The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way many businesses operate, and CPA and accounting firms are no exception. As more and more employees were forced to work from home due to lockdowns and social distancing measures, firms had to embrace the new norm. Some adapted quickly to manage remote or hybrid teams better and for some, it was a challenge, and were not prepared for it.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, the norm for the workforce has evolved into a hybrid structure where employees split their time between working from home and a physical office. There are numerous versions of this hybrid workforce arrangement, ranging from working one day in the office and the rest from home, to working two days in the office and the rest from home, to working remotely from a client’s location or having work done entirely offshore.
The impact of this new norm has been experienced differently by professionals based on their gender, age, family status, and level of technical proficiency. This makes the topic of leading and managing remote teams critical for managers, team leaders, and even top management. Let’s get started then!
How to manage remote and hybrid teams
The transition to a hybrid work culture has posed unique challenges for CPA and Accounting firms, requiring a set of skills beyond the domain expertise of finance and accounting. As firms navigate this new hybrid workplace norm, deciding on which employees to retain on their payroll, and which ones to convert to consultants has become a delicate and complex process. The success of these firms now rests on the ability of their employees to adapt and thrive in this new hybrid work environment.
According to the AICPA’s 2022 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues, one of the key concerns for CPA and accounting firms in the next five years is effectively managing a hybrid workforce consisting of both remote and in-person employees. The issue is particularly pronounced in larger firms with more than 50 employees.
At Finsmart Accounting, managing a hybrid workforce is one of the unique propositions we have developed over the last 15 years. While the pandemic had its own set of challenges, it was far easier for us to adapt since we had prior experience in this and were able to continue our service to our clients.
Accounting Seat from Finsmart has done wonders for hundreds of accounting firms in the USA. Check out what this accounting firm from South Florida has to say about us:
Based on our experience, we highly recommend utilizing the following guide, which outlines the key considerations that CPA and Accounting firms must carefully consider when formalizing their hybrid work program. By doing so, firms can effectively mitigate the challenges associated with managing a hybrid workforce or a completely remote team!
Assessment & Evaluation
Moving from an in-person office for all employees to a hybrid workforce can be a significant change for both the company and its employees.Here are some steps that can be taken to determine which employees to retain or keep on consulting to make the hybrid workforce transformation:
A) Assess the company’s needs: Evaluate the company’s business needs, goals, and objectives in the context of the hybrid work environment. Determine which roles and skills are critical to achieving these goals, and which ones can be scaled back or eliminated.
Skills and qualities that may be prioritized to keep as full-time employees:
- Strong technical skills in accounting and tax laws and regulations.
- Experience working with complex clients and engagements.
- Proven track record of high-quality work and attention to detail.
- Strong communication skills, both written and verbal, are necessary for effective collaboration with clients and team members.
- Leadership skills, are necessary for managing teams and providing guidance to junior staff.
- Proven ability to work independently and manage workload effectively.
- Strong problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
- Adaptability to new technology and work processes
Skills and qualities that may be prioritized to transition to consultant roles:
- Experience in a specific industry or specialty area.
- Strong network and relationships with clients and referral sources.
- Proven track record of successful consulting or project-based work.
- Flexibility to take on project-based work with varying timelines and schedules.
- Strong time management and organization skills necessary for managing multiple clients and engagements simultaneously.
- Strong marketing and business development skills to help grow the firm’s client base.
B) Evaluate employee performance: Evaluate each employee’s performance based on their job responsibilities, performance metrics, and other relevant factors. Consider factors such as productivity, quality of work, communication skills, technical skills, and client satisfaction to make up your mind about in-office or remote positions.
C) Analyze remote work suitability: Evaluate each employee’s suitability for remote work based on their job responsibilities, work habits, and ability to work independently. Consider factors such as self-motivation, time management, and communication skills.
D) Communicate with employees: Communicate with employees about the company’s plans for the hybrid workforce and how it will affect their job responsibilities. Explain the criteria being used to make retention or consulting decisions, and provide feedback on their performance.
E) Create a transition plan: Create a transition plan for employees who will be laid off or transitioned to consulting roles. This plan should include details such as a timeline for the transition, the scope of the consulting role, and the terms of the consulting agreement.
Establish clear communication protocols
Develop clear communication protocols for both remote and in-person employees, and establish guidelines for client communication. This is important to lead a remote team because everyone won’t be working at the same place or time. Steps that can help establish clear communication protocols are as follows:
A) Determine the best communication channels: Identify the most effective communication channels for your hybrid workforce, such as email, phone, video conferencing, and project management tools. Consider which channels are best suited for different types of communication, such as urgent messages on team messaging platforms or phone calls, or if you need longer discussions than Zoom or Google Meet calls, and for formal communication use emails.
