How to Properly Go Virtual in the Time of Virus, and Beyond
How does a firm make the move to remote working with as little downtime and learning curve as possible?
We at AccountingWEB realize this is a difficult time for many firms, clients and families. Just at the height of tax season, uncertainties over a national health crisis as well as questions about IRS filings, being asked to work remotely is no easy task to say the least. Many of you have little to nothing in place for this eventuality, some of you and your clients may even have questionable Internet access.
As such, we do hope that this article from Jennifer Katrulya, CPA is of some use to you. Jennifer was one of the earlier CPAs to adopt the virtual firm model, working with clients and her staff entirely remotely for years. Even today she is being literally called upon by other accountants for her advice on how to properly make this move. We sincerely hope you and your families are well and that this article does some good for you and your staff.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic and “social distancing” bringing the discussion about working remotely to the front burner, many firms that have been contemplating but resisting the shift are now finding themselves forced to make the leap.
The best approach a firm can take when moving from the office to a remote setting, is to try to closely replicate the existing office environment, policies, procedures and communication flow, but with some digital and behavioral “tweaks.” By keeping things “business as usual” as much as possible during the transition, firms can minimize the interruption to business activities and keep the focus on delivering timely, quality client services.
Some of the key decisions and suggestions a firm should consider when making the move to a remote setting include:
1. Keep everyone connected. When a firm shifts from working in an office to working from home, especially if the move was made quickly, staff can quickly feel very isolated. One easy but powerful solution to this challenge is the use of “always on” video software. Sneek (https://sneek.io/) is arguably the most popular solution used for this, and it works for both small and large firms and businesses, who need to connect teams. When combined with an internal chat and collaboration solution such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, and with some creativity and practice, most firms will be amazed to discover how they can keep the team connected and working as a unit.
2. Set workspace requirements. Where will individuals work? Some employees may have a room that is or can be used as a home office. Other staff may not have a separate room available. It is important to document firm expectations with regard to home workspaces, and work with each team member to ensure they are able to meet at least the minimum workspace requirements.
3. Manage firm technology and cybersecurity. As part of the move to remote work, the firm will need to decide whether computers and other technology should be purchased and provided by the firm, or whether employees will be responsible for purchasing their equipment, from an approved list. Most urgently, the firm will need to establish and communicate policies and procedures relating to technology support, internal controls, disaster planning and cybersecurity. While this is important even in an office, a remote work environment adds exponentially more points of vulnerability and risk that a firm must carefully address and manage. Ensuring the firm as excellent cybersecurity and technical support resources in place should be a top priority.
4. Transition to video meetings vs conference calls. Rather than lose the benefits of having face-to-face conversations and making a transition to conference calls, consider holding client meetings using a video meeting format. Whether the firm uses Citrix GoToMeeting, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or another virtual meeting solution, the ability for all participants to see each other can make the conversation much more personal and productive.
5. Invest in project management training and developing mentoring skills. In a shift to a remote environment, one of the biggest changes any firm must deal with is the adjustment managers will need to make when they can no longer rely on what they see and hear in the office, as they interact with each employee, as the way they manage project timelines and the quality of work being completed. Giving managers the opportunity to develop strong project management and related mentoring skills will help ensure that firm employees receive the guidance and support they need as they also adjust to working remotely, and that managers are giving the opportunity to acquire the skills they need to be successful, in the remote structure.
6. Track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Tracking and analyzing Key Performance Indicators and using the results to help the firm identify areas that need improvement, should be an ongoing part of the firm management process. In a remote setting, this information becomes even more important, as a way to offset not being able to physically see and hear what is going on in the firm.
7. Demonstrate a commitment to work-life balance. Working remotely has a number of perks and benefits. At the same time, there is a constant risk of blurring the line between work and personal time. While it may seem convenient to sit down and complete just one more task, or respond to one more email, these are habits that can lead to less time with family and friends, less time for self-care, and can ultimately cause burnout and resentment. Managers and staff should communicate frequently about scheduling, workload management, and about how the firm can help each team member feel challenged, supported, acknowledged, and rewarded.
8. Get frequent and ongoing feedback from staff and clients. As important as the financial performance of the firm is, nothing happens without engaged, high-performing staff, and happy, loyal clients. In order to ensure the firm is focusing on the things that matter most to both groups, it is important to consistently ask! The firm should schedule ongoing individual and group opportunities to gather feedback from staff. In addition, the firm should regularly request feedback from clients, both through direct outreach, and through Net Promoter Score surveys. Most clients are more than happy to make the investment in the relationship, by sharing this information.
While contemplating or actually making the transition to a remote work setup can seem overwhelming, most firms who make the changes and see the economic, lifestyle and other benefits would never consider transitioning back to working from a physical office. For firms making the move, know that there is no need to go through it alone.
Others (such as myself) who have already made the transition are often willing to share their suggestions, their experiences and lessons learned and their success stories. They might even suggest connecting for a virtual happy hour or lunch!
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Jennifer Katrulya, CPA is CEO and Founder of JenKat Consulting LLC, which provides business development, connector, and management support services for venture capital and private equity firms, as well as family offices.