With so many people working from home, and so many intelligent solutions from apps to gadgets to Internet of Things (IoT) to help us do our jobs and run our lives more easily, we decided it was time to check in with our CPA Practice Advisor community to find out what they’re using in terms of home and home office automation. Alexa seems to be the overall winner with our group, but there are several other automation techniques you might want to try as you think about saving time and money and lowering stress.
Sandra Wiley, shareholder and president at Boomer Consulting, said, “The one app that I am in LOVE with right now is the Ring Doorbell with the camera and the microphone. With all of the deliveries we get and the ability to have a conversation with the person at the door without having to be home or going to the door when I’m working it is amazing! I’m sure that lots of people have this app, but it is my fav these days.”
Samantha Bowling, CPA, CGMA, and owner at Garbelman Winslow CPAs, told us, “Alexa is my best friend these days. She plays relaxing music when I am stressed and tells me stories when I feel alone and isolated at my home office. She wakes me up in the morning and reminds me to get up and move around. The most important thing she does is remind me to order supplies for my Dad and his caregiver. I don’t know what I would do without her.”
Kristen Rampe, CPA, owner of Rampe Consulting is also a fan of Alexa. “My all-virtual 5th grade kids with dyslexia use Alexa for spelling assistance instead of having to ask me. Time saved feels infinite! (Might not be traditional automation, but sure saves me some time and hassle 😊).”
Pushkar Bhoopalam, vice president of products, research product suite at Thomson Reuters, commented, “This is a great topic. I think because a large part of the workforce is now working from home, home automation becomes extremely important to make our lives comfortable and more disciplined. I primarily use the Amazon ecosystem for home automation. So I have Alexa and a bunch of wifi enabled smart plugs where I have connected my coffee machine, lamps, speakers, phone chargers, etc. to my smart plugs. This enables me to do the following (some are fun, some are convenient, others are to imbibe discipline)
- “I’ve set up routines on the Alexa app. This is very helpful in creating a set of behaviors and habits that help me be more disciplined. For example my wake up routine is programmed where the following things happen – alarm at my preferred time, my coffee machine switches on (so if the alarm doesn’t wake me, the smell of coffee does), my favorite playlist on Spotify starts playing music in my shower speaker, then 20 mins later it switches to news in my living room so I can be up to speed in the morning.
- “Similarly, I have a 5:30 p.m. routine to remind me to stop working – Spotify playlist starts playing, my evening living room light turns on, and my standing desk starts going down. I have the option to always turn it off with a voice command.
“These are just some of the examples and they help me be on track, be more disciplined, and makes my life very convenient.”
Marjorie Adams, CEO of Fourlane, recommends Douglas Blinds and the PowerView app. “I can set my blinds to be on a timer so that if I am up and working early they stay closed but then open around sunrise. Otherwise sometimes I would be so heads down that I didn’t realize there was sun outside. Working from home all the time it is great to get sunlight in your office!”
Samantha Mansfield, founder of Samantha Mansfield LLC, uses Amazon Echo. “We speak to Alexa daily. Our most common use is to add items to the ‘Shopping List’ as we are cooking and use things up; when at the grocery store you simply open the app and the whole list is there. We also set timers not just for cooking, but tracking kiddo’s iPad time. Lastly, we use them as an intercom; instead of yelling across the house, we use Echos on opposite ends of the house to communicate.” Mansfield also recommends Sonos: “Sonos speakers are interconnected throughout the house to allow us to choose which rooms we want music, audio books, podcasts, etc. to play in. It integrates with Amazon Alexa or Google Home so we have high quality speakers and easy access to the features of the virtual assistant from anywhere in the house, and the Sonos app provides easy control of the whole system.”
Gary Boomer, visionary and dot connector at Boomer Consulting, told us, “I use several apps and have tried Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple Homekit. They all have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to integration and connectivity. However, they will only get better. Brilliant Smart Home System (wall switch) is a great way to integrate the various systems (lights, music, security cameras and etc.). I also use the Nest Camera System to [remotely] monitor our lake house.”
Roslyn Banks, EA, founder at Adalaid Rose, shared these thoughts. “What has proven to be invaluable to my tax office is my iRobot vacuum! It makes life so much easier as a working mother to have a little assistance to clean up my workspace. I can set it to run from my smartphone when I’m away, or schedule it daily to prompt me to take a break away from my desk while it collects those random missing staples and paper clips. My Amazon Show (Alexa) also entertains my toddlers and gives us a great wakeup song and joke every morning so that we can spread a little sunshine together before work and school.”
