#RecipeForSuccess: Managing a Distributed/Remote Workforce

Many businesses are opting out of a traditional office where employees arrive each day ready to work 9-5; instead, more businesses are opting into building a remote, distributed workforce to save money, have broader access to talent and achieve greater productivity. Let’s look at a recipe for how to build a successful remote, distributed team.

What is a #RecipeforSuccess? Developed by QuickBooks ProAdvisors®, the #RecipeforSuccess campaign provides key ingredients and steps for accounting pros and their small business clients to achieve success.  

Master Chef: Stacy Kildal

Ingredients:

Directions

Step 1: Determine your company’s vision, mission and purpose

Declaring your company’s beliefs and behaviors that support those beliefs are the building blocks to establishing your company culture. This includes the following three pillars:

  1. Vision: This is the what of your business.
  2. Purpose: This is the why of your business.
  3. Mission: This is the how of your business.

At Kildal Services, we’ve combined all three into one statement: “Leveraging technology (how) to help small business owners work better, faster and smarter (what) for a healthy work/life integration (why).”

Step 2: Hire for culture

There are a ton of articles online that speak about this subject, but my favorite is from Fast Company, which provides four great reasons about why you should hire for culture:

  1. What you know changes, who you are doesn’t.
  2. You can’t find what you’re not looking for.
  3. The best way to evaluate people is to watch them work.
  4. You can’t hire people who don’t apply.

When advising my small business clients on hiring, I stress the first item on this list. You can train people how to do a task, but you can’t train attitude. My first few hires looked like a perfect fit; they knew QuickBooks Online, were technologically savvy and had a great work ethic. However, working remotely wasn’t a good fit for them. My next hire who knew QuickBooks Desktop wasn’t a fan of QuickBooks Online; she readily agreed she was clueless when it came to apps and technology, but fully embraced working from home and the way we manage client relationships. She’s now my business partner, and together we work on growth strategy and client management.

Step 3: Task management and establishing protocols

When teams are not all in the same office, it’s even more important to have clear instruction on the chain of command, how things get done, conflict resolution and change management.

For task management, here’s our process with clients:

Complete a workflow analysis. You’ll define each process, state the expected outcome, list the tasks involved and identify who will own the process. I don’t recommend handing this over to someone and asking for it to get done. Schedule time with a consultant, or with your team, to work on it. Note: not every process needs to be done at once. Take them one at time: sales, refunds, purchases and payroll, for example.

Document the process, step by step. A simple word document, or even a handwritten list outlining each task in the process as they’re completed, is a great start. Doing this will bring light to any pain points, inefficiencies or breakdowns in the process.

Have someone else run through these tasks. By having a person on your team who usually doesn’t do these tasks actually perform the tasks in the process, as outlined in #2, you’ll be better equipped to make sure your processes fit three criteria that make growing your business easier:

  • Trainable: Is it easy to train someone to do this?
  • Repeatable: Is it a process that can be used for multiple customers/clients?
  • Scalable: Will this grow with your business?

Create a process manual. You can make a simple Google doc that the team has access to that includes a formal outline with embedded images (remember to use job titles and not names), or you can get fancy with an intranet site.

 Step 4: Put the right tools in place

Once you determine your processes and workflow, you’ll need to have the right tools to manage all of it. My recommendations:

  • QuickBooks Online Accountant – This is the go-to for accounting professionals who are managing multiple clients using QuickBooks Online. It allows you to add team members and gain access into client details.
  • Slack – This is great for intercompany communication, as well as communicating with customers or clients. We create channels for each client, but you could create one for each project or department, for example. Slack has tons of integrations to assist with project and client management, social media, and even human resources. We keep one channel that’s our “water cooler” that we use to chit chat about random topics.
  • GSuite – Using Google products for our office suite makes sharing and collaboration easy. We can share document templates and calendars, and use Google Sheets for workflow status. It’s wonderful because I can tag team members on tasks.
  • Real Time Board – One aspect of running a business is innovation, and a big part of that is having a whiteboard as a visual aid. Realtimeboard.com can be connected to your Google accounts, providing some great collaboration tools for project development and even general brainstorming.
  • Zoom or Google Hangouts – These are my preferred tools for remote meetings with staff and clients.

Step 5: Communicate and evaluate

The biggest key to successfully managing a distributed team is communication. It’s not just about having it; you also need to make sure that your communications are effective and appropriate. Setting guidelines for how team members will communicate with each other, management and customers is essential. For example, we found that small things were falling through the cracks because we were using different tools to communicate, including email, instant messenger and text. Once we made the decision to keep all intercompany communications in Slack, and only use email to get information to/from our clients, this issue was solved.

Some tips:

  • Determine work hours. Just because I send my partner a message at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night doesn’t mean I expect her to reply. We both know she probably will, but we also know that the matter is nothing that can’t wait until the work week begins in the morning.
  • Plan regular meetings. For some, a daily 10-minute meeting works. For others, a weekly recap is perfect. Regardless how often, make sure these scheduled meetings have a specific purpose, someone to drive them (rotate this person) and a defined structure or agenda.
  • Have some fun. Start a company book club. Do a virtual happy hour. Have everyone take a picture of their favorite place to work, or where they’re working that day. Play a trivia game. Create an interactive crossword each week for everyone to work on. Search for some team building ideas online.

Some advice to chew on:

Marjorie Adams, CEO of Fourlane.com recommends this: “Define your communication method parameters. When you have remote workers and don’t get the face time, team members can feel disconnected or misinterpret a quick chat note or short email response. Our rule is this: a 1-2 sentence question can go in chat and expected response time is within a few hours; a 1 paragraph question goes in email and you can expect a response within 24 hours, and anything beyond that probably needs a quick meeting to knock it out. Another best practice is to always assume positive intent in chat communications. If you have seen that commercial where they say the same phrase and show the Good and Bad results – it’s the same thing here.”

Chris Repetto, Communications Director, Global Small Business Group of Intuit® has this advice: “I currently manage 14 people and two agencies across seven countries. While each region has specific priorities and campaigns, I continually look for opportunities for the team to work together on big initiatives. Finding commonalities and similarities in our work enables us to function as an integrated, coordinated team, and unlocks the power, talent and unique perspectives that each member brings to the table. It helps our customers and the business, but more importantly, helps each member of my team stretch beyond their region so that the work they do has a broad and significant impact around the world.”

Finally, my own advice: Schedule and budget for an in-person meeting at least once per year. This helps ensure everyone is on the same page, builds relationships and makes for a stronger team. For distributed teams who are local to each other, you could meet more often and include team members who are unable to attend via a web conferencing.

Do you manage a remote team or work with clients who do? What’s your #RecipeForSuccess?

About the Author

Stacy Kildal

Stacy Kildal

Stacy Kildal, founder of Kildal Services LLC, is an internationally recognized expert in QuickBooks Online, who has been named as one of Accounting's Most Powerful Women in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, as well as one of 2013 and 2014's 40 Under 40 in Accounting. In 2014 and 2015, she was also voted by her peers as one of the Top 100 ProAdvisors and named as one of 100 Most Influential People in Accounting. In 2015, her blog was named as one of 15 Essential Sites for Accountants.

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