Advice for managing a newly virtual team of accountants

Zach MontroyPeople, Team and Organizational Strategist, Summit CPA Group

During a turbulent time, managing a team of people can test even the most adept leaders. The situation can become even more challenging as you transition from working in a traditional office setting to having your entire team work from home.

As a completely virtual accounting firm, we, at Summit CPA, have managed a team of entirely remote employees and have done so for several years. We understand and have adopted a managerial style that allows us to work effectively and efficiently from home. With that said, we thought that we would share a few recommendations to help manage your team through this crisis.

Prioritize communication

Maintaining strong internal communication is paramount in any work setting, and every leader should be well-versed in communicating with their team members to manage them effectively. Fostering strong internal communication means that you’re communicating with your staff well, regularly, and with intentionality, regardless of whether you’re operating in a traditional office setting or from home.

With that said, as your company transitions to a work-from-home model, it’s crucial that you recognize that this shift to a virtual office is happening under unique circumstances. Keeping this context in mind will also keep you mindful of the fact that many of your employees are probably juggling very chaotic home environments in light of the pandemic.

The reality of society’s current situation only heightens the importance of maintaining excellent internal communication.

We recommend doing the following to ensure that you prioritize communicating with your staff:

Hold group meetings more frequently

During this period of self-isolation (and mandatory quarantines in some instances), people must be reminded that they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing. Feelings of isolation can quickly emerge for employees who are new to working from home since they’re no longer in a physical office setting where merely walking outside of their office puts them in direct contact with their co-workers.

Therefore, your staff must be made to feel like they’re not working in a vacuum and are connected to the rest of their team. You can achieve this by hosting regular team meetings more frequently than usual. We recommend hosting meetings using video chat software that will allow everyone to see each other and also message each other as needed.

Check-in with your employees individually

While this pandemic is affecting people in similar ways, there are still some differences regarding how it’s impacting some people as opposed to others. This fact is why it’s imperative that you check in with your staff individually. Doing so will help you get a better idea of what each employee’s work situation currently looks like and what work schedule will work best for them after making the transition to working from home full-time.

Also, your team members will most likely have priorities that are constantly shifting and changing based on what’s happening in their home, which makes meeting with them individually on a regular basis all the more important. During these one-on-ones, you can use the time allotted to ask questions that help determine what the employee’s situation looks like currently. From there, you can make changes to their schedule or workload as needed.

Host Q&A sessions about company operations as they relate to the pandemic

Hosting meetings where your staff can ask questions about how your company is responding to the pandemic, as well as how any changes in operations will impact them, is a necessity. Having these meetings will help you maintain transparency, quell people’s fear and anxiety, and help foster a sense of community. Furthermore, hosting question-and-answer sessions can give you space to relay pertinent information to your staff.

Manage your expectations and remain flexible 

As your staff begins working remotely during the pandemic, try to keep in mind that your expectations may have to change. For example, since schools in most areas have closed, some employees with younger children will be caring for them while trying to work from home.

This reality means that the amount of work some employees will be able to accomplish within a specific time frame will most likely change.

To remain flexible and successfully accommodate the evolving needs of your staff, we recommend discussing your current expectations with your team in regard to the following:

Communication response times

Try to determine a reasonable standard for response times for emails, phone calls, and texts based on employee feedback of what seems manageable for them and what you believe will keep your clients happy.

Number of working hours tracked

If you decide to have your employees track the amount of time spent working daily using time tracking software, make sure you provide them with guidelines on how to track their time correctly. You may also want to set a standard or update your current requirement for how many hours an employee is expected to work and track on a daily or weekly basis based on their job responsibilities.

Amount of work completed within a specific time frame 

Expectations around the completion of specific tasks and projects should also be discussed and determined with your staff. These expectations may take the form of new deadlines that can be adjusted as needed.

Once you have talked to your team and established your expectations for remote work, make sure you have a system in place that allows you to check-in with them regularly. From there, you can see if their situation at home has changed and, if it has, you can revisit and change your expectations accordingly.

Remain calm and acknowledge the elephant in the room

Staying calm is a vital component of successfully managing a team of newly remote employees during this pandemic. For one thing, remaining calm will help you avoid making rash decisions that can potentially harm your business and your employees. Also, staying calm as a leader is a great way to reassure your team that you’re ready and capable of leading the company through this challenging period. Displaying a calm demeanor can also elicit a similar response from your staff and help them navigate the sudden transition from office life to remote work.

It’s also important that, while you remain calm, you acknowledge your employees’ fears and feelings since we’re currently living through a very stressful, anxiety-producing period. By recognizing what’s happening and that people are scared, you can then work to more effectively reassure your team by addressing their most pressing concerns. If you choose to forgo addressing the concerns of your team and temper their fears, you risk trying to manage a very chaotic work environment as employees may act irrationally due to their unacknowledged stress and anxiety.

As you manage your team virtually, we recommend trying to do everything in your power to maintain the same inclusive, collaborative, and communicative work environment you had in your physical office setting. Doing so will ensure that you and your team produce great work during a volatile period. Also, please try to remember that while you’re leading other people and addressing their concerns, it’s completely normal to feel scared of what’s currently happening in the world. However, as long as you also tap into your courage and act in the best interest of your company and your employees, your business’s chances of surviving this challenging period will be high.

Zach Montroy
People, Team and Organizational Strategist, Summit CPA Group

Summit CPA Group is a fully distributed accounting firm. In addition to being the leading provider of Virtual CFO Services, they also perform 401(k) Audits and CPA Firm coaching. Summit CPA Group fully understands the accounting, bookkeeping, cash flow management, and business tax nuances that come with being distributed, and loves helping clients overcome these challenges through their own experience and expertise.

Zach leads recruiting, hiring team coaching, development and people strategy. He utilizes innovative and strategic solutions to help organizations align mission, values, uniqueness and people competencies to ensure strategic plans are executed with excellence.

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