Have you ever found yourself on the ‘right side’ of a trend? Unexpectedly a pandemic hits and your business model is not just modern, but advanced?
We want to share the research and information we have gathered in our journey in running a remote team (way before this pandemic). We have put significant time into building a culture and understanding the pitfalls of remote work along with the opportunities.
If you don’t put the effort into identifying the wrinkles you’ll find yourself falling off the bull. Wrangling the pros and cons of new business models takes deliberate attention and planning. As businesses start to consider reopening and are feeling pressure to set new policies, we thought our work on the topic might help. Read more below as we share it all.
These tips and tricks will support your long-term considerations, especially if you are moving from a traditional office to a hybrid or fully remote workforce. These are based on our pre-COVID research and must be considered within the health and safety regulations at the time of implementation.
What Choices Exist?
It is important to frame this conversation. There is work-from-home, hybrid, work-from-anywhere, traditional, and many other models. Our research was pre-COVID and formed our decision so keep that in mind.
Amplify Advisors has a distinct work model that is a bit unusual. In a non-COVID world, we have differentiated by being a culturally integrated model.
What does that even mean?
Our fractional CFOs and controllers, our consultants, and our contractors match the culture of the client. We have always done our work with client experience in mind. And most of the time, in a non-COVID world, that has been face-to-face. For example, if the other executives are meeting in-person, you’ll find your Amplify CFO at the table with the team too.
We have clients across Alberta and in other provinces across Canada. Those remote opportunities are largely virtual and always have been. But our intention is to build offices in the communities we serve. COVID hasn’t changed that strategy for us. Today we are based in Calgary but to bring the client experience model to other centers we will be hiring regional leaders to lead in those communities.
Our Accounting Services team is virtual. The controllers and the book-keeping accountants that serve our clients work from their home. Once in a while, they get asked to meet in person but the pricing is set based on a virtual model. Our Accounting Headquarters is an internal team that supports the quality and automation of all of our services. The Centre of Excellence professionals that work in AHQ also work from the comfort of their home as well.
The rest of us? Well, in a non-COVID world we try to be at our client’s office as much as possible. Once in awhile, you’ll find us at home grinding through head-down work. In between meetings you’ll possibly catch us at a co-working desk or even a coffee shop. Ryan and Tyler move around the whole city and can be found in just about any corner!
So, while we are typically not remote or virtual due to our role on the executive team of our clients, and our integration into the culture of clients, Amplify’s epic team does not share offices or work together on site. Hence our intense focus on researching and building a remote team.
In our research on remote work, there are two common themes that show up nearly every time.
First is the need to use collaboration technology and build it into the operating model and culture of the business.
- Teams or Slack are the most common
It’s important to feel connected through it, including operationally, but also still have that “water cooler”, unstructured collaboration and sharing & other culturally inspired uses.
This can be a change management process in and of itself and takes some discipline and time.
We are starting to see the payoff at Amplify and it really does work if you stick with it.
Here are some examples of what we have.
- Watercooler – Last week it was all about you know who – Trump!
- Great Reads – Here is an example of the last article shared with our epic team. The article discusses how smart people can sabotage success.
- Job Postings – Ryan lets the team know what is bubbling in the market. This ensures that his candidate listing is the best that the whole team can come up with. Amplify has a team of 15-20+ each month and that gives us access to a CPA network of 100s that we directly worked with.
- Communications: General – This is where the magic happens. When our team needs a template or recommendation or technical answer they collaborate together and get the power of the full team. Recent examples include recommendations for equity administration software, recruiter referral for a warehouse manager, an RFP for audit template & discussion on the best commercial banking user interfaces.
- What’s Amplifying? – Mandatory 3-minute read of our weekly newsletter.
- Business Development & Sales/Marketing – celebrate the successes, the events, and other related topics
- Amplify Playbook – policies and documentation of all things Amplify
The second theme that keeps coming up in all research is the need for face-to-face time.
It’s important to schedule some unstructured time, as well as team events or team meetings. If you don’t actually schedule it then it never gets beyond the idea stage – the key is to get it in the calendar and then start planning.
When geographical obstacles make this expensive or impractical then video (or alternatives) should be considered. We are all experts in that with COVID, right? Zoom wine nights and virtual poker and everything silly thing in between keeps people connected when the first choice of in-person can’t happen.
In a non-COVID world, this is not best practice.
Schedule the team an opportunity to be face-to-face. If you live in the same city do it often and with a cadence people can depend on. If you are a work-from-anywhere model or you have people in multiple cities then you won’t get to do it as often but you should plan for it in the budget.
