Enabling a distributed workforce

Technology has transformed the modern workplace. In the not so distant past, employees did all of their work at the office because that’s where the files, phone and co-workers were. Today, technology makes it possible to do all of the work you would perform in the office from home or even the nearest coffee shop. But enabling a distributed workforce requires more than sending your employee home with a laptop. Managers, workers, and teams need to undergo significant shifts to make remote work successful.

Physical shifts

  • More firms are giving up brick and mortar altogether. At one time, having a brick-and-mortar location was essential to a firm’s image and functionality. A physical presence indicated reliability and permanence to clients and offered space for employee collaboration and client meetings. Now, technology makes it possible for firms to go 100% virtual, with all processes based in the cloud and employees working from home offices. More clients today understand that virtual does not equal unprofessional because they see the same trends in their industries.
  • Lower hurdles for start-up firms. The cloud has made starting a new firm as easy as securing a client list and purchasing monthly subscriptions to a few cloud solutions. Firms no longer need to write big rent checks every month or make huge investments in IT. This trend benefits those who get on board. For everyone else, it just means more competition from firms competing for your clients – and geography is no longer a limitation.
  • Hoteling and beach toweling. Firms that do maintain a physical presence are not building out huge spaces with a desk for every employee. Instead, they are “hoteling,” where desks are unassigned and employees reserve the kind of workspace they need for the day or week, or “beach toweling,” where reservations are not accepted and employees just claim space on a daily basis.
  • Anytime, anywhere. We’ve all come to expect 24/7 access to all kinds of data, from bank and investment account information to the world of information available in a Google search. We have the ability to access the client’s accounting software to provide advice based on real-time information. And now we can take advantage of anytime, anywhere access to work on a schedule that fits our lives rather than trying to live a life around work schedules.

Mental Shifts

  • Discipline. Not everyone has the discipline to be effective outside of a structured work environment. Workers must be organized self-starters to resist the allure of Netflix and laundry during the workday. If you have the right people, your team should thrive while working remotely.
  • Measurement. Traditional management measured performance on face-time and seeing work happen before your own eyes. The key is to shift to measuring productivity on actual output rather than mere presence in the workplace. Establish expectations and make sure employees are aware of deadlines and quality of deliverables.
  • Communication. How do you maintain an “open door policy” with a remote team? Managers need to be able to recognize differences and act according to individual employee needs. Using an “available” status, a feature built into most email programs, can become a metaphorical open door. Be cautious of letting communication slip into micromanagement, checking in several times a day when that is something you would not do if they were in the cubicle next door.
  • Relationship-building. Face-to-face meetings are not just about getting status updates, but about building relationships. Using video-conferencing tools like Go To Meeting, Facetime, Zoom and Google Hangouts can take the place of face-to-face conversation. Being able to see the other person allows non-verbal communication and discourages multitasking. Use technology like Slack or Google Chat to create a virtual water cooler and say good morning, ask about plans for the weekend, or share a meme.
  • Collaborative management. The traditional hierarchical management model focuses on individuals climbing up the ladder – putting in the long hours until they were invited to buy-in as a partner. This paradigm does not interest younger generations, who prefer a collaborative management approach. Collaborative management focuses on “knowledge transfer” so that client knowledge is not limited to one staff member.

Get ahead of demand

If your staff hasn’t asked you to accommodate remote work yet, it is certainly coming. Technology has made the viability of remote work arrangements ubiquitous. Som staff still consider remote to be a perk. Very soon, it will be an expectation. Get ahead of the demand now by taking steps towards the physical and mental shifts required to enable a distributed workforce.

Make sure your firm has the tools it needs to support a distributed workforce. Download the whitepaper Manage in the Cloud: Prepare to be Future Ready, to learn more.


Jim Boomer

CPA, CITP, CGMA, MBA, CEO, Boomer Consulting Inc.

All stories by: Jim Boomer

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