Picture the remote worker. Is he in his PJs, waking up at noon, getting in an hour of work between his favorite soap operas? Is she isolated on some distant planet, beaming projects to your office across intergalactic satellites, a faceless drone whose physical appearance is a mystery to coworkers and bosses alike?
Remote working doesn’t have to look like this. In fact, it can’t look like this if businesses want to stay competitive and ahead of the curve.
Hiring cloud accountants is one of the most viable solutions to the talent crisis in accounting. And if you can build the right process to integrate remote staff successfully, you can attract great people to your firm and become far more efficient. With the proper standards and policies in place, remote workers can connect with each other and with those in the physical office in ways that maximize productivity and collaboration, making it no different than if they were sitting five feet away.
Here are some essential strategies you can use to better integrate cloud accountants into your team.
Technology is your friend
Today there are a number of applications that give remote workers a team presence and allow them to collaborate more effectively.
Slack provides a virtual workspace where both physical and cloud accountants can chat, share ideas, and ensure project deadlines are being met on time. The platform is flexible–some businesses use it as a one-stop shop for communication and project management, while others utilize one feature exclusively, such as text chat.
Video conferences are also a great way to bring teams together and get people talking face to face. Zoom is perhaps the easiest and most user-friendly, though other organizations swear by Skype or Join.me.
The key to using these apps effectively is making them an integral and mandatory part of your cloud accounting strategy.
“Successful remote collaboration requires you to set clear expectations for deliverables, priorities, communication, scope and value proposition, and have standardized tools and best practices,” says Bruce Phillips, CEO and Founder, HPC.
It’s best to decide upfront how you want your remote team to check in with their manager–create a consistent date and time, pick the format (we use Zoom for all team and client check-ins at Accountingfly), and stick to it. Use these calls to confirm expectations are being met, the work is getting done to your satisfaction, and that you and your staff are on the same page with priorities.
Schedule regular video conferences to ensure that all team members are collaborating. Require check-ins on project management and communication software to keep the work moving. And provide technical training upfront to ensure that every employee knows how to maximize the use of your chosen tech solutions.
Hire the right people from the start
Our soap-opera-happy hypothetical remote worker from the beginning of this post may not be the best choice for your team. But many cloud accountants take their jobs seriously, keep a strict schedule, meet deadlines, and stay in regular communication with teammates.
Identifying these ideal remote workers is an essential but challenging process. Prospects may sound reliable during interviews only to become exposed as layabout couch lumps down the road. To avoid this, it may make sense to give remote workers a trial project or two, or hire them on a probationary basis before bringing them on full-time.
“Using part-time work for projects through a platform like Upwork can be a good idea to test talent,” Phillips says.
Recruiting and talent vetting services can also ensure you target the best prospects up front.
“Working with a recruiting and screening company like Accountingfly is also a huge help to finding the right candidates and keeping the pipeline full,” Phillips says.
Keep it fun
Remote workers often miss out on the employee outings and general office camaraderie that help elevate collaboration, strengthen teamwork, and even build friendships.
“It’s easy for remote workers to feel isolated, and without a way to build camaraderie, it’s easy for everyone to go their own way instead of pulling together and working as a team,” says Patti Scharf, Co-Founder and COO of Catching Clouds.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to bring cloud accountants into the cultural fold, no matter how remote they may be.
“When you don’t have an office setting, you may need to get creative to work on culture and fun,’” Phillips says.
Try sending out an email with a personal question to your entire team, encouraging them to hit reply all with their responses. You can ask about their favorite travel experiences, war stories of nightmare clients, or whether they’re called “jimmies” or “sprinkles” (the correct answer being sprinkles, of course.) This will get the team talking about something unrelated to work, sparking conversation and debate that can foster personal connections.
Online games are another great way to bring remote teams together. Poll your workers and see what kinds of games they like best. Depending on the responses, you might schedule anything from regular online Scrabble tournaments to Call of Duty deathmatches.
Sites like teambonding also provide a number of virtual solutions that help remote workers connect in fun, personal ways.