Best Practices for Accounting Teams When Working Remote — According to Former Accountants
Mar 23, 2020 | By John Siegel
Well, here we are. With most of the world on some sort of quarantine as a precaution to the further spread of COVID-19, many businesses are confronted with the uncomfortable reality that they weren’t totally prepared for a scenario that would demand most of — if not all of — their employees work remotely.
While there will, undoubtedly, be a few growing pains along the way, the fact is that the workforce’s digital literacy — combined with a plethora of logistics, communication, and efficiency solutions available — can make the transition from a united team to a remote one, now and moving forward, a simple transition.
Relying almost exclusively on the veteran, former accountants of FloQast, here is a handy guide for accounting teams who — ready or not — are suddenly working remotely.
Digital Preparation: Laying the Foundation for an Efficient Remote Accounting Team
While the recent shift to remote work might be startling, given how widespread the move was, it’s not as if the trend of working from home hasn’t been on the rise for quite some time.
According to Owl Labs, roughly 62% of employees between 22 and 65 say they work remotely at least occasionally. Additionally, the report found that, while 30% of people report working remotely full-time, 18% work remotely one-to-three times per week.
Despite this, preparing employees to work remotely often happens on an employee-by-employee basis, leaving some more prepared to work outside the office than others.
“This might sound pretty basic, but having worked for companies that don’t do remote work well, having up-to-date contact information, a standard instant messaging system, and visibility into other team members’ calendars is really important,” said Brandon Edgar, a Senior Accounting Technology Consultant in FloQast’s Columbus, Ohio office, and a former accountant himself. “Taking that a step further, utilizing cloud storage, VPN, and SSO authentication ensure that employees have access to documents, regardless of their physical location.”
Wanting to better illustrate the importance of things like VPN and SSO authentication for remote teams, I turned to my colleague Andrew Merenbach, CISSP, CISM, CISA, a Senior Security Engineer possessing three certifications that sound very important, for guidance.
“Authentication means proving you are who you say you are,” said Andrew. “Traditionally, this is done with username and password only — a single factor, or method, that we often refer to as 'Something you know.' If someone guesses your username and password, they can pretend to be you and do anything you can do. A smartcard or one-time code generator on your phone can act as a second factor, in this case, ‘Something you have,’ which makes it more difficult for someone to impersonate you without physical access to your device.”
Leading from the Homefront: Efficiently Managing a Remote Accounting Team
At the risk of stating the obvious, perhaps the biggest challenge remote teams face is not being able to turn to a colleague and simply ask a question. Turning to a manager and asking which project should be prioritized is a natural part of the job, and while solutions like Slack make it easy to communicate short messages or share a kitten .gif, oftentimes, messages with more nuance result in misunderstandings.
“Having spent a considerable portion of my career working from home, one thing as a manager that I do is host virtual office hours,” said Debbie Byrne, CPA, a Solutions Consultant specializing in accounting and technology within FloQast’s Customer Success team. “It’s not meant to micromanage them at all — it’s a time where staff can ask any questions they might have and is a nice way to have some sort of contact throughout the day. It ensures that I am still a support system if they have questions or concerns.”
As someone who just ran downstairs to grab my delivery of: A banana, ice cream, a variety of berries, chicken, and none of the garlic, tortillas, or parmesan I ordered from InstaCart, I feel like I’m in a good position to testify to the wide variety of distractions present in the home. As a remote work veteran, Debbie has a plan for that, too.
“Also — Lists,” she continued. “Working from home, you have so many distractions right in front of you — laundry, dishes, the new episode of God knows what. Every morning, I write down a list and categorize it: Work, Home, or Family and Friends. Throughout the day, if I ever got overwhelmed, I would go back to my list and see what I could accomplish. It holds you accountable and identifies if you need to ask for help.”
The Art of Transparency: Clear Communications Dictate Success
We’ve already touched upon how vital it is to have instant messaging tools in place and designated time for managers and staff to get together, but oftentimes, questions go unasked, and, as a result, unanswered.
Thomas Kramer, MBA, an Accounting Technology Consultant at FloQast, pointed out how important this kind of interaction — or lack thereof — is.
“Always having an open line of communication to answer questions or concerns is key when it comes to working remotely,” said Kramer, who also was an auditor and, later, an accountant before joining FloQast. “Whether it be your senior accountant for all staff accountants and new team members, or your Accounting Manager for your senior accountants, it’s also important that your team knows who their go-to colleague is for questions.”
On the subject of communication and organization, Kramer continued. “Also, make sure to clearly set expectations for each team member, and discuss how their contributions will impact the close. The more organized you can be the better.”
The Key to Collaboration: How Teams Can Best Organize Processes and Responsibilities
To organize ongoing projects, longer initiatives, and day-to-day responsibilities, the FloQast Marketing team leans on a project management tool to clearly identify what team members are working on and when they're due.
Though not an accountant himself, Alex Pukos, a near-mythical Product Support Manager at FloQast, has a substantial track record of working with accounting teams to use the product as effectively as possible. Given how many teams he’s worked with since joining FloQast in 2018, Pukos has developed a particular fondness for helping accounting teams — remote accounting teams, in particular — eliminate status meetings.
“It is always music to my ears that a client has replaced weekly or even daily status meetings after adopting FloQast,” said Pukos, whose propensity for solving support tickets and developing educational content for FloQast users and employees alike has merited him the nickname “Professor Pukos,” by his colleagues.
“By simply having FloQast as their central repository for close-related processes, management knows the real-time status of the close and the staff has a location to communicate. As teams move remotely, this visibility is even more crucial because informal and formal meetings alike are harder to come by. Instead of spending the first 10 minutes of a screen share doing mic checks and quieting the kids and dogs, our clients can dedicate that precious time to address other challenges their department may be facing.”
Find a Way to Make It Fun
A recurring theme in my informal communications with my colleagues was a desire to continue the in-person interactions that tend to take place toward the end of the week.
Scheduling virtual happy hours, playing games, or even giving a tour of a team member’s new, temporary office, are great ways to keep the communal spirit alive, even if the team is scattered to the wind. We have a job to do, after all, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun.