Easy access to online accounting and cloud apps has made working remotely a genuine possibility for your accounting practice's staff. So should you transition to remote working?
37 of US employees have done some homeworking as part of the role, according to research by Gallup. And in the UK, 91% of businesses have at least one homeworker on the team. So homeworking and remotely dialing into an office network are now seen as standard options when it comes to offering your staff flexible work patterns and a better work-life balance.
But working from home, or becoming a ‘coffee-shop worker', comes with a whole new set of considerations. To create a team of remote workers who are productive, meet their targets and can self-manage their workload means setting the right ground rules for remote working.
To get you started, we've highlighted the key elements it's vital to get right.
Use the right cloud-based software tools and IT hardware
There can be a number of reasons for adopting remote working as an accounting firm – whether it’s cutting back on desk space, offering more flexible working hours to staff or giving your team the ability to work from their client’s offices, or even the local co-working cafe space.
But if you’re going to make remote working effective, you’re going to need the right hardware and software to get your team connected up and working productively.
To set the right foundations for remote working:
- Update your team’s laptops – so they’re using hardware with a fast processor, the most up-to-date operating system and with the speed needed for online working.
- Check they have fast broadband at home – if your staff are using a sluggish 2Mbps connection to work from, they won’t achieve the right levels of productivity.
- Use cloud-based accounting and practice management tools – making it easy for staff to log into the firm’s tools from home and get working as quickly as possible.
Be highly conscious of online security
As a professional services firm, your practice deals with a large amount of sensitive financial data and business information. Client confidentiality and good governance of your data sharing and storage mean it’s absolutely critical to get your security completely watertight.
To keep your client data secure:
- Use a VPN (virtual private network) for remote workers – so your staff can always access the internet remotely through the most secure gateway.
- Use two-tier authentication for online tools – so access to your practice apps and solutions is as secure and encrypted as possible when logging in from outside the office.
- Don’t save sensitive data to local hard drives – and store all financial records in cloud accounting software such as Xero – so data can’t be lost with stolen laptops etc.
- Don’t work on classified projects in public spaces where your screen could potentially be seen, overlooked and sensitive information compromised.
Track your time and manage workflow online
When your team is remote you can’t keep track of their workflow in person. So it’s important that you have visibility of the projects they’re working on, the time they’re spending on client work and the overall level of progress they’re making against the deadlines for client deliverables.
To manage your workflow effectively:
- Use online workflow management software – and track the tasks, time and performance of remote workers, with tools such as WorkflowMax, Karbon or Silverfin.
- Record your time against custom cost codes – making it easy to see what time has been spent on specific client work, and where efficiencies could be made.
- Have performance dashboards for staff – using data from your workflow tools to set targets, measure performance and create talking points for staff reviews.
Ensure there’s real-time communication and messaging
A key element that many remote workers miss is face-to-face interaction with their colleagues. When you’re no longer sat in the same office together, that can create a barrier to clear communication and transparency around project progress.
But by using the right communications technology, and being proactive about keeping your remote workers in the loop, you can move these interactions to the online space.
To keep your remote workers communicating well:
- Use messaging apps to promote live chat – with options like Google Hangouts, Skype and Slack all popular with remote teams who want to talk with each other in real time.
- Keep remote staff in the loop with practice news – and make sure you’re as inclusive as possible with all your firm-wide communications.
- Encourage remote workers to have some office time – so they work a few days per month with the rest of your office-based team, helping to build team connections.
Give clear guidance and retraining for staff
The motivation levels needed to stay efficient as a remote worker are very different to those of traditional office-based staff. A change to a more proactive mindset is needed, so it’s important to help your people acclimatise to becoming home workers.
- Put together a guide to remote working – and think about setting up training workshops for staff who are being offered the option of remote working.
- Explain how to self-manage their workload – point staff to helpful blogs and online training that will help them become proactive and self-sufficient without a line manager. Sites such as remote.co and remotive.io have plenty of tips and hints.
- Empower your team to do more – by trusting them to work productively, complete their key tasks and meet project deadlines: all without supervision or micro-management.
A more flexible and empowered workforce
Allowing your team to move outside of the office can be a truly transitional moment for your accounting firm. After centuries of accountants being tied to offices and paper ledgers, cloud technology and remote working give your firm an incredibly flexible way for staff to work.
It means your people can work from home, from a local coffee shop or sit with a client at their offices. And that ability to have more face-to-face time with your business clients is a key element of growing your accounting practice and building quality long-term relationships.
There’s more advice on hiring remote workers in this Xero guide for accountants.