Remote-First Collaboration for accelerated results

Remote-first cultures drive work through the concept that each person is operating independently for the best results. This does not mean that individuals have no oversight or loose governance, but it does mean that each person has authority and autonomy to do the work they need to do to provide the most value to clients.

A remote-first company often takes a team-based approach to work. You can batch smaller tasks, and complete them with regular checks on productivity. For larger projects, the teams define objectives and work together collaboratively, even if they are not working at the same time to complete objectives.

Three elements of effective remote-first collaboration

Three elements are incredibly beneficial to move from a brick and mortar mindset to a client-first mindset.

  1. Maintain the same level of client service regardless of location.

  2. Think about client contact as all interactions you have (direct or indirect).

  3. Build relationships from the inside out by establishing trust early.

In others words, focus on client value.

Batching small tasks

For many smaller projects (think simple tax returns or other items that are difficult to schedule efficiently due to time vs. benefit to enter), batching can provide a helpful method for resolution.

There are a few critical elements to make this work in a billable time context:

  • Establish a minimum rate for the task at hand.  For most firms, this would be at the 15 or 30 minute increment

  • Assign a team to manage small billable jobs that fit this parameter

  • Create a list of batchable work

  • Set up a meeting with a team that has the purpose of “burning down” this list

  • For each meeting (preferably daily) look at which tasks have been accomplished, which need to be, and what problems need to be addressed

As the team completes each task, use the minimum charge for completion. The goal of each task in this batch system is to complete it, on average, at the minimum time block. However, some may be slightly under, some may be slightly over.

Why is this mentioned in a remote-first company culture meeting? You can accomplish this type of work if the group is completely in the same room or not. Remote-first cultures create collaboration structures that are flexible enough to work regardless of employee location.

In fact, this particular model can even work if the employees are not in the same time zone (or responding as if they are unable to make the meeting). Teams can address the batched work list, as well as the questions, using collaboration software instead of being at the same meeting.

Larger project collaboration

Remote-first project collaboration exhibits key qualities that differ from what you may be used to. Here are some suggestions for managing work as if everyone is working independently (although one method requires some explanation to see the distinction).

Method 1:  Using the batching model

The batching model for smaller billable tasks may be used as a method for larger project work. Instead of breaking out the tasks into a batch list, each team member would be part of a team that meets daily to discuss what has been done, what needs to be done, and what roadblocks exist. The daily meeting is intended to create velocity and accountability towards efficient work. The discussion on roadblocks may allow another team member to answer a question outside of the meeting to improve the speed of project completion.

This method may reduce the total number of billable hours for a project. Keep this in mind, and use prior year estimates or actuals to determine what to bill to a client.

Method 2: Live peer review

In many instances, having two people review a complex tax return at the same time will catch issues and create a higher quality end product. Software developers use this real-time cross-check method to reduce code evaluation after they initially design and coed a project. The same benefits are true in any context where someone can watch the work as it happens.

Although this may seem like a contradictory method to a remote-first culture, it is not. In fact, this method focuses on results, works on implicit trust between the two reviewers, and establishes a client focus from the very beginning.

Again, this may reduce additional review cycles down the workflow chain for highly complex work. Keep this in mind as you manage billing for the client – they have received a high-quality product.

Remote-First Collaboration – A Path to Increased Value

In reality, you might call this “Value-First” work. Remote teams may require different work methods. As you can see from the examples above, there are common elements:

  • Short, frequent meetings to establish cadence

  • Peer feedback, even with small jobs

  • Dynamic project scheduling based on the needs of the team now

These changes may seem counterintuitive if you are used to linear work in a workflow app, or when you are focused on passing work papers from office to office, but the result is the same. And, the collaboration that occurs will decrease error as the projects move forward since there are more opportunities to discuss issues and get help.

In other words, creating a remote first work culture will help to drive significant improvements both in quality of teamwork as well as quality of work. Trying with a small set of tasks is the easiest way to see if it works. Your technology staff may already use similar methods, and you can leverage their experience to provide insight to test.

To learn more about creating a one-firm culture, download the ebook, “Creating a one-firm culture in the cloud: 10 tips for multi-office firms

Reprinted with permission from Boomer Consulting, Inc.