Scale your accounting firm efficiently

Guide to Managing Remote Accountants

Guide to Managing Remote Accountants

Year 2020 has seen remote working become an involuntary option for many companies across the globe responding to the unprecedented circumstances presented by the recent pandemic crisis. However, there are many firms that have benefited from building remote teams for years as part of their start-up strategy aimed to best scale profitably. 

Many bookkeeping and accounting businesses have transitioned to providing services remotely through the use of cloud software and applications. This, along with the use of automation in the industry, gave room to the use of remote teams for these businesses. A concept that has grown aggressively over the past decade. Those who had made this transition, will tell you that being able to ride the pandemic wave with relative ease was just the cherry on top of what was already a system that worked beautifully for employers, employees and clients. 

 We asked owners of such accounting firms to share insights on how they have successfully managed remote staff, both onshore and offshore, for several years and grown their businesses successfully.

Q 1. Why did you choose to build a remote or semi remote accounting and bookkeeping team over a completely in-house workforce?

Martin McEwen, CPA – Padgett Business Services Sud-Ouest: 

Three reasons:

  1. The remote solution offered a rapidly scalable team to manage anticipated business growth.
  2. The remote team had qualifications and experience in the main software packages we were using, which allowed us to add resources that were able to contribute immediately.
  3. The flexibility and pricing offered by a remote team fit with our business model. We can add resources temporarily for projects, and more easily understand the costs associated with those resources.

 

Dean Paley, CPA – Dean C. Paley Professional Corporation: 

Finding skilled bookkeepers and accountants in my location and when we have found staff it has been difficult to retain them. Part of this is our ability to train personnel on how to perform functions. Having a remote, outsourced firm, allows me to incrementally increase business and offer more services quickly and efficiently.

Mahin Khawaja, Founder – Adroit Accountax: 

It’s Cheaper. It’s more efficient as a remote workforce can concentrate on doing actual work while the team in office always gets distracted with calls etc. The Idea came when my colleague kept telling me how much more they can work from home instead of in the office.

Q 2. What were the challenges setting up a remote team? How did you overcome them? 

Martin McEwen, CPA – Padgett Business Services Sud-Ouest:

  1. Any shortcomings in your processes are quickly exposed by a remote team. Accounting processes need to be clearly documented for each client, including all of the ‘inside knowledge’ with respect to workarounds.
  2. Benchmarks for time required to process clients’ needs to be understood to ensure the remote teams are working to firm standards. If the hours spent are way off budget, it could flag a process problem that did not exist previously.
  3. There is a time investment to anticipate in early days while you are onboarding the remote team – training on your clients, answering questions, and quality control. Remote tools like Teams or Skype allow this to happen seamlessly, but anticipate some additional work for you or your team.

 

Dean Paley, CPA – Dean C. Paley Professional Corporation:

Often with bookkeeping, work can be unique to a specific client and tailoring services for each client can be a challenge when onboarding new staff whether in-hour or outsourced. OBox took the lead by initially allocating a higher skilled staff member to my account to learn and understand my clients and systems and then pass that knowledge to a more appropriate person. The onboarding was done using vide meetings, Skype chat and email.

Mahin Khawaja, Founder – Adroit Accountax: 

Communication was the biggest challenge. It used to think that it’s easier to train people sitting in front of you but with the right technological tools and the right people, remote training isn’t much of a challenge anymore.

Q 3. What are the best tools for collaboration, communication and workflow management between teams? 

Martin McEwen, CPA – Padgett Business Services Sud-Ouest: 

  1. We try to keep things simple – if there is an acceptable Office 365 solution we will use it. For this reason, we use Teams for communication (replacing Skype) for chat, screen share, audio and video, and Sharepoint groups for collaboration and file sharing. For projects requiring the team to work on our system (for programs requiring a local database), we have a dedicated workstation and use TeamViewer.
  2. For accounting workflows, we focus on QuickBooks Online and ReceiptBank. We use Rewind in the background for backup purposes, and VerifyIQ for file quality control.

 

Dean Paley, CPA – Dean C. Paley Professional Corporation:

We have traditionally used email between myself and Obox but vide calls/Zoom meetings, MS Teams may also be good ways to collaborate.

Mahin Khawaja, Founder – Adroit Accountax: 

Skype, Microsoft team, google. Google sheets and Dropbox. We use all of them on a daily basis.

Q 4. Can any manager support a remote team or does it take someone with specific attributes? 

Martin McEwen, CPA – Padgett Business Services Sud-Ouest: 

A manager can support a remote team but they need to be aware of the differences in managing remote versus managing local. Once you understand how to ‘package’ the work to be done and how to efficiently review the work, things will run smoothly.

Dean Paley, CPA – Dean C. Paley Professional Corporation:

I would think that some understanding that when you outsource any activity that a certain level of control is relinquished . With that in mind, one would have to understand that work would not always be completed exactly the way that you would want it. This requires communication and understanding.

Mahin Khawaja, Founder – Adroit Accountax: 

No, for me anyone can be working from home or managing a remote team if they have the right work ethic. I don’t need to think too much about it. It’s simple and very common.

Q 5. What skills and attributes should an accounting firm look for in a remote resource?

Martin McEwen, CPA – Padgett Business Services Sud-Ouest:

Technical competence is essential. Your remote resource should be able to function within your chosen software without requiring a lot of technical support. As we were migrating to QuickBooks Online at the time of our shift to remote, we looked for a provider that had all of the certifications.

Dean Paley, CPA – Dean C. Paley Professional Corporation:

I would say communication, a detail oriented personality , and the ability to manage multiple data sources.

Mahin Khawaja, Founder – Adroit Accountax: 

Attitude towards the work. I look for people who are very eager to impress and want to do more and more. Remote resources either meet the criteria needed to work responsibly or they don’t. This becomes fairly obvious in the first few months.

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