Remote-First Collaboration for accelerated results
Remote-first cultures drive work through the concept that each person is operating independently for the best results. This does not mean that individuals have no oversight or loose governance, but it does mean that each person has authority and autonomy to do the work they need to do to provide the most value to clients.
A remote-first company often takes a team-based approach to work. For smaller tasks, these are batched and completed with regular checks on productivity. For larger projects, the teams define objectives and work together collaboratively, even if they are not working at the same time to complete objectives.
Three elements of effective remote-first collaboration
Three elements are incredibly beneficial to move from a brick and mortar mindset to a client first mindset.
Maintain the same level of client service regardless of location.
Think about client contact as all interactions you have (direct or indirect).
Build relationships from the inside out by establishing trust early.
In others words, focus on client value.
Batching small tasks
For many smaller projects (think simple tax returns or other items that are difficult to schedule efficiently due to time vs. benefit to enter), batching can provide a helpful method for resolution.
There are a few critical elements to make this work in a billable time context:
Establish a minimum rate for the task at hand. For most firms, this would be at the 15 or 30 minute increment
Assign a team to manage small billable jobs that fit this parameter
Create a list of batchable work
Set up a meeting with a team that has the purpose of “burning down” this list
For each meeting (preferably daily) look at which tasks have been accomplished, which need to be, and what problems need to be addressed
As each task is completed, use the minimum charge for completion. The goal of each task in this batch system is to complete it, on average, at the minimum time block. Some may be slightly under, some may be slightly over.
Why is this mentioned in a remote-first company culture meeting? This type of work can be accomplished if the group is completely in the same room or not. Remote-first cultures create collaboration structures that are flexible enough to work regardless of employee location.
In fact, this particular model can even work if the employees are not in the same time zone (or responding as if they are unable to make the meeting). The batched work list, as well as the questions, can be answered using collaboration software instead of being at the same meeting.
Larger project collaboration
Remote-first project collaboration exhibits key qualities that differ from what you may be used to. Here are some suggestions for managing work as if everyone is working independently (although one method requires some explanation to see the distinction).
Method 1: Using the batching model
The batching model for smaller billable tasks may be used as a method for larger project work. Instead of breaking out the tasks into a batch list, each team member would be part of a team that meets daily to discuss what has been done, what needs to be done, and what roadblocks exist. The daily meeting is intended to create velocity and accountability towards efficient work. The discussion on roadblocks may allow another team member to answer a question outside of the meeting to improve the speed of project completion.
This method may reduce the total number of billable hours for a project. Keep this in mind, and use prior year estimates or actuals to determine what to bill to a client.
Method 2: Live peer review
In many instances, having two people review a complex tax return at the same time will catch issues and create a higher quality end product. This real-time cross-check method is used in software development to reduce code evaluation after an initial project is designed and coded, and the same benefits are true in any context where someone can watch the work as it happens.
Although this may seem like a contradictory method to a remote-first culture, it is not. This method is results focused, works on implicit trust between the two reviewers, and establishes a client focus from the very beginning.
Again, this may reduce additional review cycles down the workflow chain for highly complex work. Keep this in mind as you manage billing for the client – they have received a high-quality product.
Remote-First Collaboration – A Path to Increased Value
In reality, this article (as well as my prior article on remote-first work) might be called “Value-First” work. Remote teams may require different work methods. As you can see from the examples above, there are common elements:
Short, frequent meetings to establish cadence
Peer feedback, even with small jobs
Dynamic project scheduling based on the needs of the team now
These changes may seem counterintuitive if you are used to linear work in a workflow app, or when you are focused on passing work papers from office to office, but the result is the same. And, the collaboration that occurs will decrease error as the projects move forward since there are more opportunities to discuss issues and get help.
In other words, creating a remote first work culture will help to drive significant improvements both in quality of teamwork as well as quality of work. Trying with a small set of tasks is the easiest way to see if it works. Your technology staff may already use similar methods, and their experience can be leveraged to provide insight to test.
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.