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4 Practical Questions to Kick-Start Remote Work Success Now

6/18/20 9:00 AM

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As an industry, remote work adoption has been slow until it was thrust upon us as a way to mitigate COVID-19-related shutdowns. As states start to enter phases two and three, the natural discussion of how to allow staff to work remotely in the long-term emerges.

You have no doubt experienced the good, bad, and ugly of working remotely. As someone who has worked remotely for over 30 years in the industry, I’ve experienced most of them myself. I’ve realized that, for many, changes are needed to successfully enable the adoption of a remote (or partially remote) workforce in the long term.

Firms may need to reframe their thinking, hold authentic discussions with their staff, and ensure their technology can support their staff in a location-agnostic environment. I’ve broken down four questions below to help kick-start the process of considering remote work as a viable long-term solution.

Does my staff want to continue to work remotely? 

Not everyone likes remote work. And, not everyone wants to work remote exclusively, but would appreciate that option a few days a week. Now is the time to ask your staff their thoughts – this information will help you make informed decisions about how to structure the workplace.

When polling your staff, consider using software such as Survey Monkey, which allows staff to provide their feedback anonymously. Make it clear that the goal of the survey is to explore if remote work should be a more permanent part of the firm’s structure to receive more honest answers.

Questions in your survey might include:

  • Since working remotely, what have you found to be the most significant benefits? Challenges?
  • Given a choice, would you prefer to work remotely part-time, full-time, or be in the office full-time?
  • Do you believe you are more productive working remotely, in the office, or that there is no difference?
  • If working remote were an option, what would you need from the firm to ensure your success?

The answers you gather will start your firm towards gaining perspective into how remote work aligns with your firm’s culture and will build trust with your staff. Keep in mind that remote vs. office is not mutually exclusive, but a balance of increasing productivity, a more engaged staff, and a flexible work structure.

Do you have visibility into the status of client work and firm resources?

In other words, can you see what is going on across the firm? If an urgent (and important) project comes up, are you able to identify which projects have more flexibility to allocate staff and resources to a more urgent one easily?

Answering “yes” to this question is a function of having the right tools in place. If you aren’t sure whether your tools are providing this very necessary visibility, start by asking how your current workflow software helps you understand:

  • Who is working on engagements
  • What they are working on
  • Where they are in the process
  • Why is a project stuck
  • How much needs to be completed to get the job done for the client

Most firms can answer 2-3 questions with their current software. Others have a hodgepodge of several systems to gain the necessary visibility or can’t answer the questions at all. Unless every manager and partner have timely access to relevant data, the struggle with buy-in on working remotely in the long-term will remain.

Can you collaborate seamlessly on client engagements?

Do you have the tools to communicate with your team that will ensure client satisfaction? Communication has always been a crucial tool in the successful managers’ toolbox, and it only gains importance with a distributed workforce, as we discussed in a recent blog post. Keep in mind that communication also occurs between the firm and its clients when assessing how well your tools perform.

Speaking of tools, there are a variety in the marketplace that facilitates communication, ranging from various video conferencing options to chat messaging systems. And don’t forget about email and telephone.

Consider how staff and clients preferred to communicate previously and accommodate them with the digital version of that style. In-person discussions lend themselves well to video conferences. At the same time, the person who preferred a phone call may not want to hop on a video call.

Can I keep my staff accountable?

If you find yourself wondering how and what your staff is working on when remote, you’re struggling with a trust and accountability issue. Paradoxically, this may be both the most straightforward and most challenging to overcome.

When it comes to the tools to create accountability, there are a few options. Some organizations choose to embrace installing software that allows them to monitor every keystroke – this creates accountability, but no trust. Other organizations ask staff to self-report their status – a high degree of trust, but not as much accountability.

Consider a happy medium. That same software providing you with visibility into client work and firm resources can also provide the accountability you’re looking for. Your software should be able to display a dashboard of some sort, giving you visibility into the progress of various engagements. Having this information allows you to step back from over-managing your staff while maintaining accountability. “Trust, but verify.”

Firms that engage in adopting a more flexible view of remote work, utilizing tools and building processes to support its success, with have a long-term advantage over those who don’t. They will see gains not only in the execution of firm growth initiatives but also in recruiting top talent. We are moving towards the next normal at an accelerated pace, and the ability to adapt is more critical now than ever.

We’ve all heard the phrase “the Firm of the future.” Ready or not, that future is now.

 

Interested in learning more about technologies that can help your firm see long-term remote work success? Join Randy Johnson and Mark McAndrew for a webinar on June 25th to discuss the tech stack for increased productivity. Click here to register.

Bob Amey

Written by Bob Amey

Bob Amey is a Senior Software Executive with XCM. He has 30+ years of helping CPA firms grow through process and technological improvements, with a focus on assisting firms with growth strategies through integrated workflow and outsourced solutions.