Weekly Digest – 16 December 2020
To say that 2020 has been a wild ride is an understatement. This article in the Wall Street Journal takes a look at surveys, economic data, and research papers to get an idea of what’s changed and what might be coming our way. The pandemic forced many of us to work from home, and that trend may be here to stay. But the increase in productivity came at a cost: many employees are exhausted and burned out. Many women were forced out of the workplace due to pressures of childcare and remote learning. Unemployment jumped from 3.8% in March to 13% in May. Millions have lost jobs or have had hours cut or bonuses deferred. Over a third of Americans are working from home, and over a quarter would like to make that arrangement permanent.
The only thing clear about 2021 at this point is that it will be different from 2020. Hopefully we have all learned valuable lessons that will help us continue to thrive next year and into the future!
For now we are looking forward to the first snow of the season which is headed our way starting late afternoon, early evening. I guess tomorrow we can consider shoveling out the walkway and driveway our daily outdoor workout.
CARES ACT UPDATES
Another stimulus bill?
A new bill was introduced on Monday, December 14, but it remains unclear if it will pass. While both sides have been offering concessions, those concessions may make it harder for the members of either party to support a bill that doesn’t contain the elements they want. Democrats want more funding for state and local governments, while Republicans want liability protection for businesses. President Trump is pushing for another round of stimulus checks, but at the expense of ending federal support for unemployment.
At present, a bipartisan group consisting of 4 democrats and 4 republicans are working to pass “The Gang of Eight Relief Bill”. We will be following the progress of this new bill as it travels on through the vetting and voting process and analyze it’s effect on small business and individual tax payers.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
In the rush to get money in the hands of businesses in need of support, some of the usual barriers that prevent fraudulent borrowing were removed, as this article in the New York Times reports. A House subcommittee has identified more than $4 billion in potentially fraudulent loans, and an SBA fraud hotline, which received 742 complaints in 2019, has already received more than 100,000 this year. Bank executives encountered obviously fake payroll records, modified bank statements and fake business tax returns, among other sketchy documents.
As noted in our December 2nd newsletter, the IRS has issued guidance stating that expenses paid with PPP loan proceeds are not deductible, even if expenses are paid in 2020 and forgiveness of the loan is not granted until 2021. We bit the bullet this week when preparing business estimate #4 to make sure that we were calculating taxable income in as conservative a manner as possible to avoid underpayment penalties. However, the American Institute of CPAs has been mobilizing members to push members of Congress to support a bill that clearly allows for deduction of these expenses, as intended in the wording of the original bill.
Employees who have been working from home during the pandemic may face a surprise when they file their 2020 tax returns if their home is in a different state from the employer’s location. Of the states that impose income tax, most tax income based on where the work is performed, regardless of where the employer is located. Prior to the pandemic, taxation of wages was pretty clear, as most workers live and work in the same state, or reside in border areas of states that have reached agreements about taxing employees’ income. Now, with more people spending the majority of their working time across state lines, some employees may need to file an income tax return in a new resident state. However, not all employers have been withholding and paying income tax in those new states. Compounding the issue are the laws in some states, such as New York, that allow them to collect tax when workers reside in another state and work from home for the “convenience” of the employer. These states have indicated that they intend to aggressively pursue taxes from remote workers, which may result in double taxation on the same income.
I have attended several seminars covering this issue and depending on the facts and circumstances it can be very confusing. I am so glad that I have several attorneys to call on for assistance in guiding our clients as we review their individual situations.
WORKING FROM HOME
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, maintains that taking regular breaks from work is vital for retaining the mental energy needed for productive and focused work. Plus, what we do during those breaks is vital, as this article in Fast Company explains. However, working from home can make it hard to either block out the time for breaks or to use those breaks in the best ways to refresh one’s mental energy. According to Newport, using time-block planning to schedule breaks throughout the day, and not using those breaks for “work” activities such as email or returning calls, can increase productivity and work satisfaction. But doing something like taking a walk outside reduces the cognitive load makes it easier to switch attention back to work.
I actually keep a chart of time blocks on my desk to remind me about taking breaks in between projects, but during hectic times it is easy to work right through a scheduled break. Click through to “The Complete Guide to Time Blocking” to evaluate the process and see if it works for you.
Need a new chair for your home office? This list in Forbes has recommendations for the best office chairs.
Basecamp, a company that makes project management software, has been a remote company since its inception two decades ago. To keep communication smooth, they developed “a collection of general principles we try to keep in mind at Basecamp when communicating with teammates, within departments, across the company, and with the public,” which is available for free on their website. Their 30 principles emphasize asynchronous communication, long-form writing, and allowing ample time for decisions to be made.
LIVING WITH AND AFTER THE PANDEMIC
Work in the post-pandemic world
The pandemic abruptly changed how we work and how leaders lead. In this article in Fast Company, Aytekin Tank, founder of tech company JotForm, reflects on the three strategies he’ll continue for 2021 and the one he’s scrapping. The “always-on” mentality, which blurred the boundaries between work and life, is the one he’s scrapping. He’ll continue being an anchor for his team, continuously reassessing how the company works and what their products are, and embracing change while focusing on meaning.
Performance reviews are a necessary part of the process for giving out bonuses and promotions at many companies, but the normal process may unfairly penalize employees who were not able to contribute as much during 2020 due to the pandemic. Women, and especially women of color, may be seen as underperforming under criteria that may be biased against women. This article in the Harvard Business Review outlines a process to help to reduce bias in performance evaluations so that all employees can be assessed fairly, given the circumstances of their work and family lives. One part of this is to broaden the performance criteria to include overlooked measures of contributing to organizations to make the process fair for all. Using these expanded performance criteria, managers can “figure out how to reward those employees who are ‘stepping up’ during these crises without inadvertently penalizing those who have needed to ‘lean out.’”
- Our Covid-19 Resource Center with relevant blog posts, videos and prior weekly newsletters
- Payroll, HR and benefits company Gusto has put together An Employer’s Guide to Navigating the Coronavirus
- Accounting Today has a special page for articles on COVID-19
- The best source for up-to-date and accurate health information is the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
- The CDC also has recommendations for businesses and employers
- Intuit QuickBooks has a dedicated page to help small businesses
- The Red Cross has pointers to help young adults stay safe
- Entrepreneur put together a listing of free tech resources for remote work
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has warnings about COVID-related scams
- Fast Company has a listing of the best productivity apps for 2020
- The New York Times has an online newsletter on K-12 and higher education
- The Wall Street Journal has a collection of articles on education
- The Atlantic has a state-by-state coronavirus tracker
We sincerely hope that you and your family are well and remain well. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are all in this together!