Remote work has gone from an interesting perk offered by progressive employers to a mainstay for much of the workforce – especially so-called “knowledge workers'' whose job is to work with information. According to research by Pew, only about one in five workers who said their jobs could be done from home were working remotely prior to 2020. In the time since the rate of remote work has more than tripled to over 70%.
And while remote working has plenty of advantages, it can also be challenging. More than 4 in 10 workers between the ages of 18 and 49 say they have struggled with staying motivated to complete their work at home. If you’re looking to improve your accounting firm’s engagement to the benefit of worker health and happiness while increasing customer satisfaction, we’ve got 5 helpful suggestions.
Recognize good performance
Maybe someone on your team is doing a particularly great job hitting their performance metrics, or they offered outstanding customer service during a difficult period of a client project. Tell people about it! Include them in the company newsletter, or send a message out to everyone on a shared chat thread or community. If you can offer some kind of prize or award, even better – but simply being recognized is enough to improve engagement for most people.
Allow autonomy whenever possible
As most home-based workers can tell you firsthand, remote working isn’t all quiet mornings in the kitchen with a hot cup of coffee. Personal responsibilities often bleed into work tasks, especially for parents. Others simply find they are more productive outside of the normal nine-to-five work schedule.
Certainly, there are times when you can’t have schedule flexibility, like meetings with clients. However, you should allow your team to work on projects autonomously if there isn’t a specific need for them to be available during a certain time. You can always schedule weekly check-in meetings to get updates on their progress or communicate through a messenger tool like Teams or Slack.
Be clear about expectations
One of the biggest challenges for remote workers can be understanding the specific ways their work impacts the firm. An easy way to get your team on the same page is to use metrics to set performance standards. Whether those metrics relate to a certain number of accounts or documents filed, client calls or emails, utilization rates, or any other type of benchmark, be sure to have an open, honest discussion with your team about why it’s important. From there, you should collaboratively set simple performance standards that are easy to understand and make sure you stick to them with weekly, monthly or quarterly reviews.
Don’t forget to socialize
Another of the most commonly-reported drawbacks of remote working is the feeling of isolation we get from working alone. According to some studies, full-time telework increased feelings of loneliness by 67% compared to the traditional office setting.
While remote working can never reach the same level of engaging interaction as an in-person setting, there are ways to bridge the gap. Many companies host casual “Zoom happy hours” or group meetings that are focused on socializing, not work projects. You might also create a company newsletter with space for personal contributions or highlights about the team. Think about the nature of your staff and how they might prefer to interact with their colleagues while taking a break from work.
The number one rule of success for remote work is communication. As in many other types of relationships, issues and obstacles can often be overcome by consistent, proactive communication. In a remote work situation, you’ll probably want to check in with your team more frequently than you did in person.
Keep in mind, however, that there’s a fine line between proactive communication and micromanagement. You don’t want to reach out to your team so often that it interrupts their workflow or becomes annoying. Try to set a fair schedule or standard for communication that works for both you and your staff.
Also, remember that everyone communicates and learns differently. Some might prefer async chat programs while others like to schedule a quick video call. Finding a balance between the preferred channels of communication and the most effective ones will require some trial and error.
Last word on remote team engagement
In the last two years, many accounting firms have made a transition to remote working. And while the lack of commutes and formal dress codes may be refreshing, the negatives of full-time telework can be a drag on your employees and overall productivity.
One of the best ways to leverage digital tools to increase remote team engagement is accounting practice management software. With the right software suite, you can track your team’s performance through metrics and KPIs so that you can reward top performers and help stragglers improve. You can also facilitate better communication among the team, leading to higher engagement rates and ultimately more satisfied clients.