Do you know how to manage your remote team?
Working remotely is becoming increasingly commonplace in the accounting world. You’re likely already working with remote employees, but are you managing them effectively?
Gusto, along with our partners at CPA Academy, hosted a webinar to help you manage and apply your remote staff titled “Hiring and Managing Remote Staff For Your Accounting Firm.” You can watch the full webinar here.
In addition to this article, Part Two, you can read Part One of this article series, which covers why hiring remote employees is critical for your firm (even after the pandemic).
The webinar featured the expertise of accounting and hiring expert Jeff Phillips. Jeff is the CEO of Padgett Business Services and Co-Founder of Accountingfly. He has eight essential steps you need to take to manage your remote team effectively. This article offers valuable information with real-world applications that will get you on track to creating a great remote team, so let’s get started.
#1: The basics: over-communicate and run on results
When managing your remote team, you need to establish a positive work culture based on trust and communication. Jeff observed that over-communication creates an essential base for all of your firm’s work:
“I think that the mindset here is important. So whether you’re a manager or a team member, keep some principles in mind, [and] one is to be really intentional because when you go remote, everyone loses context. … You don’t see these people that are on your team and your teammates. You have to change the way you continue a relationship with other people. … Over-communicate and really be intentional and overt in how you communicate and how you respond and everything kind of flows from that.”– Jeff Phillips
You need to be intentional and over-communicate with your team both professionally and personally because you’re no longer working with them physically. Another central basis for your firm should be running on results rather than virtual face-to-face time.
“That is the overarching principle of running a remote accounting team is we’re going to become a results-first environment, and we’re going to trust our team.”– Jeff Phillips
When your team works remotely, they’re going to have a great deal of flexibility. Rather than worrying about the number of hours they clock in or how frequently you talk to them, establish that your firm operates on objectives and results. A big part of running your firm on objectives is trusting your team to get things done without micromanaging them.
#2: Be flexible and patient
When working with a remote team, it’s important that you practice patience and give your staff a degree of grace when dealing with problems:
“If you’re a leader, be patient. Everyone has a unique situation. … Just give grace. … The world needs it right now, and I don’t think you’re going to [create] trust and culture inside your team by being a jerk.”– Jeff Phillips
If you’re having problems with a team member, be patient and address the issue without being hard on them. For example, if one of your people is having difficulty making Zoom calls because of noise, don’t get angry at your team member — address the issue by figuring out how you can establish a quieter work-from-home situation for them.
#3: Automate work with technology
Accountants need to look for ways to automate tasks so that they have more time for their clients. Investing in automation is crucial for your remote team’s productivity:
“Constantly look for ways inside your business to automate your work. Whether it’s collaborating on documents like in Google Docs or Sheets or OneNote, I would be embracing Microsoft 365 Teams or Google [Workspace] products. [The] more cloud, [the] more tools to automate and collaborate, the better. … The key to remote work really kind of hones in around the ability to automate work with technology.”– Jeff Phillips
Seeking ways to automate tasks and collaborate with your team is crucial for efficient communication and completing tasks. Jeff emphasized the need for project management software to streamline tasks and increase your team’s productivity. He recommended using the softwares Karbon and Trello, but you can use whatever management software works for your team to create objective-based workflows:
“These are fantastic tools, but the whole point is we’re moving towards management by objective. We’re moving towards results first. … All of your projects can be reached through some sort of technology.”– Jeff Phillips
Using cloud-based collaboration and project management tools will increase your team’s communication and productivity. Everyone on your team will be on the same page about deadlines and will be able to access projects easily and quickly.
#4: Stop doing work about work
An important role that automation will play in your company is reducing your team’s time working on work. You need to reduce the time you spend planning work so that you can focus on the work itself. When initially working with your remote team, you’ll need to create a system for check-ins and work protocol, but it’s important not to spend too much time in this stage:
“Work with [your team] to define the new work rules as fast as possible. … What’s important here is you want to eliminate friction.”– Jeff Phillips
You’ll need to sort out work logistics and processes with your team, but you must do this quickly so that your team can focus on completing your firm’s actual work. Project management tools make this easier because it creates an efficient workflow, so you reduce the time spent planning the work:
“The bottom line in all of this is I want you to have visibility into your projects that’s inside a project manager software and a meeting format and a cadence so that the team can give you updates and everyone just sees the work that’s getting done both ways.”– Jeff Phillips
Stop spending an inordinate amount of time planning your workflow with your team so that you can focus on serving the needs of your clients.
