Hacks for Hiring and Onboarding Remote Accountants

Gusto Editors

Do you want to know the best hacks for hiring and onboarding remote accountants?

Gusto is committed to helping you run your business efficiently. That’s why, along with our partners at CPA Academy, we’ve presented a webinar titled “How to Hire, Onboard and Thrive with Remote Accountants,” featuring Jeff Phillips of Accountingfly—to help you launch a successful new chapter with a remote workforce. You can check out the full webinar here.   

Named one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People” by Accounting Today, Jeff Phillips is an entrepreneur, accounting industry leader, and recruitment expert. He is the CEO of Padgett Business Services and is the Co-Founder of Accountingfly, a platform for hiring remote accountants. Jeff is an expert on remote accounting work and has worked remotely himself for over a decade.

In the webinar, Jeff discussed what’s driving the remote work trend, why it’s an exceptional solution to hiring challenges, and how to thrive with a remote team.

Vetting freelancers by assessing for remote work experience

To ensure you’ll hire the best remote freelance accountants and have a fantastic experience working with them, Jeff says you should begin by determining whether you have the resources to use recruiting agencies—such as Accountingfly, Robert Half, or Lucas Group. If you’d prefer to do the recruiting yourself, you’ll want to post jobs to IndeedLinkedIn, or even Craigslist. This step is the easiest, and Jeff pointed out that you won’t have a lack of applicants. Instead, he described a different obstacle:

“The challenge I think you’ll have is filtering through the resumes. One of the critical pieces here about remote work is even if you see a great resume, it doesn’t mean they know how to work from home. I think you want to hire somebody who comes into this relationship with experience working remotely before. Chances are they will, but I want to see evidence that they were successful at it. There really is a self-starter mentality and the ability to focus despite distractions that are scary important.”

– Jeff Phillips

As Jeff explained, you’ll need to look for candidates who have the initiative, organization, and focus to consistently deliver in spite of distractions. Expect to spend a good amount of time finding candidates who can demonstrate this. 

You can vet candidates for their remote experience in an interview by asking a few key questions:

  • How do you stay focused while working from home?
  • What challenges have you come up against while working with a dispersed team?
  • How do you like to communicate?
  • What projects are you particularly proud of that were accomplished while working remotely?

Be sure to also bring up your expectations around the type and frequency of communication during the interview. Once you’ve established a connection, it’s good practice to test candidates for skills, or do a working interview to evaluate their performance.

Selling your firm to the applicant

Many freelance accountants have multiple job offers to choose from, and the most qualified candidates will likely be selective with whom they work. To succeed in this recruiting environment, you’ll need to sell the position to them. Consider the perspective of the applicant: 

“Think of hiring from the perspective of the candidate experience from start to finish. This isn’t about you finding the right person. This is about them selecting their career.”

– Jeff Phillips

This approach may feel uncomfortable at first, but by understanding what drives an applicant’s decisions, you have a better chance of retaining them. When pitching your firm, you should differentiate it based on the positive experience you can provide an accountant. The factors that applicants care about the most, besides compensation, are work-life balance, schedule flexibility, company culture, and how management treats its staff. 

Male freelancer sitting at kitchen island working on laptop

Jeff shared how freelance accountants using Accountingfly stay open to positions for an average of nine days before they accept an offer. So have systems and procedures in place that support a timely interviewing and hiring process. You’ll need to act fast when you’re interested in a recruit. 

Navigating the risks of hiring remote

According to Jeff, there are two significant risks to hiring remote: responsiveness and security. Mitigating the risk of hiring unresponsive (meaning unreachable or unreliable) candidates boils down to careful hiring and management processes. Hire accountants who’ve been successful working remotely in the past and you’re unlikely to have any issues.

To tackle the security challenge, have clear legal documentation in place. Not only should you have a Non-Disclosure Agreement, you’ll also need a Non-Compete, with a Non-Solicitation agreement within. This will protect you from employees who might use your client list to their advantage. It’s best to have a lawyer draw this up, and make sure it includes strong language about how you’ll retaliate if these agreements are broken. According to Jeff, these two agreements will greatly reduce your chances of running into security issues. You should also run a thorough background check through GoodHire for all candidates.

Tips for easy onboarding

So you’ve recruited an amazing remote accountant and you can’t wait for them to start. That’s exciting, of course.  Next, continue building the relationship with thoughtful, intentional onboarding. Doing so can help you build a stable of talented, reliable freelancers. Jeff shared some of his favorite tips:

  • Start new hires on Fridays, not Mondays. Starting on the last day of the week reduces stress and lets everyone focus on making a great first impression.
  • Have a buddy system to help integrate new hires into the company. This alleviates the awkwardness new hires might feel about reaching out and asking questions.
  • Have new hires fill out paperwork before their start date. Streamlining the process is also smart. 
  • Send a handwritten note when somebody accepts the job. Thoughtful gestures go a long way.
  • Have your team reach out to the new hire before they start. It’s another great way to start off on a positive note. 

