Arming staff with the right tools to succeed

By Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA

Q. I'm the managing partner of a small CPA firm who has found managing staff remotely to be a challenge. Do you have any suggestions?

A. For much of the past year, it felt like nothing would ever be normal again. We all stopped going to the office and tried setting up our work machines with our printers at home, hoping to find a few minutes of peace at the kitchen table to get some actual work done. In the 12 months since the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt, we've all had to become skilled and efficient remote workers, even as parts of the economy opened up.

One thing we've learned from all of this is just how hard it can be to keep all of your staff on track with the right projects and deliverables at the right time. Sharing incomplete calendars and scheduling too many meetings isn't going to cut it, especially since so many have committed to working remotely, either part time or full time, for the foreseeable future. Let's examine which software and management tools work best for a remote-work environment.

Make sure your employees have the right hardware

A friend of mine had to work on his 10-year-old Dell laptop at home for weeks at the beginning of the pandemic. His employer did not initially provide any hardware to employees when everyone was sent home. Because he wasn't able to complete his work on his iPad, his only option was the laptop he bought fresh out of college a decade earlier. His boss eventually resolved the issue and had new laptops sent to the team, but this slowed his work to a crawl temporarily.

Maybe your issues aren't as obvious as this antiquated hardware example, but just about every business has experienced some form of change over the last year. Check in with your team members and make sure everyone can complete all their normal tasks without relying on personal hardware or working extra hours. When done correctly, remote work should help streamline your business, not hurt it.

The right hardware means more than just a computer. Don't forget about printers, scanners, monitors, desks, port replicators, etc. Check with each person on your team to make sure they have exactly what they need.

Deploy software to manage all of your team's projects and tasks

Software such as Asana and can keep your team on schedule even when you're not in the same place. Sharing one digital whiteboard can show exactly what everyone is working on and how long they need to be focusing on each task. Honestly, team management software should be in your normal workweek arsenal regardless of location. The hours of stress and miscommunication you save make the upkeep of team management software worthwhile.

When exploring these team management apps, be sure to look for integration with your existing platforms. If one seems tailor-made for Microsoft, but you're a Google shop, there's probably a better option out there. Also, don't forget to check for mobile apps when you're window-shopping. Many of these are excellent choices for your phone and tablet.

Use calendar scheduling apps

One of the ironies of working remotely and reducing travel is that our calendars are busier than ever. This makes coordinating appointments with people outside of your organization as complicated as the handstand scorpion yoga pose. Fortunately, you can choose from a number of solutions to simplify this process.

Applications such as Calendly, Doodle, and Microsoft Bookings connect to your calendar and allow people to self-schedule with your calendar, based on their availability. Some applications even offer suggestions automatically if both calendars are connected.

For group scheduling, Doodle is the way to go. Coordinating group calendars can be a nearly impossible task, so Doodle resolves this by allowing each member to list his or her availability at predetermined time slots, which allows organizers to select the best slot for the group.

Add teamwide training tools

If you've moved to any new software over the last year and weren't able to get together for any formal training sessions, screen-capturing software can help close the knowledge gap. Camtasia and Loom are great options that allow for simultaneous screen and webcam capture. The recording quality will be more than good enough to get everyone started on any new products, offerings, or software you're using internally or selling to clients, and the recordings can be stored and shared forever.

In addition to team training, these apps can also be a great way to record a brief presentation for clients or customers. If you have physical props to go along with your slideshow, these are perfect for capturing your entire physical and digital presentation.

Trainual is an excellent app that allows you to create training tutorials for everything from client onboarding to training staff on new organizational processes. Features include the ability to track individual completion and even create quizzes. This can give you the peace of mind of knowing that your team is up to date on the latest processes and procedures.

Manage team performance

When working in the office, it can be a challenge to manage staff and ensure everyone is receiving regular feedback and coaching about their performance. Sprinkle in a layer of working remotely, and the process can be even more daunting. Thankfully, good applications are readily available for managing staff remotely and in the office.

15five, Culture Amp, and Lattice are great examples of apps that can help teams organize continuous performance feedback. This means you can easily document positive feedback for top performers and provide constructive feedback for anyone who's struggling.

Forget tracking and monitoring software

Remote-monitoring apps have been a hot topic since remote work began, and the debates about them have only increased in the last year. In my opinion, no tracking software on the planet can replace an open and responsible workplace.

Tracking software will automatically put every employee on guard. Your best employees will no longer feel trusted to deliver on the work they've been delivering with flying colors in the past. I argue that a worthy manager should be able to spot slacking employees without tracking software.

Productivity will not increase with tracking software. The bad employees will find ways around your monitoring. The good employees will feel offended, leading to a decrease in output and overall morale.

It's not worth hurting the relationships you've built over the years. A good employee doesn't need a manager standing over his or her shoulder all the time in the office, so why would that be any different remotely? The bottom line is that you should trust your employees, not your tracking software.

Remember that everyone is carrying a heavy load

What a year it has been. Millions of households have experienced job loss, sickness, and even death. Even with vaccines now being distributed, it will take a long time to get back to any kind of "normal." There are more important things in life than work. Remembering this will show your employees that you care about them and their loved ones.

Remote work has exploded in popularity and, even after the pandemic is behind us, will still be a part of nearly every business. As such, remote staff management is now a crucial business leadership skill. When applied effectively, it can result in happier and more productive employees. It's important to know how to manage your team members from across the hall or around the globe.

— By Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA

About the author

Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is vice president of growth and success at Botkeeper.

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