This article was co-authored with Liz Mason, Editor of Tax Practice News
Managing a remote team is intimidating to many tax accountants. It is easier to make sure your team is being productive when they are right in front of you. The anxiety of not knowing that progress is being made without you seeing it directly can be overwhelming. How can we mitigate the complications around remote teams? Well, it is a threefold answer:
- Effective Policies
- Efficient Technology
- Culture of Productivity
We have been and will continue to address the technology piece in other articles. For this article, we will outline the basic technological requirements, how to write an effective policy, and what cultural considerations are important.
Writing a remote work policy may seem like a daunting task, so we have put together a few pointers to make the process easier. If you currently have a policy, check that it includes your expectations in the following areas.
How do you want remote eligibility to work in your environment?
In normal times, eligibility is a big issue. In our current pandemic state, everyone defaults to eligible. However, we thought it prudent to put this in here to help you create a policy that will stand the test of time.
- Position: Are all positions eligible?
- Duration of Employment: Do employees have to be employed for a certain period of time before they can request to work remote?
- Performance: Is a certain performance rating required?
Spell it out here. More importantly, if you write it into your policy, make sure it is something you are willing to follow and enforce.
Express your expectations and any rules that surround your remote workforce.
For example, full-time employees are expected to work 40 hours per week and primarily focused on the position requirements (not childcare or domestic responsibilities). Some additional topics that may be covered in this section are:
- Schedule: Are your employees required to be available during specific business hours? Spell it out.
- Presence: Do you have a company platform that remote employees need to be available on? This could be an industry specific software, or a simple communication tool, such as Slack.
- Communication: Do you have specific expectations for how your team is to communicate? Are you expecting them to be on video calls with a specific cadence? Do you need responses to emails or instant messages in a certain time frame? Spell it all out here so there is no confusion over expectations.
- Location: Where do you expect employees to conduct their work? Is it critical they be in a home office? If so, you may want to include some requirements about having a clean, professional space that represents well on video conferences. If not, you may want to invite your remote workforce to patronage a local co-working space or coffee shop, so long as they have access to Wi-Fi and are available during the schedule spelled out.
- Security: Include any security precautions that you would require if the employee were in the office. Changing passwords or keeping paperwork locked and confidential may still be a concern in some industries. Make sure to clarify the company expectations on physical and cyber security measures.
- We use encrypt.me (https://encrypt.me/?eme_aid=5e73e7096bb74) for teams and require our team to utilize this VPN when they are on any public Wi-Fi.
Tools & Equipment
Determine what tools are required for the remote role and which pieces of equipment the company is willing to provide.
Some items you may want to consider in this section include:
- Hardware: Does the company provide just a laptop, or ancillary equipment such as monitors, printers, desks, chairs, etc.
- Explain how hardware will be transported and who is responsible for shipping costs.
- If hardware is provided by the company, how should the remote team member return the equipment, should they leave your employ.
- Software: Consider pushing all of your technology to cloud based. It will be much easier and faster to use than hosting server-based products remotely.
- Reimbursable costs: Are you offering to cover the cost of Wi-Fi or setting up a home office? List what qualifies here. If you don’t reimburse for any expense, consider using language such as, “The company is not responsible for costs associated with setting up your home office.”
At High Rock Accounting, we have built a culture that allows for easy transition from an in-office team to a remote team. We have members of the team that 100% remote and some that are not. It is important to consider how projects are moved along while you are not right next to each other. Here is our remote policy directly from our handbook to give you an example to work from:
Remote work may be a viable arrangement for some team members. If you have received approval to work from home, we expect the same work performance as in office. This means you protect proprietary company information, ensure regular password maintenance and care for your equipment. The company is not responsible for costs associated with setting up a home office. You must have a minimum of WPA encryption on your home Wi-Fi and utilize encrypt.me when you are on any public Wi-Fi.
There may be performance requirements that need to be met in order to maintain remote work privileges. All team members hired in the Phoenix market are expected to be in-office unless agreed upon to work from home. Remote schedules are considered a privilege and do require that team members remain in good standing on performance reviews. Remote teammates are required to be responsive to communications and be available via Slack during normal business hours (9-5). There is also a Slack channel (#schedules) that team members should be posting on if they are not in office. Each team member is requested to post any disruptions to normal working hours, if they are stepping away for lunch or a client call, and if they are pausing notifications to focus on a project. If a remote team member is not responsive via slack and it is within normal business hours, the rest of the team will have a cell phone number and text or call to get the time-sensitive information needed.
Remote team members outside the Phoenix market will be provided a laptop and will be reimbursed up to $200 to purchase a mouse, keyboard, and monitors required to be productive at home. The company will not reimburse desks or office furniture.
Remote team members must check in with their team leads at least once a week to ensure project priorities and timelines are on track. All team members are expected to be available to clients and other team members, regardless of working location.
We use Microsoft Outlook and Slack for our primary communications platforms. We also require you to have a cell phone available for limited work use. Our phone system (RingCentral) has an application you will install on your cell phone to mask your personal number and make calls over Wi-Fi. You are required to install email and Slack on your cell phone. Our communication policy is such:
- Emails: require a response within 24 hours
- Slack messages:
- Sent during normal business hours: require a response within 1 hour when
- Sent outside normal business hours: require a response within 1 hour of the start of the next business day
- Phone messages:
- From clients: require a response within 24 hours, unless the message indicates an urgent matter, in which case it would be faster
- From team members: if there is an item that cannot wait 24 hours, team members should leave a message and follow up with a text message and a slack message
- Text messages: will only be sent when there is a client emergency (or something urgent outside of business hours) and require a response within an hour, within reason
We promote a very collaborative culture and encourage our team to be on video when they are doing remote check-ins. It is easy to forget that we are all human when you do not see each other’s faces. When we are workshopping through a client, a difficult deadline, or anything else that team support is essential, we start a group Zoom meeting, Google hangout, or Slack call, and all work on our pieces on video in the background. It is nice to be able to pipe up and ask a quick question. This type of video call hangout is not productive for everyday work but can provide some simulation of an in-office environment when needed. Ensuring your team knows that you trust them is just as important. Requiring too many touchpoints, or monitoring, will not yield the productivity that many people would expect. It will actually demotivate people.
We are navigating unchartered waters with this pandemic. The good news is, we have the technology and resources to provide exceptional accounting support remotely. We hope that this article will give you the framework to manage your remote team effectively.