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5 ways to thrive with your remote accounting team

Accounting firms should make flexible and remote work options permanently available, Jeff Phillips says. Here's how.
November 6, 2020

Remote work is here to stay even after COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror, according to Jeff Phillips, founder of remote staffing platform AccountingFly. In his Nov. 4, 2020, VSCPA Virtual Tech Talk, “Thriving with Your Remote Accounting Team,” he detailed the emerging work landscape and what that means today for CPAs and the future of work.

“Remote work was well on its way to a solution to the talent crisis, and the pandemic accelerated it,” Phillips said. CPA firms looking for the best talent were already discovering they could find great team members by hiring remote employees out of their immediate geographic areas.

Why should accounting firms pivot and make flexible and remote work options available? Because they’re asking for it. Millennials now make up 51% of the workplace. The Gallup State of the American Workplace 2017 report reveals that 63% of millennials would change jobs for flextime, and 47% would change jobs for a flexible working location where they could choose to work off-site full time.

“U.S.-based remote work is the solution to the accounting talent shortage,” Phillips believes. It allows firms to find the best worker for every position, fill open positions quickly, prevent staff burnout and change their employment brands.

If your firm or company is ready to commit to remote work, there are ways to set yourself up for success. Phillips offers these five strategies:

1.    Change your mindset.

You must be really intentional, especially in what you communicate to your teammates. Be clear about your work rules so your team can succeed. Trust your team to get the job done. “Change how your team approaches availability and accessibility. Defaulting to trust will reduce employee turnover,” Phillips says. He recommends that leaders write a flexible work policy and systematically improve it over time — with your team members’ input.

2.    Set up the right office.

It may sound elementary, but getting the right tools at home for you and your employees will exponentially improve the remote work experience. Set yourself up for success by taking a home internet speed test and improving bandwidth. Invest in an expensive set of headphones that can drown out background noise while on calls. Consider tools that offer comfort, like a laptop riser to get your camera at eye level, dual monitors, or even a sound machine to drown out distractions. As a manager, consider buying some of these things for your team members.

3.    Address your culture.

How do you connect with your team? It’s important to be intentional regarding your culture, just as it is with mindset. Use the first 10 minutes of meetings as “water cooler time.” Consider morning coffee check-ins or virtual happy hours. Determine what works for your team to stay connected and continue to build culture. Because there’s so much change, Phillips recommends CPA firm managing partners call their team members often and have open office hours. “It’s simple. We’ve got to communicate. It’s incredibly important for leaders to be in touch.” 

4.    Automate with technology.

Fully committing to cloud accounting software helps to work both remotely and quickly. Use collaborative online documents so you can make changes in real time with your teammates. Implement chat features. In short, investigate which tech tools will work best for team and implement them.

5.    Manage by objective.

Remote work requires rethinking what management and leadership look like. “We need to define new rules,” Phillips says. If you’re no longer popping by teammates’ desks and checking in, you need a new system. Decide from the outset: Who does what by when? Make project management software do the heavy lifting. There are many applications that allow you to run by objective and pay attention to the results. Managing by objective “make you a better manager and makes better teams and happier employees,” he says.

Where to get started

If this seems overwhelming, don’t despair. Start with these three areas and go from there:

  1. Document a flexible/remote work game plan.
  2. Implement cloud accounting tools and add a project management tool.
  3. Embrace managing by objective.

Find Jeff Phillips on Twitter @jeffphillips_ or @accountingfly or visit Accountingfly online.