Working Remotely vs. In the Office: Point Counterpoint

Today, the debate on working in the office vs. remotely is raging. Is it more effective for people to work in the office or working remotely? Positions on this issue vary significantly depending on who you ask: Partners vs. staff? Older vs. younger people? Those at firms in large cities vs. small?work from home

The last few years clearly changed our lives in many ways, including how professionals such as accountants and lawyers work. Before the pandemic that began in 2020, about 15% of all CPA firm personnel worked remotely. This shot up to nearly 100% during the pandemic’s first year. Since then, many firms have moved to a hybrid model – some days in the office and some remote. But quite a few firms are still mostly remote.

Complicating the debate on remote work is the dire shortage of professional staff in the CPA firm industry. This was verified by a poll of 250 CPA firms conducted by PR Newswire and Censuswide in May 2023 which concluded that 99% of CPA firms are unable to hire the necessary staff and thus is negatively impacting firms’ bottom line.

This dire talent shortage is driving firms’ policies on remote work. Firms know that many of their staff and potential new hires prefer working remotely vs. working in the office. It could be a difference-maker in staff retention and hiring. Many firms feel they are forced to offer liberal remote work policies to retain and access talent or risk losing staff.

Whatever side of the debate you are on, one thing is clear: remote work is here to stay, in some form. No one expects firms to return to working mostly in the office any time soon.

This article drills down on the pros and cons of working in the office vs. remote. To do this, we will hear from two people with contrasting viewpoints about remote work.

Caveat: we are not addressing people whose work is done well on a remote basis:
• Long-term, non-partner-track tax return specialists.
• Computer support personnel.
• Many consultants who work without staff.

Amanda Lilley, CPA, Consulting Manager at Rosenberg Associates, in her early 30s.

Having worked fully remote, hybrid, and fully in-office roles throughout my career I can say I’ve seen (and worked) it all at this point. Throughout this time, I’ve witnessed the pros and cons of all of these environments but stand by the statement I always make to those who ask me if I would ever go back to working in an office which is “I’d never do it.”

While I understand the arguments for preferring in-person versus remote work, people can work outside of an office environment and still be just as productive, if not more, than their counterparts working in an office. They can also have just as good, if not better, relationships with their colleagues. How people build and maintain relationships have changed over the past few years as have individual preferences on communication and work styles. I won’t deny that remote work requires a new way of running a business, completing tasks and developing relationships with colleagues and clients, but as my colleague Matt Rampe loves to say, these things “aren’t hard, just different.” Does it require a mental shift? Absolutely. Does it have the potential to cost more to invest in the right technology and equipment? Maybe. Is it impossible to be a successful, highly desired firm that maintains excellent client service with a remote workforce? Nope.

Here are my specific reasons for preferring remote vs. in-office work.

Flexibility – working from an office doesn’t allow for the same level of flexibility that remote work does. Employees are empowered to work a schedule that works best for them within a firm’s parameters when working remotely. If an individual needs to schedule a personal appointment or tend to personal matters, it can be much easier to do this when you’re already working from your home versus having to commute to/from the office to accomplish the same tasks.

Commute – depending on where you live this may or may not be an issue for you, however having worked in a large metropolitan city for my entire adult life, the morning and evening commute time can be substantial. Employees who don’t have to commute to an office each day can feel more rested, refreshed, and less likely to experience burnout.

Productivity – while Marc will argue otherwise, I do think remote workers can be just as, if not more, productive within their own walls versus in an office. There is something to be said about not having constant office interruptions – people chatting in a cubicle next to you, colleagues being on the phone, staff asking questions, etc.

Having said that, all of these, from a camaraderie and training and development standpoint, are important, but working remotely allows individuals to set parameters around when these things can fill up their time versus having limited control over this when you’re in the office and someone stops by your desk. To encourage staff to ask questions, I’ve seen supervisors ask staff to call them via phone, Teams, Zoom, etc., book appointments on their calendar, or hold open “office hours” where they plan to be on Zoom on a certain day/time each week where staff can hop on and get their questions answered.

Cost savings – it’s hard to deny that anything hasn’t been getting incrementally more expensive over time and especially over the last few years with the inflation rates being high. By not having to commute to the office employees are rid of having to pay for public transportation, parking, gas, etc. On the flip side, firms can also save money by downsizing their office space or getting rid of it altogether by allowing remote work.

Overall well-being – this is more of an overarching benefit that can be experienced because of all of the benefits I mentioned above. When you allow employees who want to work remotely to do just that, set their own schedules within reason, and allow them to work in a space with fewer distractions all while saving money, it’s hard to argue that those things don’t equate to increased well-being.

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Marc Rosenberg, CPA, founder of Rosenberg Associates, age around 70.

No question that people are more productive and the firm is better off when people work mostly in the office vs. remotely. I’m fine with some remote work, but only if it can be done without reducing productivity and the firm’s performance.

My feelings are driven by the following: Are remote workers as effective and productive as those who work primarily in the office? Are firms better off when their people work all or most of the time remotely vs. in the office? “Better off” is not limited to billable hours worked, realization, business originated and doing the work. “Better off” also includes intangibles such as teamwork, collaboration, training, mentoring, supervision and providing performance feedback. It also includes the importance of hard-to-measure factors such as the value of chance meetings in the office at the water cooler or coffee station and spontaneous lunches with peers and supervisors. Similarly, being “productive” isn’t solely measured by billable hours and work produced. The intangibles above are an equal component of evaluating productivity.

Even strong advocates of remote work acknowledge that the issues raised above are much more difficult with new staff than experienced personnel. But I maintain that experienced staff and partners are more effective in the office as well.

Here are my specific reasons for preferring in-office vs. remote work.