#5: Be intentional about culture and trust
Being intentional about your work culture and trust is crucial for your firm’s success when working remotely. To establish trust with your team, you need to create visibility:
“There is a tension between managers and direct reports. The managers worry they won’t have a good enough sense of what their reports are working on, and the reports worry their manager can’t see all the work they’re doing. … You need more visibility into all of the work projects to create that trust.”– Jeff Phillips
A great way to create more visibility is by using cloud-based project sharing and management tools so that you’re aware of what everyone is working on and their progress.
In addition to creating trust when it comes to work productivity, it’s also crucial for you to reach out to team members to check-in on the well-being of individual employees:
“If you’re not checking in with your team by making phone calls or having one-on-ones, now is a really important time to be doing that. … We want to be overly intentional on how we communicate, so checking in with people is critical, and it extends the natural culture of your business.”– Jeff Phillips
You need to reach out to team members because you lose the social component of work when working remotely. Check-in with your team to make sure they’re doing well personally.
#6: Create focus for your team members
Creating focus for yourself and your team is fundamental to your success when working remotely. Many of your team members have kids and are working in dual-income households, meaning that they’re juggling their work-life and their home-life. You need to communicate with your team and figure out a way in which they can have uninterrupted work time:
“I do want you to advise your team members on how to stay disciplined and focused. … Remember, the goal is to have undistracted time for a little while, and so coach your team and yourself to build onto your calendar … to have time when you [are] not interrupted. Set an on-off time for your team members and for yourself so that they can have some balance as well.”– Jeff Phillips
You might need to offer team members additional support if they need assistance in creating focus and increasing productivity. You may need to invest in additional home office renovations and tools to enable your employees to have undistracted work time.
#7: Have a communication plan
You and your team need to effectively and efficiently communicate with one another while working remotely. The primary ways that you and your team members will communicate are email and video chat.
When emailing, make sure that you and your employees establish enough context in a single email to reduce the number of emails that you’ll need to send back and forth:
“Always give context. Give a little assist to whoever’s reading this to give the context of what you’re talking about. So you might be giving someone an answer, but just remind them what the question was. Remind them what the evidence was. Remind them what the background was, and avoid that verbal and email ping-pong that happens. … One email can accomplish so much, and let’s have one email instead of five emails.”– Jeff Phillips
One effective email can communicate more than several emails going back and forth between employees. Be efficient with your time and accomplish as much as possible with a single email.
When it comes to video chatting, make sure that you’re using your team’s time wisely:
“Send the agenda in advance of the meeting and make the meetings more about deciding matters rather than updating. … Let’s get our meetings more into the tune of minimal updates and more decision-making.”– Jeff Phillips
Reserve your meetings for decision-making and for conversations that you can’t have over email. You can send your team updates via email or by another written communication tool. Don’t waste your company’s time by having inefficient video meetings.
#8: Document workflow and security
Creating an efficient and secure workflow for your firm’s documents is crucial for productivity and safety. When it comes to remote document workflows, your firm needs to answer three questions:
“‘How do we get documents in and out of the firm securely?’ ‘Do you know where they are, is it easy to find them, is there an order to them?’ And, ‘How do you know when they are complete?'”– Jeff Phillips
Your firm needs to have a system in place for sharing documents so that employees and clients can find them easily and know if they’re complete. Your company can use many software tools for easy distribution and organization, like Dropbox and Microsoft SharePoint. When it comes to completing documents, project management tools make it easy to mark objectives complete, so employees can inform you or other team members when a document is ready.
For workflow security, Jeff Phillips recommended firms purchase equipment for full-time employees:
“Buy equipment for your hires. … Buy a laptop that belongs to your business. They are never for [the] personal use of the employee, [and] there [are] no exceptions to that. You control the company-owned email accounts, [and] you control … any accounting software because you make it through your company email, which you can kill if you have to let somebody go.”– Jeff Phillips
You can make your document workflow more secure by owning your employee’s equipment and controlling their company accounts. Security is crucial for your firm, so it’s important to invest time and money to make document flow as secure as possible.
Learn more about managing remote teams
Managing your remote team effectively is essential for your firm’s success, and Jeff Phillip’s eight steps will get you on track for managing an incredible remote team. If you want to learn more about managing remote teams, read Part One of this article series and check out the full webinar here.
If you need additional guidance in managing remote teams, look no further than Gusto’s People Advisory services. At Gusto, we provide firms and small businesses with helpful people-based guidance so that they can improve their teams and better serve their clients. We offer invaluable resources that will automate your workflows like payroll, HR, and benefits, and we offer a client dashboard designed to help you advise your clients. If you’re ready to serve all of your clients’ needs and support your remote staff, check out Gusto’s People Advisory.