your network safe with BYOD, a wise approach is to have a detailed BYOD policy for your employees to follow. Here are five important topics that you should cover in your BYOD policy:

1. Require All Employees to Keep Devices Updated

Bugs happen. However, with cloud technology, companies can quickly release new versions that fix the problems. To keep your employees productive on their mobile devices, make sure that everyone installs all updates to their mobile devices for both apps and operating systems.

2. All Devices Must Be Password-Protected

We all do it: leaving a phone on a restaurant table or, worse, in an airport. Because of this, it is essential that all employees accessing company files, networks, and applications have a password they change regularly on all devices.

3. Set Up a Process to Remotely Access Company Data

Sometimes you’re lucky and the phone is still on the table. Other times, not so much. Passwords provide a basic level of protection, but when the network administrator of the phone system has the ability to remotely access company data, you can have additional peace of mind that the data is kept safe.

4. Communicate What’s Allowed During Business Hours

Okay, so it’s possible that your employees have some web-surfing habits that aren’t work-appropriate. That gets tricky if the devices are their own and they want to use social media or other personal apps while in the office. Since Twitter has professional applications, it’s probably fine; Reddit, on the other hand, is most likely not work-related. The best approach is to designate that NSFW material cannot be viewed on devices at work — and hopefully everyone agrees what “not safe for work” means.

5. Consider MDM

A big BYOD challenge is maintaining privacy between company data and personal information. By using mobile device management (MDM) technology, a wall separates the two on the employee’s devices, and the company can only access the work portion. MDM also gives the employee privacy from the company accessing personal data.

By being proactive and having a clear BYOD policy, your network and employees will both be happy.

Visit Vonage Business and connect with a representative to learn how employee-owned devices can integrate with a cloud-based business communication system.

About Jennifer Goforth Gregory

Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a technology freelance writer specializing in B2B and telecommunications topics. She has written for national brands including IBM, Samsung, ADTRAN, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Verizon, Costco and American Express. One of her superpowers is being able to translate technical speak from the experts that make products work into language everyone else can understand. Jennifer has a master’s degree in technical communication and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two kids.

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Unified communications and collaboration tools let customers and employees connect and save time.

Remember the days when getting in touch with a specific colleague or vendor could be the hardest part of completing a task? If so, you’ve probably been working long enough to remember the world before unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools. Now that you have such effective communication tools at your disposal, you must undoubtedly understand, in full detail, how “human latency” is much more than a buzzword.

Of course, people are still the lifeblood of any organization, a fact that will hold true until the last job’s been automated and handed over to the machines. Provided the solution is tailored to the organization’s specific needs, UC&C tools can vastly improve the processes these people carry out by streamlining and automating tasks generally considered to be labor- and time-intensive. Do it right, and working with colleagues, partners, vendors, and customers get a lot easier, even as it becomes faster to carry out. To that end, the following are just a few ways UC&C tools can revolutionize business processes, broken down by relationship:

Internal Communications

As noted by B2B software company Tibco, the insurance industry provides an excellent case study for the benefits of an intelligently applied UC&C solution. It’s a heady line of work that requires labor and expertise from numerous individual skill sets. In addition, even easy customer interactions can require expertise that comes from multiple people in multiple roles, given the complex suite of products and services insurance organizations provide.

If anything, this complexity makes UC&C’s benefits to the industry easy to pinpoint. When an insurance organization unifies its communications — particularly with presence tools, which allow employees to quickly find specific colleagues and discern their availability — it cuts human latency from core processes. This makes underwriting, claims, customer service, and mostly every other aspect of the business more productive and efficient.

For example, say a contact center rep needs to get in touch with an underwriter and then speak to a specific claims specialist working on a customer’s case. By building UC&C capabilities into the systems these professionals use, the insurance company turns basic communication into a unified process. Seeing that a rep is available from the underwriting system, the customer service rep can place a quick Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) call to a general line, then send an urgent-flagged message to the currently unavailable claims expert. The message automatically pings the claims rep’s phone, tablet, laptop, and PC, he responds, and voila! The issue is on its way to resolution, with no need to chase down an employee who could be in the field, at home, or in the office.

Vendor and Business Partner Communications

In some ways, the need for UC&C tools with vendors and business partners rests between internal and customer-focused communications. Though the partnering organizations don’t operate under the same proverbial roof, companies today work closely enough with their partners that near-constant communication can be downright imperative.

As an increasingly common backbone for UC&C tools, cloud technology can help bridge this gap. Indeed, the cloud’s natural strengths (think portability and ease of access) are perfectly aligned with the average business’ communication needs.

Here, collaboration naturally takes the spotlight. If a business is reaching out to a partner, after all, it’s likely to carry out some shared task. Involving the cloud in the collaborative process allows for a consistent workspace across businesses and individual end-user platforms. Compared to the human latency that comes with, say, sharing a document back and forth across email — a process that also invites all sorts of human and technical error to befall the work — being able to invite a specific employee within a partnering organization to view and revise a document from any device or location is a truly attractive alternative.

Customer Communications

If constant collaboration’s the name of the game with businesses and their partners, constant communication is the key to a healthy relationship with clientele. Customer expectations have turned the modern call center into the contact center, and businesses would be well-advised to study the difference between the two.

