From XU Magazine, 
Issue 26

Remote working is here to stay - what’s your strategy?

James Kilford of Senta explores the different strategies accountants have employed to manage remote and flexible working.

The pandemic has created disruption even for firms who had experience, policies and workflows in place that enabled remote working. In this article, James Kilford explores how technology can support your team to deliver great service and manage all that life throws at them.
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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Remote working is here to stay

Buffer’s new ‘State of Remote Work’ survey found 97.6% of those asked would like to work remotely - at least some of the time - for the rest of their career. Some 41% said that ‘collaboration and communication’ was the thing that had changed most about how they worked, since working remotely.

Putting a long-term and sustainable strategy into place for your practice in terms of tech infrastructure, client service and team management/communication is therefore critical.

You may have been operating with remote working or with a hybrid approach for the last year. So what has been learned by accountancy practices during this time

Cloud is key

Firstly, and key, is working in the cloud. Using an online platform to manage workflow and processes, while capturing and disseminating client information, has made the past 12 months manageable for firms.

Tailored Accountancy MD Sarah Taylor says that using Senta for task management has been critical in operating in a purely remote working environment.

“Without it, we wouldn’t know where we were,” Sarah says. She can use the system to track workflow several times a day – a vital tool when walking around the office to catch up with the team is not possible.

It’s a statement borne out in our research of our other practice clients. 85% of clients said Senta has been even more useful than normal, and they’d configured Senta to help with new work like CJRS, CBILS and other government schemes. Half said the relationship with clients was even stronger than pre-pandemic.

Task transparency, team responsibility

The way in which Sarah uses Senta to achieve this broad view of her practice is through a dashboard. “I use Senta to create a ‘jobs board’, where I can see where every piece of work is, who’s working on what – and then drill down to specific batches of tasks i.e. personal tax returns or VAT,” explains Sarah. “We all know where we stand and don’t miss deadlines.”

Sarah has been sensitive to the potential of home working to create additional demands on the team, and additional stress.  But the use of Senta to manage jobs, and in the cloud, has meant that where required, her team has worked flexibly. “One of the team works ten hours for us, and not always on the same regular days, so it’s really important that Senta keeps me and her updated with where work is,” Sarah explains. While the platform supports workflow, Sarah has looked to be proactive in checking in with her team to gauge and manage stress. “I manage that situation and have the conversation consistently: are you OK? People can find it hard to switch off.”

Managing tasks makes time to reflect

We all know of practices that are at breaking point. Helping small businesses manage trade and customs post-Brexit is important and time-consuming, on top of self-assessment season and continued lockdown.

Talking to our clients, as I do every day, I’ve found that the best firms give their teams precious time to think - not just by combining workflow and automation, but by empowering them to adapt their working life.

Senta’s strategy for remote working...

At Senta, we’ve always accepted that people have responsibilities  - and things they want to do - outside of work. Flexible working is at the core of what makes us Senta. We know our clients are feeling under pressure too, so here are some tips to help you manage workflow and support your own clients and people:

  • Set clear expectations
    Set clear parameters and expectations for how you will work with clients now, and plans for the future collaboration and communication. Be proactive - tell them what they can expect. 
  • Clear staff expectations
    Does everyone understand the most important tasks and who is on them? The Senta job lists can help with this. 
  • Staff wellbeing must be front of mind
    Listen to them, be proactive in offering support, work together to find solutions for any issues that may arise.
  • Group conversations
    Group meetings can sometimes be overwhelming, so we suggest little and often, and keep them really focused. Use this time to share updates and project manage client work. 
  • Security
    Working in the cloud is in itself a secure practice, but consider the physical aspects: do you have an up-to-date data policy? Does your team know not to store data on their computer but to leave it in the cloud? Are work laptops and PCs up to date, encrypted and using strong passwords?
  • Define and manage your practice workflow
    Do you understand how your people and systems undertake tasks, and in what order? It can seem a big task at first - we always recommend sketching out a map of your processes. But don’t think you need to solve your workflow problems in one hit. Taking a longer-term view of continuous process improvement will really help you get started. 
  • Is your tech stack right?
    The right mix of tech should accelerate your practice, not hinder it. Examine how many of the apps you’re using every day can integrate. Logging in and out of systems all day can be frustrating and time consuming. 
  • Team training
    What is your remote training plan? Do training requirements change or is it the same training but merely modified i.e. how do you replicate daily face-to-face learning experiences? 
  • Don’t forget to have fun!
    Giphy and emojis can make a world of difference on instant messaging. Likewise impromptu team calls to talk about the latest meme, recipe, or weekend plans make everyone feel a bit more connected.

Why leave it there?

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