The remote revolution is upon us. Professionals are embracing work from home options and flooding to the gig economy in droves. According to a 2017 Flexjobs report, 3.9 million people work from home at least half the time – that’s a 115% increase in remote workers since 2005!
Thanks to cloud accounting technology, many accounting and bookkeeping firms are introducing "work from home" policies or building entirely remote teams in order to increase flexibility. One of the challenges that comes along with working remotely is successfully hiring a distributed team. Specifically, onboarding and integrating these new workers can be tricky. Here are five tips to help you out.
1. Build the right infrastructure
Hiring remote doesn’t work unless you’re in the cloud already. It’s critical to ensure you have the right infrastructure to support remote accounting work.
In particular, it’s important to use cloud accounting tools and apps that enable communication. Video chat tools like Zoom or GoToMeeting are must-haves, as are team chat tools such as Slack.
“The most important first step in bringing on remote help is to set communication expectations and to have that infrastructure in place,” says Amanda Aguillard, principal, Aguillard Accounting, and co-founder, Bluewire Strategy Group. “I expect responses in Slack within a few hours, although it’s generally much sooner, and each of our staff has a standing weekly Zoom check-in meeting with me.”
While having the right technology in place is essential, understanding how to use it is just as important. Try out these solutions among your in-house staff first to get all the bugs worked out. Attend a few training seminars or watch tutorials on YouTube. Consult with an IT professional or another tech expert to make sure you know how to milk every drop of productivity from the cloud.
2. Take proper precautions
One of the challenges of working with a distributed team is that there's little insight into your remote employees' everyday activities. Although this requires a high degree of employee trust, it's also important to take appropriate precautions to protect your business. Make sure potential remote hires understand that there will be consequences if they try to poach your clients, work for your competitors, or steal your intellectual property. If you don’t already have a non-compete in place, develop one before hiring remote staff.
Consult an attorney to ensure the language in the NDA is enforceable across state and/or international lines. While you’re at it, it’s probably best to have your in-house staff sign the same NDA if they aren’t under one already.
“Agreements that cover confidentiality, trade secrets, non-competition, and other restrictive covenants are critical to protecting your business when venturing into the remote workplace,” says Daniel Harrell of Clark Partington Attorneys at Law. “In the remote world, where there naturally is less oversight to an employee’s day-to-day operations, a strong restrict covenant agreement oftentimes is the best means to prevent an employee from harming business operations.”
Non-competes are a great place to start, but be sure to consult your attorney on any other legal hoops you’ll need to jump through.
3. Figure out the right workload distribution
With a mix of in-office, remote freelance, and permanent remote employees, the workload distribution can get complicated. Which tasks are best suited to each of these roles?
Nick Pasquarosa, Founder and CEO, Bookkeeper360, has found that per diem freelancers work best doing admin, billing, and general reconciliation work. Permanent remote workers are well-suited for recurring work such as financial reviews and business meetings. And in-office employees are best used to handle tasks that require face-to-face interaction and general oversight of administrative duties such as scanning, mailing, and filing documents (for clients who haven't completely transitioned to the cloud).
4. Focus on accountability
There are a number of tools you can use to ensure remote workers are held accountable for the work they’ve been assigned.
“We have a grid that outlines the qualities we are trying to reinforce for remote accountants (i.e., revenue targets, quality of work, teammate relationships, attitude, client relationships, etc.),” says Patti Scharf, co-founder and COO of Catching Clouds. “Then, for each quality, we rate our employees as ‘needs major improvement’, ‘needs minor improvement’, ‘good’, or ‘excellent’."
You can also use video chat apps like Skype, WebEx, Slack, or Join.me to schedule regular progress report meetings. To ensure milestones are being met, take advantage of project management programs like Wrike or Asana.
“Get everything in an app where you can track who is responsible for what, when it's due, and when it's completed,” says Blake Oliver, Senior Product Marketing Manager at FloQast and author of the Cloud Accounting Weekly newsletter. “Workers don't need you looking over their shoulder if you have a system in place for managing all the work that needs to get done.”
Even with technology at your side, it's critical to make your expectations clear – that means letting your employees know both the rewards of meeting deadlines and the consequences of missing them.
5. Encourage good employee habits
While hiring remote accountants inevitably means giving up a measure of control, you can still suggest positive work habits for your employees – even if it’s challenging to enforce them.
Send out a monthly email with tips on how to stay on task. Here are a few ideas you can use:
- Make daily to-do lists and stick to them
- Work somewhere other than your home or a coffee shop
- Take a short walk when you need a break
- Brighten up your desk with pictures and things that make you happy
- Throw some toys and puzzles in, too (so you’re less tempted to get up from the desk completely)
- Let yourself give in a little – a 30-minute Netflix break is okay sometimes, as long as the work gets done
Meryl Johnston, founder of Bean Ninjas, helps her distributed team remain accountable to their values by providing video updates and sharing stories of the team living their values.
Managing a distributed team might be challenging at first, but as your policies continue to take shape, it will get much easier. Start building your remote team today – use a tool such as Accountingfly to recruit the best remote accountants!
Build a cloud accounting technology stack that empowers your remote team. Download our free Accounting App Evaluation Checklist to learn more!
About the AuthorMore Content by Grant Hutchinson