Fine Point Consulting Newsletter - September 2020

Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) During COVID-19

It appears Fall is officially upon us! If you are in Wisconsin like us, that typically means leaves changing colors, pumpkin EVERYTHING, big comfy sweaters, football, and all the kids going back to school. Except this year, that last part seems to be a little bit different for everyone. Some schools are 100% virtual, while others are 100% in person, and then there are some that are an interesting mix.

Being a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), we give our employees the autonomy to work when and where they are most productive as long as their team is happy, their clients are happy, and they are still following our 2-hour response time rule. Because of that, and the fact that half of our work force is already remote, we were well equipped to handle working from home when the COVID-19 crisis hit. However, how equipped were we to handle our new little “co-workers” also being in the picture when schooling and daycare plans changed?

I am sure most of you and your teams can relate to that new complication. In this unusual time, we thought it would be fun to share some stories from our team members about how working from home with their children has actually worked. Continue reading to see how Louisa, our Tax Practice Manager, handled that situation, while also dealing with the most interesting tax year ever.

At least we still have football!

President, Fine Point Consulting


Executive Profile: Zach Miller, COO

This month, we are excited to introduce you to another member of our Executive Team - Zach Miller, Chief Operating Officer of Fine Point Consulting.

Zach has been with the company since December 2015, and like our president Chelsea has worked in many different roles through the years. He started at Fine Point as an Assistant Controller, working directly with many different clients, and was soon promoted to Controller. In January 2019 he was promoted to be the Director of the Madison office and joined the newly formed Executive Team. As the face of our Madison office, Zach is responsible for meeting with those interested in learning more about services offered and also managing the staffing and controller group in the Madison office. This September, Zach was promoted to his current position. As our new COO, his main responsibilities are continuing to run our Madison office, budgeting for the financial group, and working with the rest of the executive team on strategic vision and strategy. Through all that, Zach still works personally with a handful of clients and is an invaluable resource for our entire team when unusual situations arise.

Zach received his bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting and Master’s in Business Administration from Madison’s Edgewood College. Shortly after graduating with his first degree, he started working in the accounting department at Merge Healthcare, a healthcare IT company. After about a year, Zach realized he wanted to return to Madison. He joined First Business bank, working first in internal accounting, then as a field examiner, where he was essentially performing auditing functions. The niche lending product the bank offered required more due diligence on the bank side, and Zach was examining collateral, financial records, and management capabilities. Quite a bit of travel was required for the job, which took him out of Madison again. Eventually, he realized he wanted his work to keep him close to home more regularly. He talked with a friend about the situation, which led to an introduction to Luella.

The things Zach enjoys most about working at Fine Point all revolve around the people he gets to work with – both fellow FPC employees and Fine Point’s clients. While many of the clients may have similar goals, they come from many industries and all have interesting and different business models and offerings. Fellow Fine Point team members have many varied backgrounds and perspectives, giving a well-rounded approach to client work and working together with each other.

Zach finds the willingness to learn and continue learning about all aspects of the business to be an important piece of advice for others who may be interested in a similar job. “A general knowledge of accounting and willingness to work many different aspects of finance, HR, and accounting have been integral to my career,” Fine Point’s COO shared, “A lot of it is just learning by doing, and since every client is going to be super unique in their needs, we apply a standard set of practices then vary those a little bit for each client.”


In the support of working parents, flexible schedules, and the reality of life:

By Louisa Else, Tax Practice Leader

It seems like everywhere I look these days - every email blast I get or shared article I see - has this advice or that perfect daily routine to help you master working remotely. We certainly talk about it in staff meetings. Maybe I'm the only one, but as a working mom with two young kids at home, I just roll my eyes and keep it moving.

I've been working remotely, either part-time or full-time, since my daughter was born 6 years ago. In all that time, I've never had a lasting routine – one that stuck. We are constantly shifting as our lives shift. Wake up at 6am and drink your coffee, get in your workout, and start the day "right"?! Not back when the little boy who never slept was waking me up 4 times a night until he was over a year old! Get dressed in "real" clothes to help you get in the right frame of mind? But then I'm in jeans all day, and there's just no reason for that when comfortable, soft leggings are an option.

As I've been watching so many of my colleagues shift to remote work these past few months - by force, not by choice - it's gotten me thinking again about all the ways that parents can juggle our lives and be not only amazing mothers and fathers, but also show our kids great examples of working hard and having careers we enjoy at the same time.

This new recurring newsletter post is to share our tips and tricks (that I promise we’ve actually tested), stories that will make you laugh, and mostly (hopefully) show all our working moms and dads out there that they are not alone and we are all navigating this crazy working parent adventure together.