Frequency depends on budgets, practicality, and culture.
The key here is the unstructured time which creates connection, deepens culture, and allows for chaos, creativity, and innovation. It can be hard to allow for that in a zoom call but there are creative alternatives if necessary.
In addition, (but not unique) is the need for communication and consideration of culture.
In a non-COVID world here are examples of what we do:
- Quarter Team events – brief ‘townhall’ is the maximum agenda when we gather together each quarter. It is a chance to socialize and it is optional. During COVID we had one virtual game night and one ‘drinks’ social. When the world slowly opened up again we followed the regulations and made a point of keeping this opportunity up. In a non-COVID world, we visit clients and keep it light and a drop-in style (except the holiday party!)
- COFO Day – Classic Old Fashioned Office Day is not possible in COVID but when it does resume it reminds us CAs of the good ‘ol audit days. We gather in a board room or booked space, we come and go and work independently. We chat a bit, we go for coffee, it’s a ‘playing house’ day of what it would feel like if we had an office.
- Book Club – Ever since COVID hit the book club has been virtual. It is a shame, but necessary. Prior to the pandemic, we gathered for breakfast to chat about our book. Books so far?
- Playing to Win by A.G. Lafley & Roger L. Martin
- Traction by Gino Wickman
- Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
- Why Simple Wins by Lisa Bodell
- Why Are We Yelling? by Buster Benson
Fair Enough But You are an Accounting Consulting Firm not a Remote Work Expert
It is true. We don’t sell ourselves as experts in this. You should want to get the goods from the actual sources!
We’ve included a flood of information below in podcasts and articles if you want to learn more. These are from the true experts!
But bottom line upfront? The two most important priorities to start with are:
- collaborative work environments like Teams or Slack
- face-to-face opportunities and/or investment in other team connection events
Here is a great podcast called, How Science Can Fix Remote Work
If you prefer reading this article captures it too, Why Work From Home Causes Stress In More Than Just Zoom Calls — And How To Overcome It
(Both of these are by Adam Grant and he is the BEST when it comes to work-life)
Another great podcast, Communicate Better with Your Global Team
Here is a quick read: How To Better Manage Your Team That Works Remotely
Here is another worthwhile read: How to build culture in a remote team
Here is a bit of a downer article but we include for some balance: Thinking of Starting a Remote Business? Think Very Carefully.
Here is a radical guy (that we disagree with) but he has good points: Companies who Adopt Remote Work will Replace Every Company who Doesn’t
What Else Makes it or Breaks it?
Communication over multiple mediums is very important. If you are not clear in what is expected from a remote team then chances of them meeting those expectations are pretty slim.
In the Communication Made Simple course, we learned that communication is an exercise in memorization. If the audience memorizes it – you know you are winning! And how do you get them to do that? You repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, …….
To get the team onboard you have to make sure they are aware of what options you are providing, that they understand the importance of participating, that they commit to being connected even though they are remote, and they take action that is aligned with your expectations.
You need to keep at it. This doesn’t work quickly or overnight. You need to set a tone at the top, participate, communicate, and listen to the market (which in this case is your team!). Pivot and adjust to fit the team and you’ll eventually find they get engaged.
Another idea that we love and will someday allocate a budget for is an allowance that is strictly used to connect with the team. The firm we know that does this uses it to rent co-share space occasionally, pay the mileage of the Red Deer employee to come and meet them at the library, for meals together etc. The young ones even rented a house in Mexico for tax season and worked 12-16 hour days together on the beach. How awesome is that?
Employees are expected to use their budget or lose it if they don’t (and it’s considered a performance issue).
This company is 100% virtual and across Canada but their “pods” are usually within 400km of each other.
Due to COVID, we did a mini version of this. #amplifylovescommunity was a fun opportunity to #supportlocal and do safe small group meet-ups. We even had a contest too! Follow the hashtag on LinkedIn to keep up to date on our antics.
This is a passionate topic of ours and we try and take it pretty seriously. It’s an exercise of change management in our experience so far! It’s the biggest attraction and the biggest issue of working on our epic team. If we didn’t spend significant time on it we think it would have ruined us by now.
We would love to connect with you and collaborate more or have you share your experiences on this. It’s such an important topic especially now that more people are working remotely. (And we don’t think that is a trend that is going to reverse any time soon).
Aha with Amplify is coming up on November 17th @ 12 pm. We are discussing all the hot topics for CPAs this month so you don’t want to miss this one.
Want to Hear About Amplify in < 20 Minutes?