3 Tips for Managing a Virtual Team
Post by: Jim Boomer, CEO
In February, a report from FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics found there was a significant upward trend in the number of people working remotely in the U.S. In the space of just one year, from 2016 to 2017, remote work grew by 7.9%. Over the previous 10 years, it grew 91%. When the dust settles on 2020, how much will remote work have grown? If the last month has been an indicator, a lot.
Thought leaders from within and outside of our profession have been predicting a seismic shift in the number of people working remotely for years. So really, the current public health crisis simply accelerated a trend that was already happening.
Of course, the need to shift happened so quickly that many firm leaders are struggling to manage team members who are suddenly working from home full-time. At Boomer Consulting, we’ve been a virtual team for years. Here are three best practices we’ve learned.
Measure output, not hours
Having people available for meetings and client calls during set hours is essential, but there’s no need for employees adhere to a strict 8:00 to 5:00 schedule while working remotely. Rather than counting hours, make sure everyone has clear tasks and responsibilities. People can do what needs to be done rather than trying to look busy because they’re “on the clock.”
The best way to ensure everyone is doing their job is to set clear expectations for each role and have regular progress check-ins. Make it a rule for managers to set up weekly one-on-one time with their team members. This time is about holding people accountable for their performance. But it’s also an opportunity to check in on their workload and provide support as needed.
Use your automated workflow solution and other project management tools to track productivity and output rather than using time as your main KPI for performance. Great workers will deliver no matter how many hours they’re at a desk.
Create a process for communication
Communication is crucial in a virtual team. There should never be a time when you wonder what people are working on.
Our team uses a combination of video conferencing, instant messaging, and social tools designed for remote teams to replicate being on-site as much as possible. Some options your firm might consider include:
Chat: Slack, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Workplace
Workflow: XCM, Karbon, Amelio, CCH Axcess Workstream, FirmFlow
Project Management: Trello, Asana, Monday
Video Conferencing: Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting
Having multiple communication tools gives us a way to communicate with the right person at the right time. However, having various communication tools also requires setting standards for the way people use those tools.
Create a firm standard for when to use emails, instant messages, video conferences, etc. Making it clear what tool to use and when helps establish expectations for how team members should interact with each other and provides a feeling of togetherness.
Without establishing a process for communication within a virtual team, it’s easy for people to fall back on the old habit of using email for everything, even when it’s not the best tool for the job.
Address the issue of being “always-on”
Some firm leaders worry that people won’t work enough when operating remotely. Typically, the opposite is true, and it can become a big problem. Remote workers can burn out quickly when they feel they’re always on the clock, so it’s an issue your firm will need to address. Encourage people to establish set hours and take advantage of paid time off.
Pay attention to your best performers as much as you do the rest of your team. Your start performers are usually the ones most at risk of overworking themselves without the clear boundaries that working from the office provides.
We do believe the current crisis will end but don’t expect things to go back to the way they were. Once your team is able to successfully work remotely, it’s impossible to tell them they need to be in the office 100% of the time to be productive.
Managing a virtual team can be challenging. But once you overcome the challenges, you’ll begin to recognize the opportunities and enjoy the rewards of leading a cohesive team – no matter where people are located.
Is your team aligned with a focused strategic plan and a strong vision for the future?
We can help provide your firm with clarity and understanding so that you can focus on the right objectives at the right time. Complete a Strategic Planning interest form and one of our Solutions Advisors will reach out to schedule a call.
Jim Boomer, CEO of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is an expert on managing technology within an accounting firm. He serves as the director of the Boomer Technology Circles, The Advisor Circle and the CIO Circle. He also acts as a strategic planning and technology consultant and firm adviser to CPA firms across the country. Accounting Today called him a “thought leader who can help accountants create next-generation firms.” Jim is a prolific writer with a monthly column in The CPA Practice Advisor and has been published in a number of industry publications including Accounting Today, Accounting Web, the International Group of Accounting Firms and several state society publications.