At least in my house, a typical day is no day. We may get close to a routine, but there is always something that will come up and throw things for a loop. Some days I really am up at 6am, working by 8am, and shutting it down at 5pm. Other days I have 3 tickle fights, 2 stubbed toes to kiss better, and one spilled yogurt to clean up, and I'm wrapping up client deadlines after bedtime. I have to be flexible enough to make both those extremes work and slide into my next day.

Most days are smooth (enough) sailing, but there are still many stories I could tell. My first week at Fine Point, I was juggling training with kid duty while my husband was coaching, and my children (who were fully capable of occupying themselves peacefully for an hour), instead spent 25 minutes eating brown sugar and found the maple syrup. That is where the working part of “working from home” was to my advantage – Daddy did the clean-up later.

Early this summer, after weeks of COVID-19 quarantine and typical cold Wisconsin spring weather, I took as many calls outside as I could so my kids could run around and get fresh air. That all went great, until the morning my son's boot ended up on my garage roof. I had to haul out the ladder after my call ended so I could perform a daring rescue (as my 5 year old took pictures that I shared with our Fine Point slack channel).

I want to wrap up with some unsolicited advice that you should feel free to ignore:

  • Learn to type one-handed (let's face it, with your non-dominant hand, because kids just know where the most awkward place to sit is)
  • Bluetooth headphones. Bluetooth headphones.
  • Practice giving grace. Give your kids grace. Give your colleagues grace. Most importantly, give yourself grace.
  • Don't fall for the trap that working from home is "easier".
  • Sometimes, just walk away from your computer and laugh at the crazy. It's all you can do.

What works for me isn't what works for our onboarding specialist, Diana, or our controller, Brad. By sharing our stories and our real-life, non-Instagram posed snapshots, I hope that we will encourage you to take what works, toss out what doesn’t, and create your fit.


Fine Point Consulting Is Pleased to Offer:

Combatting Return-to-Workplace Fear in a Post COVID World

After enduring months of work from home, people are starting to return to the office. While this may be a welcome change, it comes with stress and fear-for both employees and employers. While we can’t eliminate fear and stress, employers can take proactive measures to give employees the best possible experience returning to the office.

 


7 Small but Effective Ways to Let Employees Know They Are Appreciated (COVID-Safe)

Everyone is going through a challenging time right now, trying to maintain some sense of normalcy through the COVID-19 pandemic. Your team members may be worried about themselves or a family member getting sick, and how they will cope if that happens. Now is the perfect time to let them know how much you appreciate their contributions, and below are seven small but effective, COVID-safe ways to do so.

Two Words to Recognize a Job Well Done

The purpose of one of the most meaningful and motivating verbal or written conversations you can initiate is to say ‘thank you’ to your team members. Don Draper in Mad Men had a different approach. When confronted by a highly effective and talented employee about never saying thank you, his reply was a very loud and angry “That’s what the money is for!” As you can imagine, this didn’t go over well with his hard-working protege, who left the advertising firm shortly thereafter. While this is a fictional portrayal from a TV show, it clearly illustrates a real-world desire to feel gratitude for working diligently. It is not only nice to hear, it may also be hoped for. There is no downside to sharing this impactful sentiment.

Everybody Needs to Eat

When a team is working together in an office, the company having food catered is always a crowd-pleasing surprise. During the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are working remotely and juggling home and career demands during the same hours, which means now is the perfect time to treat team members to a meal or snack delivered right to their houses. Something as easy and cost-effective as sending over a pizza for dinner means the employee doesn’t have to worry about making dinner that night, taking energy from stress and making it available to put toward work. For a fancier alternative that will require more individualized attention, consider utilizing apps that deliver servings of restaurant food, or home-delivered meal services for even more benefits to your team members.

Allowance for Remote Working Environments

It’s happened to every one of us – you sit down to work on a project at home, and either your child is suddenly hungry, your dog needs to go out, or something else unexpected happens in the household that requires immediate attention. Whenever possible, flexible scheduling should be a part of your business response to changes brought about because of COVID-19. For example, if a hard deadline needs to be met, as long as doing so would not cause the work to suffer, and any necessary collaboration can continue, allowing tasks to be completed when it is most convenient for your remote workers is a way to show trust, understanding, and support. Non-business hours might work better on some days for certain people – such as completing tasks after the kids are put to bed, or before the rest of the house wakes up – and a company being less stringent about when work needs to be in progress would be a great help.

Let Them Choose

Whether you believe “cash is king” or gift cards / certificates are the ultimate in convenience, giving team members a thoughtful surprise that they can customize to fit their preferences is always a great choice. Both are technically financial incentives, and usually done once a year for holidays, performance bonuses, or special events like birthdays or start date anniversaries. In this time of uncertainty, a little monetary boost can go a long way, not only for your staff. Many small businesses are struggling due to the continued mandatory closures intended to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, and purchasing a gift card or certificate from them now adds resources to their coffers, which helps keep these economy drivers afloat until they can reopen to customers again. This idea to show appreciation is definitely a win-win for everyone!

