How-to guide: Managing a remote team of accountants

A lot has changed in the last few weeks. Every accounting firm is facing new challenges transitioning to a remote workforce.

Managing a remote team isn’t without complications. How do you know who is doing what? How does your team collaborate? How do you ensure no work falls through the cracks and no client is neglected?

The trick is to have a plan in place, supported by carefully chosen technology that will solve these issues.

Whether your accounting firm is brand new to remote work or has been doing it for years, this 5-step guide outlines best practices for managing a distributed team that everyone can put into action.

#1 Have the right tools

Managing a remote team is impossible without the right tools. Luckily there are some great options that will let staff work independently and feel autonomous, but still provide you with the ability to oversee and manage them as if they were sitting right next to you.

These are the basics:

  • Karbon for workflow, team collaboration and client communication.

  • Zoom for catch-ups one-to-one or with the whole team.

  • Slack for more informal team communication. Great if you want to build a remote culture that goes beyond work.

#2 Set the expectations, deliverables, & responsibilities

Every manager needs to know what their team is working on during the week. You need to make it clear from day one what you expect, and what they need to deliver in order to "get the work done". Manage timelines that are reasonable and easy to track (weekly is recommended.)

Try and be granular about the tasks they will need to complete to be successful. A "get started with monthly payroll for Smith & Co." is not enough. Maybe saying "gathering all the information on new hires" and "scheduling the payrun for review" is much more specific.

Try and ensure everyone knows what you expect and help them prioritize. You don't need to go into detail on what needs to be delivered every day, but you can surely convey that task A should happen before task B, which should happen before task C, etc. Going back to point #1, make use of your systems to track the status of these tasks and keep them accountable.

#3 Schedule regular catch-ups, encourage communication & collaboration 

You need to check-in with your team and discuss where they are at. Distance is no excuse for this not to happen. Make use your video conferencing tool and schedule these meetings regularly. It’s not quite the same as chatting in-person, but it’s pretty close.

You can have different catchups with different objectives. We suggest:

  • A weekly team meeting (videoconference or teleconference): the length of this meeting will vary according to the size of your team, but it can go anywhere between 10minutes to 45 minutes. Everyone in your staff, from partners to junior accountants shares what they need to accomplish during the week, if there are any blockers, or if they will be unavailable. Another option is to have a "representative" of the department share what that team will be working on (a popular choice in horizontal accounting practices.)

  • A weekly 1-1 meeting between manager and each team member (videoconference): this meeting can go for 30 mins and it's a chance for you to set the groundwork for the week. You can assess how the previous week went and, if you are able to see your team member's to-do list, you can assist in prioritizing what they are working on, and go through those particular tasks that you can see will consume most of their time. Check the progress of pieces of work and see what items are due soon.

  • A daily standup (teleconference or chat) where everyone in the team very succinctly shares what they will be working on that day.

We handle trust (that comes with having remote staff) by having a lot of regular check-ins and having very clear measurables and results so there is no ambiguity about what actually needs to be done. Ultimately it comes back down to your recruitment. If you’re not recruiting people who you trust, I don’t know why you’d really recruit them into your team.
Finn Kelly, WE LOVE NUMBERS

Outside of meetings, it’s important that blockers are identified, and communication is tracked. If a job is stuck because you are waiting on a client to send you information, mark it as such (and set reminders to re-ask for it!). All phone conversations with clients should be recorded (or at least notes taken) so that anyone else involved in that job or with that client is aware. 

#4 Standardize processes

When the team is working from different locations, you can’t leave any doubts about who is responsible for doing what, or everyone executing in a different manner. This is where standardizing your most common processes becomes key

For complex processes involving multiple members of the team, or those compliance jobs that you want efficiency to be at its maximum, set up a template job that has a standard checklist with every single step everyone needs to take to get it done.

Each checklist item should be assigned to someone, and include a due date. You might find it useful to add a final item in each standardized process called “Review work”, and assign it to yourself. 

With this process, everyone will know exactly what they are responsible for, what their deadline is, and what other colleagues are working on towards the overall outcome. It’s the perfect way for a team to collaborate on a shared project from multiple locations.

As a manager, you will have a birds-eye view of all of this, and easily be able to keep track of how close the project is towards completion. 

#5 Gain the confidence to trust them

Managing remote accountants and bookkeepers requires an element of trust. However, we know accountants like to be in control; so if this is you, ensure you implement systems that allow you to have full visibility over everything going on.

It's not about micro-managing—it's about tracking, learning and setting corrections in place so that mistakes are not repeated and productivity is increased in every iteration. If you have the systems and communication checks in place, it will become more and more natural as time goes by.

A remote team will allow you to scale faster, hire the best talent available and provide attractive work options to employees. If you have the right systems and processes in place, you will find that collaboration, communication and visibility will not be sacrificed. In fact, you may even find that it all works even smoother than if you were all in the same building.

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