B) Establish guidelines for response times: Set clear expectations for response times for different types of communication. Zoom or Google may require you to give in advance time vs. key urgent messages that can be called, however, need to keep in mind the working hours of the role.
Create guidelines for different types of follow-up timelines and escalation channels to use them e.g. After a meeting, an email is sent to all attendees, with deadlines mentioned. Now if any attendee has not updated the status on the deadline, then first use email to check, then after 2 hrs (working hrs), use a phone call (during working hrs) to get the status.
C) Clarify client communication protocols: Establish clear guidelines for client communication, including when and how to use virtual meetings versus in-person meetings. Ensure that all remote or in-office teams or employees are aware of these guidelines and adhere to them.
D) Encourage two-way communication: Encourage two-way communication between remote and in-person employees to facilitate collaboration and problem-solving. Ensure that all employees feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their ideas and feedback.
Establishing such communication protocols will help you successfully lead a remote team. Let’s move on to the next critical hybrid workplace parameter!
Given the sensitive nature of client information, security should be a top priority. Some steps that can help prioritize security:
A) Use secure communication tools: Use secure communication tools to protect client information, such as encryption software, secure email systems, and virtual private networks (VPNs). Ensure that all employees understand how to use these tools properly. Provide training if necessary to acquaint the remote teams or employees with new tools.
B) Implement two-factor authentication: Implement two-factor authentication to ensure that only authorized personnel can access client information. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a secondary authentication method, such as a text message or fingerprint, in addition to a password.
C) Use secure file transfer methods: Use secure file transfer methods to protect sensitive client data when sharing files between remote and in-person employees. Consider using cloud-based storage platforms that offer end-to-end encryption and other security measures.
D) Establish password protocols: Establish password protocols to ensure that all employees use strong passwords that are difficult to guess. Consider implementing a password manager to facilitate password management and prevent employees from using the same password across multiple accounts.
E) Limit access to sensitive data: Limit access to sensitive client data to only those employees who require it to perform their job functions. Consider implementing role-based access controls to ensure that only authorized personnel can access certain data. This is super important for organizations that plan to manage bigger remote employees in 2023.
Define policies and expectations
Clearly defining policies and expectations for both remote and in-person employees is essential for CPA & Accounting firms to ensure that all employees understand their roles and responsibilities. Some steps that can help define policies and expectations:
A) Define clear communication policies: In the Hybrid workforce, the tendency to either be too formal or too informal or write coded or brief messages can create issues and difficult to interpret the key meaning. Hence it is of utmost importance for CPA & Accounting firms to define communication policy on when to use informal vs. formal communication protocols, usage of emojis, acronyms, and short-hand messages between team members and with clients.
B) Define key policies: Define key policies that apply to remote and in-person employees, such as time tracking, communication, and security policies. Ensure that all policies are consistent with the organization’s values and goals and comply with relevant laws and regulations.
C) Establish expectations for work hours and availability: Establish clear expectations for work hours and availability for remote and in-person employees. Define core working hours when employees must be available for meetings and collaboration, and clarify how to handle situations where employees need to be away from work unexpectedly. This is something a lot of organizations have struggled with while leading hybrid teams. So, don’t forget this one!
D) Establish expectations for work quality and productivity: Establish clear expectations for work quality and productivity for remote and in-person employees. Define performance metrics and goals and provide regular feedback to employees to ensure that they are meeting expectations.
Foster team culture
To foster a sense of community and strengthen team dynamics, CPA & Accounting firms should ensure that all employees feel connected and engaged, whether working remotely or in person. Here are some steps that can help foster team culture amongst employees that are working remotely:
A) Establish regular check-ins: Establish regular check-ins between remote and in-person employees to promote communication and collaboration. Consider using video conferencing tools to facilitate virtual face-to-face interactions and ensure that all employees have access to the necessary technology.
B) Encourage informal communication: Encourage informal communication between remote and in-person employees to build relationships and promote team culture. Consider setting up virtual water cooler chats or other informal communication channels. This is how to manage remote workers correctly!
C) Facilitate team-building activities: Facilitate team-building activities that incorporate both remote and in-person employees, such as virtual scavenger hunts or online team games. Ensure that all activities are inclusive and accessible to all employees.
D) Promote recognition and appreciation: Promote recognition and appreciation for remote and in-person employees to celebrate successes and acknowledge hard work. Consider using virtual recognition tools or sending personalized messages to employees.
E) Encourage professional development: This is something remote employees often feel missing out on. Encourage professional development opportunities for all employees, whether remote or in-person. Provide access to online training resources or mentorship programs to support employees’ growth and development.