Develop Team Members to Foster Community in COVID-Safe Workspaces

It cannot be overstated how important self-leadership, interdependence, and skills-based knowledge are, especially at this challenging time, when the team is more separated due to social distancing and remotely working. Encourage confidence, empowerment, trust, and purpose in your employees through giving them project ownership and mentoring sessions over video conferencing. Make time to develop then employ skill-based knowledge, and you will see improvements in not only your team’s ability to work together, but in every link of the chain as well. The spirit of working together as a cohesive unit even when not together creates opportunities for individual and team growth and development.

Everyone Loves to See Their Name

One easy-to-implement way to show your appreciation involves something your company is probably doing a few times a week anyway - post on social media. When a new employee joins the team, you could introduce them on your social media channels. A nice way to jazz up the post and make it more engaging, as well as provide insight into whom your customers and vendors are working with, is to include a fun or interesting fact about the team member. Another reason to create a post centered around your employees is to celebrate milestones, such as birthdays and company-related anniversaries. When someone started with the company, was promoted, or participated in supporting a non-profit or other community-improving organization all demonstrate perfect opportunities to highlight an employee on your social platforms. In these posts, you could also include a photo (perhaps a headshot or the employee in the middle of a project). Be sure to write about your gratitude and appreciation for all their efforts, as that is especially nice for them to read. They'll feel seen and know you value their contributions.

Ask, Listen, and Implement

It’s kind of a long-running joke used in sitcoms and movies, but the truth is that many employees feel like they have no say at their jobs and the higher-ups don’t give a hoot about their opinions. One of the best ways to show you do care is simply asking questions or asking for feedback. This can be done at any time, and the overall subject can really be anything about your organization or the employee experience. Mai Ton, Vice President of Human Resources at White Ops, had the following to say about this practice:

"We distribute a quarterly pulse survey [that] allows them to give us [anonymous] feedback about the company at a macro level. We ask a set of 15 questions around teamwork, leadership, career growth, etc. each quarter to measure movement on any dimension. Then we give them three open text boxes to answer the questions: What are we doing well? What do we need to improve? What else is on your mind? We get our results each month with an average participation rate of about 75 percent and have more than 225 lines of data from the responses to those three open-ended questions. This allows all employees to feel heard and want to contribute to making our company win.”

Whichever options you choose to implement, there are countless opportunities to show your employees you appreciate them, and there are few more appropriate times than a months-long-and-still-going-strong pandemic to do so. Let your team members know!


Things Our Clients Said:

“This morning we received the official funding letter for our SBIR Phase I grant. I want to express my appreciation and gratitude for your help over the past week responding to NCI’s requests. They requested an extraordinary amount of information and documentation on a very short timeline, and we could never have responded without all of your help. Your partnership made a meaningful difference for our company.”

 

“You are a rock star! Thank you so much, I didn’t realize there was a Gusto chat support option available. I had been emailing their support email.”


Mark Your Calendars

  • September 30: End of Third Quarter
  • October 15: Individual and Corporation Federal Tax Deadline
  • October 31: Third Quarter Payroll Tax Reporting Filing Deadline
  • November 3: Election Day

Two Self-Care Musts for Entrepreneurs

September is National Self-Care Awareness Month! Often, entrepreneurs are very busy, and they don’t take the time to care for themselves. In 2020, unfortunately, this is especially true, due to COVID-19, and business owners trying to stay afloat and find creative ways to survive this stressful time. Perhaps they don’t see the value in self-care, believe it’s an indulgence they just don’t have time for, or feel like time away from work isn’t wise. We’re here to tell you that not only is self-care a must – it’s a luxury you can’t afford not to indulge in! Here are two practices that every entrepreneur should incorporate into their schedule.

Don’t Just Plow Through Your Workday

Have you ever sat working at your desk, head down so long it was dark when you next looked outside, then at the end of the day, all that “working” didn’t seem to knock many items off your task list? You aren’t alone. It might seem counterintuitive when you have so much to do, but it’s very important to take breaks during the day, and studies have verified it. Cognition, an international publication that shares papers on the study of our minds, published information on University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign research. The results were quite interesting – when focusing on a particular task, taking a short 5-10 minute break, or incorporating a diversion from work for the same amount of time, once an hour, resulted in not only far less cognitive decline, but better performance, focus, and attention throughout the experiment. Leader of the study, one of the college’s psychology professors, Alejandro Lleras, revealed, "We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused. From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks, it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!"

