The idea of team work is hardly new—but as technologies evolve, so does the way in which accountants, bookkeepers & planners collaborate in accounting firms.
An approach that worked well enough years ago might not be the best solution today. Communication is becoming faster, systems more powerful and the traditional office is giving way to remote working and dispersed teams.
During my time at Advsor, I've implemented a number of initiatives that fostered collaboration by leveraging new technologies and processes.
How do you make sure your firm is making the most of its collaborative potential? Here are some behaviours that will help make your accounting practice a more collaborative one.
Collaboration has to be more open than ever. The cloud is there to enable sharing like never before, but is it being used to its full advantage? A practice that is syncing workflows and sharing all their documents, communication trails, comments, notes on how someone takes their coffee, is a practice that is future-proofing their processes, records and client relationships.
If every account manager can access these records, rather than just a select few, you will remove the need to rely on a colleague or client supplying the information needed when assistance is sought.
The way we work together has been impacted by a change in technology. What used to work just a few years back, may be wildly inefficient today.
We edit documents together, in the cloud, in real time, which gets more done faster and this certainly creates more flexibility. Likewise the transparency of a firm’s information can remove massive headaches and result in a more elastic team.
Take onboarding of new staff - in many firms, this task can be dauntingly large, requiring several staff members to focus just on getting the new starters up to speed. In a smaller firm, the resources may not be able to be spared, leaving new recruits floundering in disarray, constantly needing guidance. With immediate access to client information and associated communications in one place, fresh staff will be better equipped sooner, and ready to get straight into adding real value.
It’s important that you revisit both the processes you use in your firm, and the tools that enable these processes, so you can move beyond administration and spend time on the more valuable undertakings.
“Accountants and bookkeepers need to collaborate with each other and their clients to achieve success for all.”
You have to align your growth strategy with a tech strategy. Accounting firms need to be reinvented digital, the two cannot be separated. Don’t let tools be in your way. They are there to enable productivity, so get into them! Actively learn to use them together to achieve practice-wide benefits.
One approach could be to try a technology mentoring program. Some accountants show excitement straight away when new technology is deployed within the practice, adopting it quickly and easily. Others worry that learning how to use the new tool will hold them back from completing their day to day work, at least in the early stages.
Get the most out of staff who have an obvious aptitude with new systems by introducing them to those whose know-how is less advanced. They might just learn something from one another.
We mentioned that addressing how your firm can better collaborate is not always obvious, may take time, and will require some initial effort from everyone.
Acknowledge that hurdles might appear and make sure there are open forums on the change. Partners maintaining an 'open door policy' is helpful - whether that pertains to an actual, physical door with a brass name plate, or to an attitude of openness across teams of accountants working remotely. When new staff come onboard, ask them what was done differently at their last firm (that worked) and encourage employees to share their progress. Individual victories can lead to a practice-wide one.
Regardless of status, the way forward is to accept that there is probably a better way to do pretty much every task that you perform at work. Foster an environment that allows for the easy and unimpeded sharing of work-related triumphs and the firm can grow as a cohesive unit.
Real meaningful collaboration means you will become less bogged down at your desk, as well as less reactionary when dealing with clients.
Imagine using your face to face time with a client not to report the numbers, but to explain them. Not to just ensure compliance and review what’s been, but to detect opportunities and strategise for what is yet to come.
Open information and real-time collaboration empowers individuals, letting them perform to the best of their ability. This serves to create a culture of freedom in an accounting firm – which is just the thing for instilling those qualities that any company most yearns for in its employees - being engaged and motivated in their work.
Evolving as a firm means truly evolving in every respect, not just one aspect. A collaborative culture is amplified with the right technology, and your new-found efficiency will help lead the firm to operational excellence.
Getting the right mix of access, flexibility and yes, even old-fashioned human interaction, can create a collaborative environment that shapes a forward-thinking practice with a real vision. And in time, one with a visionary approach that will set you apart from the rest.
COO & Accountant.