F) Define team goals and objectives: Define team goals and objectives that align with the organization’s mission and values. Ensure that all employees are aware of these goals and are working together to achieve them.
G) Foster a positive work culture: Foster a positive work culture that promotes inclusivity, respect, and collaboration. Set clear expectations for behavior and communication and ensure that all employees – remote or otherwise – are aware of the organization’s values and policies.
We are done with the team culture aspect of ‘how to manage remote teams’. Now, let’s look at the tech side of it!
Invest in technology
This is essential for CPA & Accounting firms to ensure that all employees have access to the necessary tools and resources to work effectively and efficiently, whether remote or in-person. Invest in technology that facilitates collaboration and communication among remote and in-person employees, such as video conferencing software, project management tools, and communication platforms.
Read our Guide in Adapting Emerging Technologies that can help you embrace and grow with technology.
Emphasizing compliance for managing a hybrid (remote and in-person) workforce is important for CPA & Accounting firms to ensure that all employees are following regulatory requirements and organizational policies, whether working remotely or in person.
Read best practices that CPA firms can use to manage the accounting regulatory compliance in the hybrid environment.
Provide training and support
This is the most important and crucial consideration when you are planning or following the hybrid workforce. Other than providing training and support on domain areas of finance and accounting and soft skills for work management, below are vital training for hybrid workforce:
A) Technology training: Provide training and support to employees on how to use communication tools effectively, including video conferencing software and project management tools. Ensure that all employees have access to the necessary technology and training to use it effectively. Consider offering online training resources or scheduling training sessions with IT staff.
B) Security training: Provide regular security training to employees to educate them on how to identify and prevent security threats. Cover topics such as phishing scams, malware, and social engineering tactics, and ensure that all employees are aware of the consequences of a security breach.
C) Compliance training: Provide compliance training to all employees, including remote and in-person workers. Ensure that the training is comprehensive and includes topics such as data privacy, information security, and ethical conduct. Ensure that all employees understand the policies and are aware of the consequences of non-compliance.
Without the right training modules and sessions, your transformation into a truly hybrid team won’t be complete. So, make sure you get this right!
Managing the workload for a hybrid (remote and in-person) workforce can be a challenge for CPA & Accounting firms, as it requires balancing the needs of employees who are working remotely with those who are working in the office. Some of the steps that can help manage workload in a hybrid work environment:
A) Prioritize tasks: Prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance, and ensure that all employees understand which tasks are the highest priority. This can help ensure that the most important tasks are completed on time, even if there are competing demands on employees’ time.
B) Consider flexible scheduling: Consider implementing flexible scheduling options, such as allowing employees to work non-traditional hours or work from home on certain days. This can help employees manage their workload more effectively and reduce stress. It’s important to be flexible and adaptable in managing workload in a hybrid work environment. This can mean adjusting priorities or deadlines as needed, being responsive to employee feedback, and being open to new approaches to managing workload.
A project management system will come in handy for this. Read on to come across the last piece of the puzzle named ‘how to manage remote employees’.
Regularly monitor the performance of both remote and in-person employees to ensure that everyone is meeting objectives and contributing to the team. In our experience monitoring performance has to differ in a hybrid work environment. There are some specific considerations to keep in mind when monitoring performance in a hybrid work environment:
A) Use technology to track performance: In a hybrid work environment, technology can play an important role in tracking performance. This can include project management tools, time-tracking software, and employee monitoring software that allows managers to track employee activity and productivity.
B) Emphasize trust and accountability: In a hybrid work environment, it’s important to emphasize trust and accountability. This can include setting clear performance expectations, providing regular feedback, and emphasizing the importance of communication and collaboration.
C) Conduct regular security audits: Conduct regular security audits to identify vulnerabilities and gaps in security protocols. Address any issues that are identified and update security protocols as needed. Indeed a crucial step while leading a remote or hybrid team!
D) Monitor and adjust: Monitor the success of the hybrid workforce and make adjustments as necessary. Evaluate the performance of retained employees, the success of consulting roles, and the impact of layoffs on the organization.
Connect for Accounting Offshoring Support
Finsmart Accounting with its 15 years of outsourced accounting space uses its own proprietary framework called DPPT – Definition, Process, Precision & TAT that has been the success mantra for supporting the firms in the US to stay ahead of the competition.
By partnering with an experienced offshore accounting services provider like Finsmart Accounting, CPA firms can access a team of professionals who are knowledgeable about the latest technologies, up to date with ever-evolving accounting norms, and also domain experts in US accounting.
Your thoughts on managing a remote team?
Would you like to know more about managing a hybrid workforce to grow your accounting practice? Did we miss out on anything while answering ‘how to manage remote and hybrid teams’? Start the conversation below or check out our recent blogs on offshore accounting:
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