Breaks can re-energize our minds. Maybe you’ll find completely stepping away from anything considered productive to work or your career does the trick for you, like a quick call or text session with a friend to catch up. If you feel twinges of guilt from not being productive – even for a very brief time – then try watching an educational video on YouTube. Have you always wanted to learn a new shortcut in Excel? Want to improve the quality of your podcasts? Did you get an awesome deal on 4 pounds of spinach at Costco and need to figure out what to do with it? YouTube is a plethora of creators speaking on just about every subject you can imagine, and whether you want to spend 3 minutes or 30 minutes, you can probably find a video that is the length of time you care to invest at the moment.

We think there’s a lot of merit and value to this self-care tip, so in future newsletters, we’ll dive deeper into how science backs interspersing short breaks with long periods of work.

Schedule “Me Time”…And Don’t Pencil it in Either!

What do you like to do? What lessens your jaw-clenching and balled-up fists? Whatever it is, make time for it – ideally, daily. You don’t have to do the same stress-relieving, enjoyable activity every single day (unless you want to), but you should be making time regularly to do something you like.

Many entrepreneurs find solace in meditating, tai chi, lying still and focusing on just breathing for a period of time, or journaling. Morning Pages, done right after you wake up, is a form of journaling that Julie Cameron, a best-selling author of over 40 books, created. Dubbed the “Queen of Change” by the New York Times, her method includes writing 3 pages of stream of consciousness, longhand, no edits, no changes. Whatever is in your mind goes on the page – no matter what it is – and the idea is to clear your mind to start your day with a clean slate, which is supposed to make room for clearer thinking, less distractions, and more productivity. If this sounds interesting to you, be sure to catch our October newsletter for more information, as well as feedback from those who have used this type of journaling.

Video games can be a good escape during “me time”. There are two caveats with this fun, immersive short escape from work – the time goes by quickly and it can be competitive. Be sure to set a timer so you don’t go over your designated chunk of time, and remember that you’re not playing the game to win, beat any high score, complete a certain number of levels, or anything similar. This activity is simply a short and fun respite from your workday – that’s it. Whether you play brain teasers on your phone, solitaire on your computer, or a car racing game on a console, as long as you can walk away when the timer goes off, this can be a great tool to revitalize your creativity.

Food is the focus of a few wonderful “me time” activities, and they nourish both your thinking power and your body. When was the last time you sat down and ate a meal without your phone in one hand, or actually sat at a table designated for food consumption and not work? While it seems like we’re saving time by eating breakfast in the car or in front of the computer, or stabbing a fork aimlessly through a salad for lunch while we go through emails that came in since we checked earlier in the morning, the truth is that eating these meals doesn’t take as long as we think it does.

Being present and aware of the food meant to sustain us is a self-care activity that many don’t employ. Enjoy the colors and crunch of your vegetables, the subtle flavor notes in your coffee or tea, and even appreciate the chicken for its egg. Being thankful and grateful for the healthy, available, nutritious food we have to eat can bring about a mindset of gratitude for other things, and that results in a good mood that’s contagious.

The first line of Meal Gatha, given to us by Buddhism, reminds us of how our food comes to us, and that it took 72 laborers to make it happen. Japanese monasteries utilize a very detailed system of dividing labor among the monks there, and this opening line of the Meal Gatha lets us know that food doesn’t miraculously just appear – we should be aware of and acknowledge the process, be thankful for it, and give reverence and respect to those who made it possible.

Cooking food can also be a relaxing “me time” activity, especially if one remembers that the presentation perfection often seen on Instagram is not a requirement for tasty food. Baking is a less forgiving sport, due to the chemical reactions happening between ingredients, so precision is more important here.

If you don’t fancy yourself too handy or comfortable in the kitchen, meal delivery services like Hello Fresh and Plated give you a head start by providing portioned out ingredients and detailed recipes. Making a cake and frosting from scratch (or any baked good, really) can be intimidating, and there’s no shame in picking up a mix and pre-made frosting at the store. Both options providing assistance in creating a delicious meal and dessert come in options that just a few years ago were not on supermarket shelves, including no gluten / dairy, vegetarian, vegan, and more. If you can’t find appropriate choices for your dietary needs there, you can find them online. Another benefit – prepping meals ahead of time makes it easier to sit and enjoy your food, as mentioned above.

Use the remainder of this month to prioritize self-care, and get into the habit of making it a part of your daily routine. We’ve only listed two ways above, but they are an umbrella under which many ideas reside.


Fine Point Consulting is a boutique consulting firm offering expert-level professional accounting & human resources services customized to meet your budget. We help entrepreneurs who are trying to scale fast get more done and stay lean.

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