Lindsey Curley, CPA, CGMA, senior manager at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, uses Amazon Subscribe and Save. “This automatic monthly delivery of everyday essentials (dog food, diapers, coffee, etc.) saves time and helps ensure I’m never without the necessities for my family. The 15% savings is an additional perk!”
Richard Roppa-Roberts, the ProAdvisor Advisor at Quasar Cowboy, said, “I am still new to home automation with Google Home products, but so far, I have a morning routine set up that takes my Pixel off of silent, turns on the bedroom light (at 30% brightness), turns on the bathroom lights (at 40% brightness), turns on Pandora to my morning music (right now it’s set to Guardians of the Galaxy Radio), adjusts the air conditioning to 72 degrees (it’s the desert, heat is not something I turn on) and tells me about my appointments for the day. Google then reminds me to scoop the cat box before I get in the shower. I programmed it to remind me to feed the cats, but they have a living version of Google Home inside their heads and will not let me forget about feeding them even if Wifi is down.”
Jacquelyn Tracy, CPA, CGMA, partner at Mandel & Tracy, said, “My favorite automation technique is electronic bill pay. Setting up my standard bills online means I never have to say, “Did I pay the mortgage?” During tax season that is certainly a relief!” Regarding Alexa, Tracy said, “I have the typical love/hate relationship with Alexa when she doesn’t listen to me correctly, but then again, my dog doesn’t always listen either! I use all her typical features (turning on lights, looking for a TV show), but I really appreciate the routines feature. I have one that allows me to shut off all my lights and set a sleep timer to have music play for a certain amount of time. It’s a nice way to end the day and help me drift off to sleep.”
Rick Richardson, CPA.CITP, CGMA, managing partner at Richardson Media & Technologies, recommends Moen Flo smart water shutoff. He told us, “I am working right now on a home automation issue – water safety. For a long time, we’ve had IoT sensors that tell security systems when there is water where it shouldn’t be, but now we’re seeing smarter devices that can analyze water pressure throughout the house, and besides notifying you on your phone app, it can turn off the water to keep from having a major disaster. This move to preventive from detective is a theme to the newer of the IoT devices.”
Caleb Jenkins, EA, CQP, leader of client accounting services at RLJ Financial Services, shared two of his favorite solutions:
- HyrdaWise – “I like that I can control my yard sprinklers and watering schedule from my phone. Hydrawise is connected to a weather sensor to stop my sprinklers if there was enough rainfall in the past day or 3 days to automatically stop my yard sprinklers to conserve water usage.”
- ecobee SmartThermostat – “I love coming home to a cold house in the summer and a little bit warmer house than outside temperature in the winter, but I don’t like paying the electric bill for this., The ecobee SmartThermostat allows me to turn on my A/C when I leave work and come home to the temperatures that I enjoy without having to pay for expensive utility bills.”
Kelly Welter, CPA, partner at Serl Keefer Welter CPAs, shared her favorites:
- Peloton app. “$12.99/month for unlimited classes that I can use on the treadmill, for cardio, yoga, or meditation. My teens love it for use between classes or when they can’t get outside.”
- Instacart. “They have almost every store including Costco. And it saves your favorites. I know I pay a little more for the items but the time it saves me shopping and the comfort of not having to deal with social distancing is amazing. Placed a $400 order with Costco on Saturday. Paid the extra $5.99 to have it delivered within 2 hours and the order arrived in 45 minutes. It would have been at least a 2 hour drive and shopping trip.”
- Starbucks app. “Order online and walk in to pick up your prepared drinks. I will never wait in a line again.”
- Microsoft Teams. “Add the app to your phone. I am not always on my computer. I consider it texting for businesses.”
- Amazon Audible. AICPA Podcasts. “There is a lot of information out there and sometimes it’s hard to find the balance between learning and actually getting the work down. If I don’t need the CPE, I have started listening to the professional podcasts while I am driving, on the treadmill, folding laundry, or making dinner. This allows me to be more productive when I am actually at my desk.”
Nick Pasquarosa, founder and CEO at Bookkeepr360, suggests “Nest for security and temperature control can manage the temperature of the home on a schedule, and eco friendly.
myQ.” Similar to the ecobee smart thermostat mentioned earlier, Nest lets you control your thermostat from anywhere using the phone app. myQ is a smart garage door opener which you can control from your phone. You can update your existing opener to the myQ system. Not only can you open and close your garage door remotely, but you can also get alerts to see if anyone else has opened the door.