COVID-19 / Coronavirus has caused tremendous social and economic upheaval in a very short space of time.
Accountants and bookkeepers have stepped up to help businesses and individuals optimize their affairs, access government support and navigate the crisis as smoothly as possible.
Accounting teams have also rapidly re-organized into work-from-home and distributed office environments.
Many of our 550+ accounting firm clients have been working in a distributed team environment for years. Here are our top PEOPLE, PROCESS and TECHNOLOGY tips to help maximise your results in a remote team.
PEOPLE Tips For Remote Accounting Teams
Different staff members will experience a remote work setup differently from others. Here’s how to keep your people on track:
1. Communicate from the top
- Good news story (highlighting a team member or client win)
- Major items of business, important updates and/or your current focus
- Wrap up
2. You can’t collaborate too much
In a co-located workplace, popping in to the next office or chatting around the water cooler is par for the course. When you’re remote, you may need more regular check-ins to maintain communication and collaboration.
3. Maintain your rituals and culture
Many of our clients are adopting the “virtual equivalent” of their usual work rituals. For example:
- Setting up a “virtual lunch room” on Zoom.
- Sending staff “e-cupcakes” on their birthdays, as well as recognising work anniversaries and other milestones as they would on any other day.
- Running “Friday afternoon drinks” every week.
Whatever your cultural rituals are — keep doing them!
4. Understand how each person is affected
Some accountants are used to working from home. For others, this is a new experience. Team members may have the added pressure of working in a less organised environment, with their partner, children or other family members requiring attention. Others will find they can get even more done from home. The important thing is to know what’s happening with each staff member, their families and community.
5. Remember your clients too
Communicating with clients regularly is mission-critical. Accountants who are used to dealing with clients via email are now picking up the phone and having a real-time conversation. Firms are sending more emails and social media updates. This is a time to strengthen client relationships and forge an even closer connection.
PROCESS Tips For Remote Accounting Teams
The right processes will support your team to deliver more quickly, efficiently and effectively.
6. Create 80/20 versions of the new processes you need
Many teams are suddenly swamped with spikes of work in specific areas. For example:
- Contacting the tax office to confirm payment arrangements or tax deferrals
- Navigating current or upcoming government incentives
- Creating cash flow projections for clients
- Helping clients review and cut expenses
- Helping clients access funding from banks and lenders
- Formulating or executing Disaster Recovery Plans
- Planning for temporary or permanent closures
- Some industries are experiencing peak demand and looking for advice on rapid expansion
You don’t need to achieve perfection, but it can pay dividends to create standardized systems for these processes so you can:
- Work more efficiently
- Get through the volume quickly
- Delegate more work to less experienced internal resources so you can free up your best strategic and relationship people
It’s quick and easy to:
- Map out a process with a flowchart software such as Visio or Lucidchart.
- Record a quick video where you run through the process once
- Post the video to your knowledge base
- Tell your team about the new systems during your daily huddle
7. This is a great time to “Clean Up And Catch Up”
Verne Harnish from Scaling Up recently published his excellent 5 C’s For Leading In A Crisis [PDF].
The third “C” is to “Clean Up And Catch Up”. While there may be more urgent things to attend to right now, when the dust settles this will be the perfect time to:
- Reset your direction
- Polish processes
- Focus on the areas where you add the most value
- Getting rid of waste
- Build capacity in the right areas
- Get ready to go again!
TECHNOLOGY Tips For Remote Accounting Teams
Technology is a key driver of remote work efficiency. Here are a few of the most popular tools to consider:
8. Use video conferencing software for team and client meetings
Zoom and Microsoft Teams are the front-runners in this space, although there are many options.
9. Consider a Help Desk for managing client workflow
- Providing one central way for clients to submit queries to your firm
- Allowing any team member to respond to any enquiry
- Setting up a “triage” process where team members are rapidly responding to standard queries and referring others to the best person internally
- Leveraging auto-suggested responses to common queries, allowing you to reduce routine enquiries
- Preventing requests from getting “lost in the inbox” of individual team members.
10. Use Loom for quick videos
This is our all-time favorite tool right now. You can use Loom for so many things, including:
- Providing feedback much faster than typing it out
- Sending updates to team members
- Sending messages of support to clients
- Updating a client if you can’t get them on the phone
- Recording marketing videos
- And much more!
11. Use Microsoft Teams or Slack for unified communication
These are supercharged “chat” tools with a host of integrations.
You can manage the flow of messages with channels and other preferences. These tools are great for getting a quick answer (equivalent to “popping your head around the door”).
Just be mindful that they can also interrupt focused work. Use the settings to control when and how team members receive messages.
12. Review Cyber Security Arrangements
As team members start working from home, they may be exposed to a non-standardized IT environment which can expose your firm to increased cyber threats.
We recommend apps such as Practice Protect to lock down these additional risks and keep your people efficient as they access your cloud apps. Check out their cyber security tips for remote teams here.
13. Share updates with clients
Our clients are using a range of tools to keep clients updated on the rapidly changing landscape. As well as the obvious ones like email, these include:
- Facebook Live videos. Zoom has a Facebook Live Integration that many firms are using.
- Membership sites or client portals where premium content can be housed (e.g templates, checklists, webinar recordings.) There are many solutions, including Teachable and Podia.
Although the current situation is challenging, every day we’re hearing stories of accounting teams who are using this as an opportunity to serve, learn and grow.
I hope you’ll execute these People, Process and Technology strategies to optimize and maximize your team morale and productivity.
Rest assured that our 1720+ team members have been fully transitioned to a work from home environment. We are still getting enquiries from accountants who need specific resources to deal with the current workload and we are very much open for business. Contact us to get a free staffing strategy for your current and future needs.