Turning back to the insurance example, CustomerThink’s take on skill-based presence illustrates the ways UC&C can remove human latency from complex interactions. The contact center rep searching for that elusive claims expert can directly connect a concerned patron to the person he or she needs to talk to. They can just as easily make scheduling callbacks a concrete affair with UC tools, taking the experience from “we’ll call you back soon” to “[insert rep’s name] will call you back at 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday.” Used in conjunction with customer relationship management (CRM) tools, the rep can take things even further by instantly emailing (or texting) a confirmation of the meeting date to the email address on file.

Instead of the customer and organization wasting time, unified communications and collaboration tools create a continuum of contact between an organization’s clientele, initial points of contact, and the employees they’ll eventually need to talk to. The same idea applies anywhere human latency can break the intricate dependencies between communication and productivity, making communication a top priority for modernization in almost any business setting.

Let Vonage Business remove human latency from your critical processes with its suite of unified communications and collaboration tools.

About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is an author and editor from Carmel, Indiana. As a veteran tech writer and lifelong tech enthusiast, he focuses his writing and research on communication, mobility and security. Alongside work with leading cloud technology providers and industry news sources, Evan has extensive sales and end-user marketing experience, giving him a unique view of the individual’s relationship with technology — and how organizations can realize huge benefits from it.

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This year's communication trends include the ability to stay in touch across many unified devices.

This year’s communication trends include the ability to stay in touch across many unified devices.

Ever used the teensy white lie that you didn’t get someone’s voicemail, email, or chat message? With so many devices and communication trends popping up over the past few years, it’s a very believable excuse. Yet with the rise of unified communications, one of the biggest communications trends of 2016, the days of people believing you magically missed messages could soon be over. Don’t worry — the trade-off is worth it.

One Profile, Access from Multiple Devices

With unified communications, all of your devices are connected in the cloud, so you can make and receive calls, exchanges text messages, and collaborate via video regardless of which device you’re using — without being interrupted or having to switch devices. No matter which device you’re on, the person you’re calling or messaging has no idea whether you’re at the office, at your lake house, or standing in the lobby of a ski lodge. If you’re on a personal phone or your daughter’s tablet when you answer a video call, your customer will be none the wiser. This means you can get your work done wherever you are and however you choose to work.

For instance, real estate agents often work outside their offices as they show buyers homes, meet with clients, and answer questions from home in the evening. Their clients don’t really care which devices they’re on — they just want to get a hold of them. With a business phone system that supports cloud-based unified communications, buyers can simply call one number and real estate agents can answer using the nearest device. And, when buyers leave one of those precious “Hi, it’s me again!” messages, agents don’t have to get their daily exercise running around to check their home phone, mobile phone, and office voicemail. Instead of having to jot down a buyer’s dream home wish list while listening to a voicemail in a restaurant lobby, the message can be automatically transcribed and emailed directly to you. You can even answer a call from your tablet while binge watching your latest show in the evening without having to get up from your comfy chair.

Lawyers and legal professionals can have the same benefits because they also work on-the-go in courthouses or client conference rooms. Any professionals who use multiple devices to connect with clients and colleagues can benefit from a UCaaS solution.

Making It Easy for Businesses, Organizations, and Schools to Text

Though businesses have embraced texting with customers for years, 2016 was a turning point for this service. Businesses that provide a text number for customers to get assistance are likely to see higher customer satisfaction rates. According to mHelpDesk, 80 percent of people are currently using texting for business, and 64 percent of consumers are likely to have a positive perception of a company that offers texting as a service channel.

Many hotels are beginning to use text messaging, implementing unified communications to allow different staff members to respond to guest requests for everything from more towels to a late checkout.

The insurance industry is one where customers often have questions and urgent needs. For example, a customer standing sheepishly on the side of the road after giving the car in front of him a bumper-to-bumper love tap could definitely benefit from allowing customers to text their insurance providers so insurance agent on the other end can enter it into a cloud-integrated CRM to get in touch with the right representative.

Many teachers are also using apps to send group text messages to keep parents and students up-to-date with homework, projects, and quizzes. By combining this trend with unified communications, teachers can let everyone know the latest news from any device, whether they are sitting at their classroom desktop computer or watching their child play “everyone follow the ball around in a giant human blob” (aka soccer).

Getting Data from All the ‘Things’

This year, the Internet of Things (IoT) went from an odd term only techies knew to the next big thing. Through the IoT, devices using sensors collect information that businesses and homeowners use to make decisions and control machines such as programmable thermostats. The uses for the IoT will continue to expand this year, especially in industries such as manufacturing. Plants will use IoT devices to monitor production lines, track shipments, and secure the premises. However, all of this new information means employees will have much more data to keep up with. By combining the IoT with a cloud-based unified communications solution, employees will be able to access the data they need anytime and from whatever device they’re on.

It’s been a big year for business communication trends, with the fundamental ways people send and receive communications beginning to change. By integrating all of today’s trends and whatever is big in 2017 into a unified communications solution, everyone will have the information they need to do their job.

For more information on how unified communications can help your team, contact a Vonage Business representative.

About Jennifer Goforth Gregory

Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a technology freelance writer specializing in B2B and telecommunications topics. She has written for national brands including IBM, Samsung, ADTRAN, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Verizon, Costco and American Express. One of her superpowers is being able to translate technical speak from the experts that make products work into language everyone else can understand. Jennifer has a master’s degree in technical communication and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two kids.

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