How to Onboard Remote Accountants and Set Expectations

Gusto Editors

Do you know how to onboard remote employees and create a strategy for optimizing their work performances? 

Remote accountants play a critical role in the success of the modern accounting firm. Statically, it’s likely that your firm already includes remote accountants, and the number of accountants working remotely is steadily increasing. You need to have the best tools and strategies to effectively onboard remote staff members and enhance your collaboration and workflow. 

Gusto, along with our partners at CPA Academy, presented an edifying webinar all about hiring and onboarding remote accountants titled “How to Hire and Manage US-Based Remote Accountants.” It featured the hiring expertise of Jeff Phillips, Co-Founder, and Director of Accountingfly. You can watch the full presentation here

In this article, you’ll learn all about tips for onboarding accountants, how to run an effective virtual meeting, and ways to develop an internal communication strategy. 

The importance of onboarding new employees

Onboarding is critical for retaining accounting employees, and retention is essential in the current labor economy. There are more accounting positions than qualified accountants, so you need to set your firm apart to ensure that you keep your positions filled and avoid staff turnover. Taking the time to onboard is especially crucial for remote employees who may feel disconnected from the rest of your firm. 

Jeff Phillips noted that work culture and onboarding play a significant role in avoiding staff turnover:

“23% [of accountants] left [their] job within six months because they lacked clear guidelines. The manager did not give clear results that needed to happen for the person to be successful at their job. Number two was they felt like they were not given effective training to perform their job. … [Third] was ‘I didn’t get a friendly smile or helpful coworker when I started my job with you.’ … We’ve got to build culture into the virtual world.”

Jeff Phillips

Unclear guidance and lack of work culture lead to staff turnover. Your firm needs to invest in the onboarding and engagement of remote employees so that they stay with the firm. Jeff suggested having frequent video meetings and designated virtual happy hours: 

“Work video into the daily routine. Have a system to make sure that no one is feeling alienated. I’m laying that at the manager’s feet, but also the manager [needs] to build a culture so that the team is taking care of each other. A key move on onboarding is virtual happy hours. … Grab a cocktail. Set a date. Get on Zoom, and don’t talk about work with your team. They’re a blast. Do it quarterly.”

Jeff Phillips
Businessman taking notes during a virtual meeting with his colleagues.

Video conferencing meetings and quarterly virtual happy hours can make your remote employees feel more connected with your team. It’s also critical that you either fly in remote accountants to meet them in person or meet them virtually on their first day:

“I would normally recommend [that] a remote employee flies into your office and spends time with you at the beginning and that you have quarterly fly-ins. Short of that, have a virtual orientation on their first day. Have a virtual social chat or happy hour, a virtual lunch, [or] something with team members on the first day. They need to see a friendly smile.”

Jeff Phillips

Employee engagement and work culture are essential parts of retaining employees. If your remote staff members feel isolated from the rest of your firm, they’re far more likely to exit within six months. Invest your firm’s time and resources in onboarding new employees and building relationships with them. Otherwise, you may have difficulty retaining employees, which will have detrimental effects on your firm’s workflow. 

Tips for running a virtual meeting

Video conferencing meetings are critical for your firm’s success with remote employees. If you don’t regularly have virtual meetings, you may struggle to retain remote accountants. Jeff gave a series of tips for running a virtual meeting successfully. He observed that it’s important for everyone to be in the meeting from their own workspace rather than a conference room or another communal space. 

“[You don’t want] half the team in the conference room in one camera shot, and then the lonely remote worker is off in Siberia in another shot. Go to your office or your cube, [and] everybody gets equal screen [space].”

Jeff Phillips

If you have some employees on the video call individually while others are grouped in the same room, you’ll alienate your remote employees. Remote staff members on the call may feel disconnected from the rest of your staff if in-office employees are sharing the same camera. 

Jeff also recommended that all employees use a headset, and he stressed the importance of sending out the agenda before the virtual meeting starts: 

“[With] remote work it’s … important to send out the agenda before so that the meeting can flow with comments and opinions on an agenda, [and you’re] not introducing the topic in the meeting.”

Jeff Phillips

Although meetings are critical for your firm, you also don’t want to waste time. Send out meeting agendas so that everyone is on the same page and can begin engaging with the topic immediately. Additionally, you strive to improve your virtual meetings by asking for your employees’ input. 

“Ask everybody to go around and rate the meeting one through ten, one being a total dumpster fire [and] ten being the best meeting you’ve ever attended in your life. It really doesn’t matter what score they give you. What matters is [asking], ‘How do we make this better?’ … If you continue to rate the meeting, you will get amazing opinions that will help you to improve your meetings.”

Jeff Phillips

You can significantly improve the flow and efficacy of your meetings by asking for and applying constructive feedback. Optimizing your virtual meetings will help you increase productivity while also promoting your virtual work culture. 

Developing an internal communication strategy

When managing your remote staff, you need to explicitly set expectations and stay organized with your work strategy. You’ll have greater success with your remote team by assigning roles and setting deadlines.

“[Ask,] ‘What are the roles of the players on the team? What are the expectations, and who does what by when?’ Then you structure that work to know if things are getting done and when people need support.”

Jeff Phillips
Businesswoman waving hello to coworkers on laptop during virtual meeting.

You can set expectations and allocate tasks, and you can keep up with your staff’s progress with check-ins and team updates. Additionally, you should implement a cloud-based workflow and use project management software to keep everyone on the same page: 

“Everything’s going to have to go to the cloud. Hopefully, your tax and audit software [and] your GL software is already cloud-based. … Your document software … [and] your project management software [should also be cloud-based]. … Everybody is going to have to have access to this stuff.”

Jeff Phillips

Having your work in the cloud will simplify your workflow, and it will make it easy for everyone in your organization to access the documents they need. Project management software, such as Karbon or Trello, can speed up your workflow because you can set deadlines, and employees can keep everyone updated about their progress with a task. Keeping your files in the cloud and using project management software simplifies and speeds up the process of working with remote staff. 

Another critical part of your internal communication strategy should be to practice patience with your remote staff and evaluate them based on their results:

“Be flexible, be patient, be kind, [and] manage by outcomes, not by how long somebody is active. … If you manage by outcomes … and you have a little bit [of] patience, you’re going to become a better manager. You’ll actually become a better team because of this.”

Jeff Phillips

When you take the time to improve your ability to manage your staff by practicing patience and evaluating employees based on outcomes, you’ll improve your work culture and optimize your team. 

Learn more about onboarding remote accountants

Onboarding remote accountants and guiding them effectively is crucial for employee retention. Most accountants exit their jobs because of a lack of guidance, poor training, or bad work culture. Strive to have regular virtual check-ins and happy hours to increase remote employee engagement and improve your ability to guide them to perform their jobs successfully. Additionally, you should develop an internal communication strategy and set roles, expectations, and deadlines for your in-office and remote staff. 

If you want to learn more about remote accounting, read Part One and Part Two of this webinar article series. You can also watch the full webinar here

If you’re looking for more ways to improve your staff and hire remotely, consider partnering with Gusto! Gusto’s people platform simplifies payroll and benefits for modern employers and accountants. When you become a Gusto partner, you get exclusive access to tools and resources to support your clients into the future. Streamline payroll and benefits, and start advising your clients in valuable new ways. Join Gusto’s Partner Program today.

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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