A team of inboxes is not a team

Around 90% of communication in a practice is conducted over email. Managing correspondence is a major challenge; managing a team via email is total chaos.

It’s a tough ask to keep track of progress via isolated inboxes when a manager’s view is dictated by updates, CCs and FYIs. How can this make for a coherent team?

Systems have got to exist for the business not to fall apart, but also for the individuals among it. Email was designed to communicate one on one, like a letter or a phone call – so how do we justify using it as our primary source of team communication and workflow management?

Operating in inboxes equals operating in silos

Let’s start with the capture of information. In accounting, all communication with team members and clients is a business record. Sales records, operating reports, ledgers – they all require retention for a number of years – from three to infinity. Classifying attachments so they sit within a project puts the brakes on the real task at hand.

Email just doesn’t marry up with the way we work anymore. If your firm hasn’t already, it’s time to consider a central information hub that streamlines historical search and access, making for more complete records. In the event of an enquiry from a client or scrutiny from management, you want to ensure that you won’t lose a beat because of outdated processes.

Don’t rely on FYI

In accounting teams – remote or office based – a manager may not have a clear idea of the situation until they are copied in. If you have to send an email to ask for a status update – in an email – things are getting a little circular.

If you need a second opinion on a client’s email before a direct response, or need to get up to speed on an unfamiliar project – creating new email chains or being copied into a lengthy existing one creates duplication of effort. You want to scroll less, right? A central hub of information is one thing; a system that is adapted to the one-to-many or many-to-one type of conversations we have can organise correspondence, too.

With all pertinent information in a shared space, accountants can make better decisions straight away. Email doesn’t allow this because everything goes to the top of the list and feels like it needs your immediate attention. Also, the majority of emails are sent to one person – but what if that is not the correct person to answer it?

How much partner and manager time is wasted responding to emails that could have been handled by someone else? With context at anyone’s fingertips as they need it, deciding on priorities becomes more straightforward, and smarter responses will result from individuals. Your firm as a whole will appear completely across any situation that arises.

Unified teams work better

In a remote team situation it’s easy to forget about colleagues and not collaborate as much as you need to. A critical part of workflow management is to keep teams happy and feeling like they are not alone in their work – you have to compensate for not bumping into one another.

When choosing a system to manage a team, consider the importance of easy opportunities to chat and leave messages. In a 60 hour plus working week, lack of social connection can lead to a lonely existence and have an effect on motivation.

One answer could be organising a ‘collaborative window’ that overlaps the different time zones of the team. Use this window to hash out problems that require collaborative efforts. A joined space for communications also allows for peer review and advice which can reduce strain at the manager’s level. If teams share the good and deal with the bad together, there’s less chance of feeling like it’s ‘you against your inbox’.

Staying on top

Transparency is valuable for team management, especially in assessing workflow and planning. Managers know each accountants strengths and weaknesses and want to assign work accordingly but they need a clear idea of workloads to divide tasks fairly and prevent burnout. They can make smarter redirections when it’s obvious someone has a lot on their plate, or at least give fair warning to free up space in the diary. 

Staying on top of a team’s progress allows managers to easily take advantage of everyone’s best work and build the firm’s success with its combined top skills on display. This builds value for the entire company.

Better to be in it together

The dependence on email to manage teams and send information is costly for your firm.

Accounting teams require a system designed to capture and classify information easily; give total visibility across the team’s progress; easily spread, divide, assign and follow-up tasks; and allow your team to collaborate openly. Trying to do all this via email doesn’t really cut the mustard.

New digital management platforms give better business continuity, reduced discovery time, and offer the transformation of lots of separated conversation threads into a central one.

Firms that are ready to make the break away from reliable old email to a more progressive way of keeping work moving forward will undoubtedly need to put some initial effort in setting the new scene.

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