How Firms Can Successfully Manage a Remote Teamby
It seems hard to believe now, but just two years ago, many leaders in the accounting profession claimed that remote work couldn’t be efficient or effective in their firms. Now that many have made the shift, Boomer Consulting's CEO Jim Boomer lays out 5 ways that accounting firms can, and should, successfully manage their remote teams.
The pandemic put the theory that accounting firms couldn’t run remotely to the test, and many naysayers have changed their tune. So what next?
Remote and hybrid teams are quickly becoming the norm in our profession. Yet, we see some firms struggling with managing remote teams. This is despite the fact that, according to a recent PWC survey, 83 percent of employers say that the shift to remote work has been successful in their company, and over half (52%) say average employee production has improved.
But managing a remote team is different from managing an in-person team. When everyone shares the same physical office, communication is easier and comes more naturally, and it’s easier to get an overview of your team members’ work habits.
At Boomer Consulting, Inc., our team was 100 percent remote for years before the pandemic began, so we learned and adapted to overcome many challenges of managing remote teams. We’re happy to share those lessons with you now.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Not everyone has the discipline to be effective outside of a structured work environment. People need to be organized self-starters to resist the allure of Netflix during the workday. Some may need the accountability of “clocking in” to avoid distractions.
Traditionally, managers measure performance on facetime and seeing work happen with their own two eyes. However, with a remote team, you need to get comfortable measuring productivity and performance based on actual output rather than presence. Establish expectations and make sure employees are aware of all deadlines and the quality of deliverables you expect.
Whether you track billable hours or the volume of work completed, identify the key performance metrics for each engagement or project. Then you’ll know quickly whether individuals are productive or not.
2. Standardize Your Processes
Without standardized processes, work can easily fall through the cracks. When everyone is in the office, you can compensate to some degree for a lack of standardized processes because people can talk in person and look over each other’s shoulders.
In a remote team, people tend to develop their own processes and procedures, and they might not mesh with the way other people work. This leads to inefficiency and errors and limits your ability to leverage automation. Instead, have a documented, standardized way of working that everyone follows.
3. Hire the Right People
Leading a remote team is tough when a team member isn’t a good fit for remote work, and not everyone is a good fit. Maybe someone doesn’t manage their time well, doesn’t follow the firm’s values or communicate well. Whatever the reason, a weak link can negatively affect the entire team.
Some of the characteristics of successful remote employees include being self-motivated, having a positive attitude, excellent communication skills and being a team player. These qualities are a lot more important than the right technical skills.
If you have people on your team that aren’t working well in a remote environment, don’t punish the whole team by forcing everyone back to the office. Instead, work with those team members, coach them into better performance or have them work in the office more often. Ultimately, they either need to bring their performance up or find another firm to work for.
4. Offer Flexibility With Consistency
One of the perks of remote work is working anytime, anywhere and integrating work and life. An early riser might enjoy sitting down to work at 5 a.m. when they’re most productive. A parent might log off at 5 p.m. but get back online to work for a couple of hours after their child goes to bed.
It’s important to allow a degree of flexibility, but you also need consistency. Many firms establish “core hours” and require team members to be available between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. (or similar). Then they allow flexibility outside of those core hours. This gives team members a shared collaboration window for meetings or quick chats when all of the team is online and available simultaneously.
5. Check in Regularly
There should never be days or weeks when you’re unsure what your remote team members are working on. You can stay involved in what they’re doing without micromanaging by setting regular meetings.
Meet weekly as a department and individually with each team member. These check-ins don’t have to take long — often, just 15 minutes is enough. But they’re a chance to find out what people are working on and answer questions or clear any roadblocks they might be facing.
They also help minimize back and forth emails and frequent interruptions throughout the week because people can store up non-urgent questions and handle them all at once. When you hold these meetings via video conference (with cameras on!), they serve the added purpose of helping remote team members feel connected to each other and the firm.
Remote work is here to stay, so the better you understand the needs and challenges of managing remote employees, the better prepared you’ll be for the future. In our experience, building in these remote management strategies tends to keep people on the team, and there’s nothing better for productivity than a team that sticks together.