Many accounting firms were already exploring flexible and remote work models when the pandemic hit. Still, the immediate shutdown added some fuel to what was a crawling trend toward remote work.
It’s safe to say that the toothpaste is out of the tube: according to recent surveys, 81% of accounting firms anticipate an increase in remote work, and one third of workers say they would rather quit their jobs than return to the office once the pandemic is over. There’s no doubt that clients have also discovered the benefits of working with remote accountants and bookkeepers - they’re readily available, working with them saves time and money on meetings and document delivery, and there’s a larger pool of professionals to choose from.
This abrupt shift to a remote work model is no less than revolutionary in industry terms. As with any revolution, those who do not join it run the risk of lagging behind.
The underlying assumption of this article is that its readers are already working remotely in some capacity. Our objective is to help streamline remote work, so it can contribute to your firm’s growth.
So, what does it take to make the most of the transition to remote?
Open your recruitment options to “anywhere” staff
As a modern firm, you’re not bound by geographic borders when hiring talent. You can hire from almost anywhere across the U.S., which opens a world of recruiting opportunities for your firm and allows you to choose from a much larger selection of candidates.
Before you start hiring, map out your growth plan and create an organizational chart (if you don’t already have one). Identify your firm’s staffing needs and make the distinction between temporary and permanent hires.
Depending on the disciplines you need to bolster, you can either hire freelance (for short-term projects or sudden increases of work volume, like tax season) or permanent talent.
Get the home office set up correctly
One of the main concerns employers have around working from home is productivity. To optimize output, make sure you and your remote staff have a dedicated home office space equipped with the proper facilities to support their work.
A weak internet connection, for example, is a common issue, impeding efficiency. You do not want any glitches when a member of your team is talking to a client.
Upgrade your staff’s home WiFi, so they can work and communicate seamlessly, even if they’re sharing it with their twelve-year-old daughter. Other examples are comfortable office chairs, multiple monitors, and headsets to remove noise distractions during conversations.
Ensuring you and your staff have all the necessary home office tools will encourage productivity. Your team will be grateful, and your clients will get the service they deserve.
Strive to manage by objective
Some firm owners are reluctant to rely on remote staff, as managing from a distance poses significant challenges. But this is based on a misconception that distance imposes a more hands-on micromanagement approach to ensure team members perform.
Pivoting to a management-by-objective approach not only resolves the perceived difficulty but can also raise employee motivation and accountability.
As a leader, you should provide mission control: define the mission, the vision, the procedures, and the expected goals.
Define an owner and a timeline for each task. Determine who does what by when. Last but not least, invest in project management software. Sure, you can manage your team with emails and phone - or Zoom - calls, but it will probably create clutter, misunderstandings, and wasted time. It will also be harder to track assignments efficiently.
There are various solutions in the market, specifically for accountants and bookkeepers, such as Xero Workflow Max, Xero Projects, Karbon, and Jetpack Workflow. Using a management tool will allow you to have real-time control and overview of all tasks and their progress. When you have it all set in place, you can trust your team to get the work done, and they will deliver.
Maintain a “team” feel and spirit
A potential downside of working from home is that it often creates a sense of isolation. The office culture is harder to establish or preserve when working remotely. That is why the aspect of loyalty, cohesion, and morale requires rethinking.
There are a few actions you can take: check in on your team members regularly, dedicate time for each team member, encourage them to speak out in team meetings, create community groups and platforms for colleagues to consult with one another. Have a substitute for water cooler talks, and designate time each week for casual non-work-related conversations with all team members.
Harness cloud accounting and minimize manual data entry
Cloud accounting enables accountants, bookkeepers, and their clients to handle and access data from anywhere. Transitioning to the cloud facilitates full and immediate access to data and information, which can be easily shared with both staff and clients, free of geographic boundaries.
Cloud accounting must go hand-in-hand with adopting technological solutions to eliminate manual data entry (and any other routine, manual tasks.) The successful combination of the two will free up time and financial resources, and allow your firm to offer better services.
Implement communication protocols
Establish protocols to govern how you communicate with your team and clients. How often do you schedule meetings? When do you prefer to communicate via email?
Find technological solutions that will help your team communicate better, such as Slack and calendar scheduling tools. When using accounting or bill pay software, utilize in-app communication features and approval workflows.
Hopefully, utilizing these tips will help you make the most of your transition to a remote accounting firm, resulting in more efficiency, productivity, and growth.
This blog post is based on a webinar presented by Jeff Phillips, CEO of Padgett Business Services, hosted by Insightful Accountant and sponsored by Melio.
*This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.
**Melio does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and you should consult with a professional advisor before making any financial decisions.