The #1 tip for retaining your best freelancers

That tip? Communicate. Frequently, clearly–and kindly. Working with a dispersed, remote team means you’ll need to be very clear with expectations around communication. Not only do you have fewer chances to get your messages across, but there’s also a lot you’re missing in a virtual connection:

“What do you lose when you go from an office to the remote environment? You lose a lot. You definitely lose context. You lose the context that happens in those little conversations. You lose body language, don’t you? You think about just the meeting places of your company, you lose that personal touch and it’s tough.”

– Jeff Phillips

To combat this, Jeff’s team has standards for communicating at a very detailed level. Staff at his firm have 48 hours to reply to an internal email and are expected to respond to Slack messages the same day, unless it’s after business hours. He also shared how weekly meetings are essential to keeping everyone on the same page. These meetings follow the same format each week, giving people stability and the relief of knowing they’ll have a designated time to brainstorm.

Of course, technology has a big part to play in effective communication. To facilitate team building, regularly share positive news on your Slack channels and opt for Gallery View during your zoom meetings. Consider investing in professional headsets for increased clarity and speed on calls. Video messaging tools Vidyard and Loom are fun, fast ways to interact with the team and get your message across succinctly.

Man working on phone with two laptop in front of him with only has hands in view

Project management with remote, freelance accountants

Clear communication is also critical for building trust in your remote team. Remote work software such as Karbon, Jetpack Workflow, Trello or Asana, ensure project visibility and keep people updated on work completed in real-time. This is crucial to mitigating the employee-manager tension that Jeff describes seeing on remote teams:

“The manager doesn’t know what the employee is doing, and because they can’t see them  in office, they question what’s getting done. The employee is working and all they really want is for the manager to know what they’re working on. What’s missing is visibility into each project.”

– Jeff Phillips

The good news is that project management software gives visibility into projects from all angles and can be used to make deadlines, assignments, and accountability very clear. Use these tools to tell your team who does what, by when, the three pillars of objective-based management. You can reinforce this in written communications, team meetings, and one-on-ones.

“Management-by-objective 101 is “I don’t see you, I don’t need to see you,” what I care about is you’re accomplishing the tasks. There are expectations that are written down, reviewed, and carried out…It’s a better way to manage.”

– Jeff Phillips

Mastering this style of management may take getting used to, but it’s one of the best ways to run a remote team.

Setting boundaries to thrive with remote work

Almost everyone can relate to the challenges of setting boundaries as a remote worker. It’s easy to swing from producing non-stop and never switching off to being way too distracted. Jeff acknowledged the difficulties and  encouraged firms to be understanding of accountant’s unique needs and find ways to work with them. Accountants who co-parent, for example, might consider alternating childcare days so they can have uninterrupted days to work without multitasking. 

“I encourage you to be regimented and have your team be regimented, having a schedule, doing a daily to-do list and setting personal on/off times. Just because you have a smartphone and you can be reached and available all the time, doesn’t mean you should be accessible all the time. Think about the rules that are important for you and your team so the work can get done, but you can also respect boundariese”

– Jeff Phillips

Exercise caution and good judgment when determining policies regarding work-life balance issues. Always be sure you understand local and federal laws, and involve your human resources team as much as possible.

Learn more about thriving with remote accountants

Working with freelancers in today’s recruitment environment requires patience and a fresh perspective. You’ll have your choice of many freelancers, but you’ll need to assess them for their proven ability to work remotely. When screening candidates, vet them for focus and follow-through in a virtual environment. Remember that you need to sell your firm to them too. Be sure to highlight the best aspects of your team culture. Qualified candidates have many options, and they tend to accept positions quickly, so plan to move fast.

Protect your firm by running background checks with new hires and having a lawyer create any necessary documents. Remember onboarding is part of the relationship-building process. To make the most of your investment in the remote process, make onboarding a positive experience for them. This builds the loyalty you’ll need when you’re in a pinch next tax season.

When working with new staff, be crystal clear in your communications. Err on the side of over-communicating, such as giving expectations for email and messaging response times. An objective-based management style makes the most sense when it comes to a remote team. Try relinquishing a bit of control, and instead, rely on consistently communicating objectives. Make sure everyone knows who does what, by when. 

Help promote balance and focus through encouraging a regimented approach to work. Have clear working and non-working hours, and give your team (and yourself) the chance to unplug when possible. By adopting these practices, you’ll thrive with remote accountants.

You can watch the full webinar for more details about hiring remote accountants.  Check out “Why Remote Accounting Is the Future” and “Should I Hire a Remote W-2 or Freelancer for My Accounting Firm?” if you haven’t done so already.

Do you need help managing your business? Gusto wants to make it easier for you by streamlining your payroll, onboarding, and HR processes. Don’t forget to visit our COVID-19 hub for critical information to help you navigate available resources.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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