Can Remote Work, Work For You?

What is it?

Telecommuters or remote workers are rapidly increasing in number, so much so that somebody had to come up with a phrase to categorize individuals that work from anywhere and everywhere: digital nomads.

In essence, remote work means having the flexibility to set a work schedule you are most comfortable with and perform your work duties from anywhere – be it in your living room, in a co-working space, in a café, or at the beach.

 A few of us, in a coffee shop - downtown TO!

A few of us, in a coffee shop - downtown TO!

Where you are located should not hinder the quality of work you deliver - be it to your company or customers.  Some individuals have to brave a long commute on a daily basis just to make it to work on time - ensuring they conform to the rigid work schedule imposed on them by their superiors.  

By the time many in the workforce reach their offices, they are no longer in the right headspace to function effectively. Rigid work schedules can be draining, aggravating and inefficient. Remote working has the potential to remove all of those dreaded hassles and headaches.

How it works

While it sounds too good to be true, it is actually possible to be halfway around the world, away from home-base (company headquarters) and still be super-productive (in our case, crunching numbers during tax season or diving into an online bookkeeping session).

All you need is a laptop, and an internet connection. Seriously, that’s it!  That being said, there will be tons of questions and challenges:

From the employer's point of view:

  1. Do we trust our team members to work hard, even if they’re not physically near us?
  2. Will the communication be effective while the team is spread across the country, if not the world?

From the employee's point of view:

  1. How can you set up boundaries for yourself to get work done?
  2. How do we deal with the constant interruptions when working remotely?

The awesome thing about modern technology is that it has provided us with solutions in the form of software/apps to these challenges. Let’s take a look at specific tools that can be incorporated into your company’s workflow (if you’re operating with a remote team).

Productivity

Remote work differs quite drastically from the traditional office set-up.  In the traditional work environment, you typically have a rigid work schedule (say, 9-5) and may have a superior breathing down your neck all the time, instructing you on what needs to be done.  

In most remote environments, although the work schedule may be flexible, it usually means you have to work even harder to ensure you are productive.  A remote worker must be extremely organized, while simultaneously being a self-starter in order to complete their daily tasks.

There are many very capable apps that have powerful features in monitoring your productivity.  For example, Todoist and GQueues are task management tools that let you create projects and add tasks to them. You may organize them using colours and labels, and create subtasks with links, notes, and due dates. GQueues is quite convenient as it is integrated to other Google apps like Gmail and Google Calendar. Once set up, it can send you reminders on certain tasks via email and text messages.

 One of our team members out in beautiful British Columbia enjoying a coffee and the scenery, while hard at work.

One of our team members out in beautiful British Columbia enjoying a coffee and the scenery, while hard at work.

Communication

There is no doubt about it - communication is the backbone of organizations. Remote work skeptics would argue that a team remains engaged and cohesive by meeting each other regularly in the flesh, but if you work in an industry that has the ability to operate virtually, all you need is a solid communication tool to stay on-the-grid with your teammates.

You may think that your industry can’t operate virtually.  And that is a very legitimate statement.  That being said, five years ago, who would have thought an online accounting firm such as ours could have team members across the country, operating virtually?  With the use of the greatest and latest tools, it’s possible (not easy, but still possible).

 After a long meeting, there's nothing like taking a break and going for a paddle in your kayak in beautiful Hunstville, Ontario (Muskoka)

After a long meeting, there's nothing like taking a break and going for a paddle in your kayak in beautiful Hunstville, Ontario (Muskoka)

Back to communication….

One of the features of Slack, an instant messaging and collaboration platform, is being able to communicate via channels.  This allows you to instantly discuss with the team by topic, department, or purpose (such as firm-wide announcements, or tech updates).

Having a break room or watercooler channel for casual talk about sports, family, the weather or just about anything is also essential and could help teams foster camaraderie and build team spirit.

Skype and Zoom are powerful video conferencing apps that make team meetings in different time-zones possible. Aside from instant messaging and video calling, these apps also allow you to share your screen with a colleague, host video webinars, and make group calls. Zoom's cloud and local recording feature can replace having to manually transcribe minutes of meetings and is particularly helpful for training sessions.

Project Management

Staying on top of things with a distributed team who live everywhere could be quite of a challenge. Basecamp is a popular project management app that helps you keep track of items by priority, your overall progress in a project as a team, and lets you add in clients for discussion.

Asana is a similar platform whose features are more geared towards usability and team collaboration. One of its selling points is its template and design that gives you a high-level and more intensive view of the whole project.

Podio is another efficient workspace collaboration platform that is more in-depth and offers a lot more business development features than Basecamp and Asana. With that, this app may have a steep learning curve, and could be quite challenging to set up.

Distraction

Admittedly, remote work could mean that constant interruptions are everywhere around you. It could be harmless to succumb to these distractions from time to time, but too much of it could take a toll on your performance and productivity.

Focuslist and Forest are interesting apps that let you set timers for your work, breaking them down per task or into smaller increments with short breaks in between. These apps use the Pomodoro Technique, which is believed to boost your productivity by keeping your mind fresh and focused.

Pretty much, every place has distractions - moreso when working remotely. It is inevitable to run into an interesting article, web-page, or a video every once in awhile. Checking your emails frequently could also be counterproductive.

Instapaper and Pocket are helpful bookmarking (a.k.a. “read-me-later”) apps that are designed to eliminate possible distractions brought by switch-tasking. These apps save and store articles, posts, stories, emails, or videos, perfectly-formatted to your device so you may view them at a later time, even without an internet connection.

 

Accounting

The tedious and time-consuming methods of traditional accounting could be a huge roadblock to progress and productivity for accountants and business owners. Thanks to the advent of online accounting, invoices, receipts, and other documents that mount up can directly be moved to the digital realm by a single click.

Xero and QuickBooks have advanced accounting features that take care of invoicing, bank reconciliation, and accounting reports. Either can be integrated to Hubdoc and Receipt Bank which, in essence, pull out key information and data from receipts, bills, and invoices, making data entry and bookkeeping more efficient and effortless.

These tools can make the entire process run more smoothly, and businesses can simply log in to a secure portal, and access their accounting documents anytime, anywhere, and from any device.  

Team

You can have all the apps in the world, but if you don’t have dedicated and trustworthy team members that are passionate about growing the business and helping your customers - your company - whether it’s remote or not, will fail.  A remote company that does not employ team members with the above characteristics will fail even faster.

Once you do assemble a team that can take your company to the level that you envision it can go to, you'll need to build a unique firm culture, while simultaneously coming up with ways to keep team members engaged.

 Part of the ConnectCPA Team at our annual retreat this past summer!

Part of the ConnectCPA Team at our annual retreat this past summer!

Final thoughts

It is amazing how much remote work has transformed the employment landscape over the last number of years. While remote working gives you the flexibility to choose your preferred environment and schedule, there will be plenty of challenges that come along with it. By being equipped with the right tools suitable to your team and workflow, it is possible to seamlessly collaborate with your team and ensure your productivity remains at optimum levels.

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