All the accounting firms I work with or visit have an office of some sort. Increasingly they have workers who are not based in that office. They work either part or full time away from the office. For example a Sydney firm has a senior accountant on the Gold Coast and a QLD firm has an accountant in WA. Even if the location is not quite as remote as these it is increasingly common for firms to have workers away from the office and quite often at a home office. I’m not talking about having workers offshore here, although most of the principles are the same.
There are some relatively young firms where the business has commenced without an office and no intention to ever have one – the workforce are all remote, or virtual as its sometimes described as. Sometimes you have remote workers because an employee moves location (typically because the spouse got a job elsewhere or for family reasons) and you are happy to retain them as employees even if they cannot be in your office.
I’ve observed some very positive things that come with this and also some challenges.
Some positives from the employer viewpoint:
- You are opening up a larger pool of possible quality workers for you to access.
This can be a massive benefit because many firms report challenges in finding and keeping quality people. In my experience there is a significant pool of mothers (and to a lesser extent fathers) who might be able to work the equivalent of full time if they work from home or can do part time if they are able to work from home. Not having to travel to the office means more time to do your work, even if it is in between school drop offs and pickups and other parenting responsibilities. It is not just parents of course it might be people who just don’t want to spend lots of time commuting and can’t find work close to home that is a good match for them.
- Remote workers force you to accelerate implementation or refinement of digital work processes
- You need less office space, which for some firms can mean sizeable savings in outgoings
Some challenges from the employer viewpoint:
- The out of sight out of mind trap
I’ve noticed in some firms that they seem to fall into a pattern of working differently with remote workers which is not positive. For example where someone else wants to ask them a question there is some reluctance to do so because they are not in the office. This does not need to be the case but it is an easy trap to fall into.
- Duplication of resources
If a remote worker is part time in the office and part time at home the employer will often be paying for two sets of screens and perhaps even a desk and chair. I’d like to think a note book computer would be used that the person brings into the office so there is only one computer
I talk with firms a lot about the importance of culture and where you have remote workers I see some challenges. The first is that you can end up with a bit of an us and them mentality – the people in the office can look enviously at the people working remotely and those working remotely feel they miss out on some things that the people in the office get – for example cakes for birthdays. The second is that your ability to build a consistent, collegial culture can be stretched. It can be done but it I think it is harder than if you have everyone in the same physical space each day.
Tools to support remote workers
I think there are two obvious sets of tools to help you integrate remote workers effectively into your business.
Whether it is Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or something else, these tools support almost instantaneous “face to face” interaction with remote workers. In a business I worked in where we had both remote and offshore workers I would regularly walk past a team member’s desk and wave to the remote or offshore person who was interacting with that team member. And those remote and offshore team members were included in daily team meetings. If you are not using video with your remote workers I believe you should change that immediately.
What I’m talking about here is tools such as Slack, Yammer, Teams, Trello, Asana and others which allow communication to go on without the use of email. Microsoft Teams is included in most Business subscriptions for Office 365 so there is no additional cost for it.
I’m sure you will think of a few more positives and challenges in the use of remote workers and I’d love to hear from you on these.
I believe the challenges can be addressed and acceptance of workers who spend all or some of their time out of your office will most likely be a positive thing for your firm.