6 tips for managing suddenly remote teams

For the first time, a majority of the country’s workforce is working from home. While some are enjoying the change, many workers and managers are struggling to adapt to new work arrangements.

While it may be new to you, remote work is not new in the accounting profession — virtual firms and completely remote companies have existed for years and have had great success. Those firms have paved the way and can offer the newly initiated remote workforce some valuable insights on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to managing remote teams.

Whether we like it or not, remote work is here to stay and will be a norm in your work going forward. Many of the remote work practices we’re instituting today are likely to be part of a new normal that survives long after the current crisis has ended. With the right combination of automation, planning and patience, remote work can be successful for your accounting firm. It can even be an enjoyable experience for your staff.

These six tips will help remote managers create the best and most productive work environment for both their staff and themselves.

Patience is a virtue
Remote work is new for most people on your team, and it’s going to take some time to get it right. You need to be patient and flexible as you all get your bearings.

Too many managers are inclined to micromanage at the start, incorrectly thinking that their employees might be treating remote work as a vacation. Rest assured that they’re not. No one is trying to be lazy right now — if anything, they’re working extra hard because today’s economic uncertainty has people afraid of losing their jobs.

With face time and in-person communication gone, you’ve lost the normal context you have for managing your team. In time, though, you’ll find new ways to connect that don’t include monitoring precisely who is working and when. Your team members are juggling a lot of new circumstances right now, as you probably are yourself, so allow everyone room to work out the kinks and create a new rhythm. Your employees won’t just thank you now; they’ll remember you as a great manager in the future.
Establish the new normal ASAP
While patience is vital, it’s also important to solidify new processes and workflows as soon as you reasonably can. Everyone will be a bit confused as you figure out the new normal, but you want to nail it down quickly so they can start to build new routines. The more time you’re spending figuring out how to work, the less time you’re spending on working.

Your focus should be on driving projects forward, and you should quickly establish rules and procedures for how that will happen. The same management principles that applied in the office still apply in the remote working world. Make decisions quickly about when your team will meet and when you will have your one-on-ones. Set guidelines for your team around communication expectations, such as how long it should take to respond to emails or Slack messages. You may feel like you don’t have the ability to manage or are at risk of losing control of your team, but as long as you prioritize setting up a framework for keeping your projects on their planned trajectories, you’ll be fine.
Culture and trust matter more than ever
Many successful accounting firms are defined by their culture, but culture is easier to cultivate when everyone is interacting face to face daily. To make up for the loss of face time, you need to put extra effort into maintaining your company’s culture through remote communication and building your employees’ trust.

In these uncertain times, your remote team wants leadership that makes them feel like the company is reliable and their jobs are secure. As much as you want to trust your workers, they want you to know how hard they’re still working. Utilize the many videoconferencing tools available today so that people can still see each other’s faces. In addition to team meetings and individual check-ins, try to add moments of social interaction, such as personal catch-ups before getting down to business or occasional virtual happy hours. Maintaining human connections will go a long way toward building the culture and trust you need to get through these times.
Communication is key
Now is the time to be communicating everything as clearly as possible even at the risk of overcommunication. Clarity is what will make remote management a success.

Every project should have a clear objective, an owner and a deadline, and you should have a strategic plan for communicating that objective from now through completion. A significant piece of that plan should be project management software that allows for collaboration and clarity on tasks and provides a central hub for team information.

Success depends on results, deadlines and accountability, not who is working what hours. Focus on and communicate about individual tasks and regularly touch base with the people handling those tasks. Arrange for group calls and status updates on an ongoing basis, and try to send agendas for those meetings in advance. You might also want to consider one-on-one check-ins with staff, even if it was never your practice before. The more visibility you can give your team into a project, the better.
Automation, automation, automation
Once you’ve set up the framework for remote work and established your avenues of communication, you want to make that work as easy as possible. Manual processes caused unnecessary delay and cost when we all worked in offices. In remote work times, they’re unworkable.

As your employees figure out their new routines for doing crucial business tasks, you can make the work-from-home transition easier by leaning on technology to handle manual tasks. For example, my team uses Bill.com to automate financial processes like importing, approving and paying bills or creating, reviewing and sending invoices. It’s crucial for maintaining cash flows in uncertain times and having transparency into the status of every bill and payment.

It’s not only your team who’s getting used to a new way of doing business — so are your clients. Small businesses need their accountants to guide them now more than ever. Automation frees up your staff to give those clients the attention they need and provides visibility into processes that will help calm their fears.
Don't forget about self-care
While everyone is so focused on establishing the new normal, it’s easy to overlook the fact that we’re operating in times that are anything but business as usual. It’s understandable that people are struggling, and managers and employees alike need to make sure to take care of themselves as they juggle new responsibilities and outside uncertainty.

Self-care may not have been a priority before, but it needs to be now. You need to set new schedules and routines that include times for breaks and personal obligations and encourage your staff to do the same. This is another area where automation is critical — the time you save by not handling mundane tasks will go a long way toward helping you achieve a sense of balance as you master your new work-from-home life.

Remote work may feel foreign now, but it doesn’t have to impede your productivity or present a roadblock to keeping your firm running smoothly. The good news is that accounting is well-suited to remote work. With a little bit of patience and flexibility, a lot of clear communication and the right tools in your arsenal, you can remotely manage your accounting team and set a new baseline for success that will allow your firm to thrive long after the current crisis passes.