Greater productivity in the office. (Remember my earlier definition of productivity.) Let’s be clear about one thing: I’m not saying that people can’t be productive working remotely. I am saying that productivity in the office is higher in the office than remote work. Accountants at a CPA firm are in the people business (contrary to popular mythology perpetuated by those who know nothing about the accounting business). Supervisors. Peers. Subordinate staff. Clients. Interacting with these people is what it’s all about. These “people activities,” which are a key component of productivity, will always be more effective in person than working remotely.

One final item: Amanda and I conducted a remote work survey of 130 firms at the tail end of 2022. One of the findings was that 59% of firms feel productivity is the same as before COVID. Some might find that to be evidence that I am wrong. But to me, this means 41% do not believe that productivity is unaffected by remote work.

Job satisfaction. Remote workers may not admit it or even be in touch with it but the isolation from people often results in lower job satisfaction, loneliness, and even some depression.

Convenience. It’s much more likely, convenient and easier for people in the office to seek help and advice from co-workers when the person is seconds away from their desk than working remotely, where one has to dial up/email/text the person. When working remotely, it’s too tempting to decide not to seek help.

Temptation. Remote workers often take time during the day to nap, exercise and run to the grocery store. A nice convenience for the workers but does anyone really think they make up for this down time by expanding the work day?

Distractions occur both in the office as well as at a remote work station. But there are more distractions working remotely than in the office. This of course varies by each person’s family situation.

Amanda and I expect a lot of people will respond angrily to our comments just as many will agree with our positions. We would love to hear from both sides; please take just a few moments to tell us how you feel.



  1. Nicolo on August 30, 2023 at 9:49 am

    I’m a partner at a national CPA firm, and I’ve been in the office every day for the last 3 years.

    Typically when I talk to seniors and managers about coming into the office, their first objection is some form of: “But I can get more files reviewed working remotely!!!”

    Usually my response to that is to query whether reviewing files is their only job responsibility. And for that matter whether it’s even their most important job responsibility.

    While production will always be an important aspect of getting work done, it’s arguably a lot less important than all of the other responsibilities for seniors and managers that suffer while they’re concentrating on their files while working remotely.

    I also suspect that the firms who suggest that productivity hasn’t declined with remote work are mostly saying that as a means to justify their continued adherence to remote work.

    By way of analogy, I grew up in California, and lived there for ~30 years before moving to another state so that I could actually live and not just survive. Most everyone who lives in California keeps a handy list of reasons why they can’t leave California, and tends to trot it out often to remind themselves and their peers precisely why they haven’t left yet, as a form of self reinforcement and mutual peer pressure. Eventually when they finally break down and leave, they admit their list was complete codswallop. I hear New Yorkers engage in similar acts of self delusion. I suspect that the firms who are insisting that remote work is just as productive are similarly holding onto their fantasy, largely because they have no other choice, and it’s easier to fool yourself than attempt to make difficult changes.

    • Avatar photo Marc Rosenberg, CPA on August 31, 2023 at 3:21 pm

      What a great reply. You and I understand the importance of intangibles vs. billable hours for staff. Now, if we could get staff to grow on trees, we would be in great shape.

  2. Michael D McManus on August 30, 2023 at 10:56 am

    Marc — Couldn’t agree with you more. The “intangibles” you mention are critical to the maximization of both productivity and personal growth. In addition, the temptations and distractions you mentioned can be a huge deterrent to remote work. I’m a Firm owner so if anyone would be motivated to be highly productive at home it would be me, but I find that even I succumb to some of the temptations and distractions. Bottom line . . . it’s good that COVID forced us to recognize that some remote work is possible, but reality forces us to recognize that working primarily from an office (at least 80% of the time) with others is best for both the Firm and the individual.

    • Avatar photo Marc Rosenberg, CPA on August 31, 2023 at 3:23 pm

      Great thoughts you write. The remote vs. in-office issue is a lot more complicated than some people think. It will be interesting to see how this debate evolves over the next 5-10 years.

  3. Bill Pirolli on August 30, 2023 at 12:29 pm

    Great stuff Mark and Amanda. Not a topic with a lot of consensuses, but very important right now.


    • Chrystin on August 31, 2023 at 11:03 am

      Hi Bill,
      Thank you for the comment and heads up about the copy mix up. It’s all fixed now. I would like to publish your comment and will remove the part about the copy mix up before doing so.
      Have a great day,
      Chrystin McHugh

  4. Tracie Stephens on August 30, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    Great article. I prefer in office, however, I’m currently working from a hospital waiting room and am glad we have the ability to do so!

    • Chrystin on August 31, 2023 at 10:59 am

      Hi Tracie,
      Thanks for the comment and heads up about the messaging mix up. It’s all fixed now. I hope you are well based on your note about the hospital.
      Have a great day,
      Chrystin McHugh

  5. Henry Chavez on August 31, 2023 at 8:11 pm

    The article is well done, and the contrasting view points are important. I do not however think that this is an age-related point of view issue, as the article draws attention to by calling out the authors’ ages. This is a business problem that needs resolution, and COVID provided a temporary solution to a crisis. For example, I have seen our firm go from 100% in-house staff to virtually 100% remote because of COVID. The results have been disastrous both in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Our problem was exacerbated because once the employees went remote, they ultimately also moved out of state (our office is in California), which made them 100% remote forever, like it or not. The 100% firm remote plan is an absolute culture killer in my opinion. At some point, you cannot replicate human interaction solely via zoom. A hybrid model offers a reasonable solution that everyone can live with.

    • Avatar photo Marc Rosenberg, CPA on August 31, 2023 at 10:56 pm

      Henry, I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks for taking the time to share your views with us.

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