Due to globalization, demographic changes and the adoption of exponential technologies by companies in India, the job landscape has been evolving.
Furthermore, internet and exponential technologies have given way to many lucrative employment opportunities specifically for white collar labor force.
Such employment opportunities are giving rise to a new style of working specifically termed as the gig economy.
The gig economy is promoting outsourcing of jobs outside the boundaries of corporates in the form of contractual or freelance work arrangements.
Many fortune 500 companies like IBM, Procter and Gamble and AT&T have substituted traditional offices with virtual work arrangements partially or fully. Companies in many industries and sectors like IT, accounting and Public Relations are heavily relying on remote teams.
This is due to ever increasing globalization of work, market demand and the need to reduce costs and time of commuting.
Since the nature of work undertaken by accounting firms is such that it can be done by chartered accountants sitting at remote location, accounting industry too is relying heavily on virtual work arrangements.
Benefits of Virtual Work Arrangements
These virtual work arrangements have cited benefits both for accounting firms as well as its employees. Some of these benefits include –
- personal flexibility,
- autonomy of work and
- reduced costs.
Accounting firms prefer hiring contractual employees as it helps them save on real estate costs and hire employees who are highly productive. On the other hand, employees have to spend less time commuting and get more flexibility and autonomy in their work.
Limitations of Virtual Work Arrangements
However, given these benefits both accounting firms as well as employees are becoming aware that such virtual work arrangements have their own set of challenges. Some of these challenges include:
- lack of clear communication
- limited trust on virtual teams
- absence of reliable tools for communication and engagement
- absence of work – life balance etc.
Thus, chartered accountant firms need to acknowledge these challenges and apply various strategies to managing remote teams.
This article focuses on the critical challenges faced by the remote workers and provides a guide to best practices to be adopted by accounting firms to overcome them.
Lay Out Clear Expectations
Due to lack of face – to – face meeting or communication, it is typical of virtual employees to have lack of understanding of both the individual and team goals set by you as an accounting firm. Thus, it is your responsibility to clearly articulate the end results expected from your virtual team.
Lack of clarity regarding your work expectations would create a gap between the expectations set and the actual results achieved by remote employees. Thus, to avoid such gaps it is essential for accounting firms to layout expectations with great clarity.
Treat Virtual Employees Much Like Local Employees
Traditional employees work in a central location thus enabling (i) effective interpersonal coordination, (ii) internal communication, (iii) sharing of social experience as well as (iv)creating an environment of giving and seeking advice.
Virtual work, on the other hand, gives way to outsourcing work beyond office boundaries. Such remote collaborations can distort communication as there may be at times a delay in response which may frustrate the remote workers.
This is because unlike local employees they do not have the privilege of solving their queries immediately, face to face. Hence, delay in responding to their mails may leave remote employees distracted, confused and even criticizing, eventually distancing them from the team.
Thus, to overcome this challenge, accounting firms must schedule meetings on a regular basis through video calls, informal team meetings, social interaction via social networking platforms, periodical events, get togethers etc.
Go for Macro Over Micro Management
The fundamental principles that define virtual management include:
- Output Vs Input
- Autonomy Vs Administration
- Flexibility Vs Rigidity
These fundamental principles not only govern the remote employees but also accounting firms and processes they formulate. Let’s understand how.
If you take the case of traditional employee, KPIs that govern his/her performance are different from the ones governing performance of remote workers.
For instance, besides achieving goals, the number of hours as well as the degree of help extended to peers are other factors that determine his performance at work.
However, remote employees solely depend on KPIs like the goals achieved or the amount of value added for accounting firms.
Thus, it is impractical for accounting firms to micromanage the tasks of virtual employees. Focusing on what is being done or activities undertaken by remote workers on a daily basis over goals accomplished can leave such employees frustrated.
Hence, accounting firms must understand the dynamics of working with remote teams and avoid micromanagement.
Ensure Proper Infrastructure in Place
Nothing is more intimidating for remote workers than lack of proper infrastructure in place.
For instance if a remote employee is unable to download files, participate in a video or conference call or receives emails or messages at odd times, he gets distracted. This in turn makes him unproductive.
Thus, as an accounting firm, you need to ensure that proper team collaboration tools are in place. Furthermore, make sure that your firm lays out a clear process to use such tools.
For instance, since video conferences are part and parcel of virtual work arrangement, your accounting firm makes use of intelligent video conferencing and screen sharing tools that help collaborate effectively with video, audio and web conferencing from anywhere and on any device.
Furthermore, to align your remote team members and give them the power to give their best, you can put in place team collaboration software.
Ensure There Is Effective Communication
As a remote employer, an accounting firm has to ensure that there is a proper communication strategy at place. Such a strategy may include setting suitable number of formal weekly meetings with remote employees.
Furthermore, you must also give clear instructions with regards to the type and amount of work that needs to be done on a daily basis.
These instructions may also include giving clarity with regards to deliverable that is urgent and the ones that can be worked on over a period of time. Such a clarity would help in reducing confusion and inefficiency on the part of remote employees.
In addition to this, you may also set guidelines regarding when to communicate, where to communicate and how much to communicate. Such guidelines can be set taking into consideration the virtual employees’ preferred response time.