How to Make Your Virtual Firm Work: Part 1

Going mobile is one of the biggest trends for firms in 2019, and impressive developments in technology have made it possible. There’s now a precedent in the accounting industry for completely virtual firms. In this two-part series, we’ll explore the benefits, challenges, and best practices of these firms.

Let’s start with the benefits. Working for a 100% virtual firm offers the option to work from home, better work/life balance than working 10 hours a day in an office, and the chance to meet with clients as needed. By increasing your access to information, mobile technology provides another way to connect with clients, which boosts your responsiveness and the firm’s reputation. Additionally, investing in the latest tech helps prospects feel confident about hiring your firm and modernizes its image.

Virtual firms don’t come without challenges, though. Accounting Today examined the challenges of four firms, as they relate to communication, culture, and human capital. Here are some of the findings for each area:

Communication

Many communication issues stem from the inability to read intent or emotion through digital channels, like instant messaging and email. The digital firms in the Accounting Today article tackle this challenge by hiring (and keeping) people with high EQ, who know when to transfer a digital conversation to a phone call or an on-camera call. Along these lines, virtual firms instill the principle, “If in doubt, assume positive intent” to keep things light and eliminate negativity.

Virtual firms also need good writers. Since communication happens over digital platforms so frequently, it’s imperative for all staff to have a solid command of the primary language.

Culture

Unsurprisingly, it’s hard to create a consistent and tangible culture when no one works from the same place; that doesn’t stop virtual firms from trying though. Representatives from the firms Accounting Today interviewed emphasized the role creativity plays in keeping everyone in the loop and fostering social interactions.

Meetings are a key component. On occasion, managers at virtual firms should encourage employees to socialize with each other over digital hangouts. If the firm’s adamant about getting everyone together in person, leaders should schedule (and sponsor) a mandatory gathering once every quarter or two. (Don’t forget to cover your staff’s work-related travel costs!) Managers can also capitalize on in-person visits for performance reviews and check-ins.

Other suggestions include sending internal newsletters every few weeks, arranging for new hires to train together, and establishing a firm foundation of trust among employees.

Talent Acquisition

Working remotely 100% of the time requires excellent communication skills, discipline, and focus. The last thing you want to do is hire someone who lacks these qualities. On your application, ask questions that will help you evaluate whether the applicant is a good candidate for working remotely. The recruiting job for a virtual firm is the same as that of a traditional one: finding a good fit – you just might be looking for different requirements.

Clearly, Accounting Today’s research provided some interesting insights. While the challenges of communicating effectively, delivering a consistent cultural experience, and finding the right people are harder for a virtual firm than a traditional firm, there are plenty of ways to overcome them. Check back soon for the next part of this series on virtual firms, which will cover common processes and other tips for making remote work a success.