Creating a Remote-First Culture from Scratch
Remote work is a constant topic of discussion and debate. What positions make the most sense in a remote context? How do you verify whether the employee is working? What support and equipment should remote employees gain?
In reality, aren’t these questions missing the point?
I think the more appropriate question might be – how does my business change to adapt to an evolving workforce and set of professional services? One way to get a significant leg up on your competition for talent and business is to transition your thinking towards a remote-first culture.
Remote – Work or Culture?
Remote work is often used as a retention method for keeping high-quality employees, but I’d like to suggest that this is a band-aid, much like offering more for them to stay. If your culture makes remote work an exception, then you will only be able to use it as a leverage tool on an individual basis.
Instead, I propose looking at your remote employees as the status quo. Even with a local or regional business, this allows you to capitalize on thinking that:
Allows you to improve processes so that people who don’t have a face to face handoff can still communicate effectively,
Creates a culture where all employees feel included, even if they’re at home or in a remote location,
Develops technology solutions that improve the speed and effectiveness of collaboration and encourage innovative practices like real-time peer review or return “batching.”
In other words, creating a remote first work culture will help to drive significant improvements both in retention as well as profitability.
How can I have stellar client service remotely?
In our company, I’ve been responsible for helping us to expand our team to find the best people. We can source from the entire country to find this talent. We’ve consistently created higher value for our clients because we have the right people in the right positions.
Three elements are extremely beneficial to move from a brick and mortar mindset to a client first mindset. First off, you must be convinced that you will maintain the same level of client service regardless of location.
Secondly, you need to think about client contact as a story of all the interactions you have, not just the ones that are face to face. In reality, most clients would simply like you to do a great job for them. If you do, the method in which you deliver the final product may not matter as much.
Finally, building relationships is something that comes through building trust from the inside out. If you can trust someone to sit in an office to do their work, you should be able to trust them to do their work when onsite at a client or at home working.
The significant mindset shift is pretty simple – focus on client value. Discover with your clients what, when and where they want to hear from you. Then, build a culture that helps your employees try to do that with a flexibility that helps your entire company be successful.
Tracking results not time
This is a loaded topic, so I will not try to debate the benefits or detriments of value based billing. Instead, I would like to focus on the value of workflow and collaboration solutions to help you determine where and how work is being done. If you are working on a tax return, there is very little difference between handing this work off to someone two offices away and someone who is 35 (or 350) miles away if the communication methods are solid and online.
Focus on process improvement. As you do, you’ll find that much of the constraint is coming from WIYH syndrome (What’s In Your Head.) Once you start with high-quality processes, you will realize that the information is available at hand to do your work. As this happens, it’s no longer as much about how long you took to get work done. It’ll be more focused on how well you got your work done. This includes an element of quality as well as efficiency.
And it doesn’t have a location tag on the work to see whether it got completed or not.
Creating an environment of connectivity
Remote first cultures have a culture of improvement at the core. If it’s not working, you’ll see it much faster than in an office, but only if you are connected in ways that promote and measure collaboration.
One of the best ways to do this is to create a cross-functional team that includes senior managers, interns or 1st-year employees, talent and technology people. Look at where you spend the most personal capital. In this group focus on reading between the lines – where does the “work” happen between the work? Are people talking in the hallways or the break room? What happens when big news hits the firm – where does it go and how do people communicate? Find out how the flow goes, and work to help coordinate this flow with moves to alternate remote friendly channels.
This takes intentional effort, but in the end, firm-wide communication will be better overall.
Remote first = higher retention
Creating a culture where you can pick up your “desk” and work from home permanently creates a culture of value. Many people may not take you up on the offer, but it helps when they realize that their family life is shifting. It provides the opportunity for options with the company.
In fact, this opportunity can be used as a kick start for other similar options that are growth minded. For example, what happens if each team member could be offered the chance to define a new role? One area they’d like to grow, and a small amount of time to work on a project might provide you with new capabilities. Again, the idea of remote-first culture provides you with a shift in perspective that may improve both retention and productivity.
Create a culture of continuous improvement
This may seem like a shift that is not easy to even wrap your head around. The best way to start is to ask those employees who are interested – what would you see as the value of building a company where everyone could work from anywhere? Where could we go from there?
You’ll be challenged by the responses, but you might just find ways to work together in new ways that can help your firm grow, retain and recruit both clients and talent for the future.
Eric is the Director of 10X Operations at Boomer Consulting, Inc. He is part firm administrator, part technology and process guru, and part 10X coordinator for an awesome team. The first two parts may sound familiar. The last part, thinking 10X, has been a core principle of our firm since the beginning. What would you need to change to make your firm 10X the revenue, client service, productivity, profitability, employee satisfaction or engagement that it is now? Eric’s job is to Think about how our firm could be, Plan for this future and Grow our firm into that 10X model.