What I’ve learned from running a remote accounting firm

Canadian CPA and entrepreneur Ryan Lazanis returns in this second instalment on ditching the traditional office and running a remote accounting firm – a topic many local accounting firm owners will find insightful.

During the course of about a year, I went from running a firm from a completely physical location, to running a hybrid model, to a running a remote accounting firm in all aspects. It was actually a very smooth and natural progression.

Many firm owners seem to be scared about running a remote accounting firm with remote employees, but it’s probably just because they either:

  • Have never tried it
  • Don’t trust their people
  • Have not developed the right processes
  • Do not have the right technology in place

Let’s look at each of those points briefly.


Those who have never tried it 


I wrote an article about the top trends facing accounting firms over the course of the next five years based on a recent World Economic Forum report (based on facts, no fake news here!), and one of the trends was an increasing shift towards the gig economy and that an insane amount of workplace flexibility will need to be provided as a result.

In the years to come, if your firm isn’t offering flexible, remote work opportunities, recruitment is going to be incredibly difficult as employees are actively searching for flexibility today. So getting comfortable with having your employees work remotely will be paramount.

And just as I showed in my previous article on The Pulse, it’s not necessary to dive completely into a remote model, you can progress into it. So why not try it out?


Not trusting your people


If you need to actually see your employee working in order to know whether they are getting work done or not, then you don’t trust your people.

If you can’t trust your people, this means you either have the wrong people in place, or more likely, you need to come to terms with the fact that there are other ways to measure productivity.

Base your team’s success on results and outputs and so long as those are being met, who cares where your team works from?


Don’t have the right processes in place


You need the right processes in order to be running a remote accounting firm. Without that, it will all fall apart.

You might not think about implementing processes to gel culture together, but actually, it’s a pretty important part of things. When you’re in a physical office, interacting with people just happens on its own. When your whole team is remote, you need to build social interactions into a more structured and process-driven manner, in my experience.

It could be about having monthly game sessions online with your team, or it could be about having several short, video chats scheduled throughout the week just to give people some ‘face-time’.

Maintaining a culture where everyone is virtual is possible, but it definitely requires more thought as well as some structured processes.


Don’t have the right tools in place


Running a remote accounting firm is also not possible unless you have the right technology in place.

Your firm should likely be mostly cloud-based when it comes to apps, but even if it’s not, there are some critical (and awesome) communication apps that I outline in another article here.

This is probably at the top of the list of things that are required for running a remote accounting firm. Without this, don’t even try it. Lucky for me, we were using these tools all along, so the transition from physical office to remote was easy.

READ: 3 great apps for managing out-of-office employees


Takeaways from my journey


Here are a few observations I’ve made on my journey towards running a remote accounting firm:

  • There’s no doubt that the remote model is the future. There’s a place for the physical office, but in terms of efficiency alone, the remote model wins hands down.
  • More effort is required to keep culture gelled together.
  • You absolutely need the right technology in place.
  • Recruitment is much easier among the millennial market. A+ talent is literally seeking out flexible, remote working opportunities.
  • Focus on results and ignore everything else. It will give you comfort about where/when/how your team works.
  • You don’t have to go all or nothing. My experience shows that you can implement some trials along the way to test things out.
  • At the same time, I also feel like running a hybrid model is harder than a purely remote model, since you have to balance culture between the physical office location team and the remote team, sometimes leading to a mismatch in treatment.

Is running a remote accounting firm right for you?


It honestly really depends on your firm. Some may still see value in a physical office, and that’s fine. But I think that you at need least to be giving the option to your team to work remotely when they want and as such, some planning needs to be done to make this happen.

Many of you may think that in order to be running a remote accounting firm that you need to start it from scratch, but that’s not true.

After all, I once had a physical office location myself.

 

You can the first part of Ryan Lazanis’s journey to running a remote accounting firm here.

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