Welcome back for the conclusion of our two-part article on building a remote staff. As you may recall, we welcomed two of the profession’s most notable experts —Amanda Aguillard of Elefant Training and Jeff Phillips of Accountingfly—to walk us through what it takes to transition from an on-location-only employee mindset to the new world of remote workers.
In Part II, we pick the ball back up with the final three best practices for building a remote workforce. We conclude with a “quick start” list to keep you motivated, inspired and moving forward.
Let’s jump back in!
Best Practice 4 - Protect Your Firm
This is as simple as it sounds. We are talking about taking the necessary steps to protect your firm—including your employees, your clients and your product.
You should always take the necessary steps to protect your firm—including your employees, your clients and your product.
According to Agulliard and Phillips, the following areas need to be considered for a remote workforce:
Use NDAs and non-competes—These types of documents serve to protect your firm at all levels.
Phillips stated, “You should revisit your NDA and/or non-compete. With a remote staff, it’s good practice to be a little stricter with restrictions and penalties for what happens if a remote hire tries to steal one of your clients, your employees or your intellectual property.”
Know your laws and regulations—This is about protecting your time. Be intentional about your geographical hire zones. Do your research on employment and tax laws by state so that the time you spend recruiting is not wasted. A seasoned advisor can help you figure out the best plan for a remote workforce that extends beyond your home state.
Use employment agreements—Develop a “work from home” policy. This document will include a list of employer expectations and outline other rules unique to your firm, such as required “in-office” work hours or mandatory staff meetings. Both the remote employee and the employer should sign this agreement.
Best Practice 4 Challenge: Take some time to research sample work from home policies. You can even reach out to peer firms to request a sample. This exercise will help you think through what your policy needs to include.
Best Practice 5 - Keep Snail Mail in the Mix
This may sound like we are pedaling backwards, but trust us that the United States Postal Service still has a place in business.
Remote workers require the right hardware to operate. This includes a computer and a camera (for video meetings) at the least. Depending on the position, it could also include a portable back-up drive and a large monitor or dual monitors. You’ll use the snail mail to ship these items to your remote employees.
Aguillard also recommends sending remote staff “something special,” to help them feel like a true part of the team. “When you work virtually, you are all alone. And that can suck. Send a new hire a welcome kit and include some company swag. This can do wonders in making someone feel a part of it all.”
Phillips added, “You can also send birthday and anniversary cards to add personal touches throughout the year.”
Best Practice 5 Challenge: Take an inventory of the company swag you have onsite and assign someone in your firm to brainstorm what your welcome kit would look like. Before you hire your first remote worker, start using your new kit to welcome new on-location employees to the firm family.
Best Practice 6 - Craft a Collaborative Work Environment
Any successful business has mastered the art of collaboration. Teams have to be supported with tools that enable streamlined data flow, information sharing and instant connectivity.
Teams have to be supported with tools that enable streamlined data flow, information sharing and instant connectivity.
To craft a collaborative work environment that supports both your onsite and remote staff, consider the following:
Adopt solutions that offer document sharing—For example, Google Docs and Google Sheets are browser-based applications that allow multiple employees to collaborate at once. This also ensures file integrity and that everyone has access to the most current documents. Adopt solutions that support screen sharing—The ability to share screens is invaluable. It allows multiple staff to communicate and share documents and data in real time.
“People can’t sit next to each other if they are remote. So something as simple as screen sharing brings staff together and makes collaborating on projects so much easier,” said Agulliard.
Adopt tools and policy that supports inclusion—Be thoughtful in the solutions you select. Apps like Zoom allow several staff members to be in the same space (virtually) for meetings. In terms of policy, make it mandatory that all staff be onsite for an annual all-staff meeting or host a special staff retreat during the year. “You have to make an effort to ensure it doesn't feel like onsite employees make up the core team and your remote workers are on an island by themselves,” stated Phillips.
“You have to make an effort to ensure it doesn't feel like onsite employees make up the core team and your remote workers are on an island by themselves.”
Jeff Phillips, Accountingfly
Best Practice 6 Challenge: Start by adopting one collaboration tool, such as Zoom.Test it with onsite staff for a few months and see just how much easier it is for your team to collaborate.
Your At-a-glance Get Started List
And there you have it! Six proven and tested practices that can help you get started with building a remote workforce. Combining our six best practices with some added wisdom from our experts, we’ve compiled the following list to help get you started...and keep moving forward.
Get into a remote mindset—Before you set out to hire your first remote employee, be sure that you’ve done your homework and have a sound plan in place, such as identifying the right technologies, defining your desired geographical area and so forth. When you have a well thought out plan, it’s much easier to get into the right mindset.
Fine tune your tech stack—Start to plan your technology ecosystem, which should be made up of the latest and greatest cloud-based solutions to properly support a remote workforce.
Invest in policies and procedures—Begin to document all workflow processes within your firm to provide staff with comprehensive and timely guides to best perform their job duties and handle issues as they arise.
Define geographical limits—Identify the geographic boundaries for remote staff, considering such aspects as state-by-state employment laws, time zone translation and your desire to have remote staff onsite from time to time during the year.
Protect your firm—It’s your duty to protect your employees, clients and product. Be sure to use NDAs or non-competes with remote staff.
Keep snail mail in the mix—The USPS still has its place. You’ll need snail mail to send remote workers hardware and also special “gifts” like swag to make them feel welcome.
Craft a collaborative work environment—Ensure that your team has access to each other. Provide the right cloud technologies to connect employees and support a collaborative work environment.
Ensure leaders lead—Firm leaders must fully buy-in to the remote model and lead all staff as if they were onsite. Extra effort should be made to connect with remote staff and support all efforts to bring the team together.
There is a big interest in the accounting profession around remote workers. This article series was developed as a guide to help those interested get started. Planning is key with any new big venture, but just as important is getting moving.
Jeff Phillips says it best: “You can’t overplan either. It’s a startup mindset that’s required. You just have to jump in!”
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