Maybe you’re interested in moving some or all of your accounting firm into the cloud, but you’re stuck with a lingering question: How do I organize my team in a way that will maximize the benefits of the cloud?
Cloud accounting teams are typically a mix of freelance per diem workers performing gig assignments, permanent remote staff members, and in-office managers. In this blog, we’ll dig into the best ways to organize this diverse and unique set of employees, and demonstrate how the right staffing model will ensure you’re not just in the cloud–you’re conquering it.
Finding the right mix of in-office and remote workers
Your cloud team will probably be a combination of virtual employees and in-office workers. But how do you strike a balance that avoids constraining in-office workers while still holding remote employees accountable?
Blake Oliver, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Floqast and Publisher of the newsletter Cloud Accounting Weekly, recommends grouping your staff into three separate bodies: finders, grinders, and minders.
Finders, Oliver says, are in-office employees who are “outgoing accountants who thrive around other people and like meeting clients.”
Your grinders are those who prefer not to meet with clients, but are very happy working from home and are responsible enough to complete projects with minimal oversight.
The minders fall somewhere in-between.
“I’d go for a hybrid setup for them — based out of the office but with the flexibility to set their own hours and work remotely when they don’t have meetings,” says Oliver.
Nick Pasquarosa, Founder and CEO, Bookkeeper360, says that while some tasks, such as scanning documents and attending board meetings, will still require having someone onsite, the growth of increasingly sophisticated remote technology is beginning to remove that hurdle.
“By utilizing document retrieval software like Hubdoc and Google Hangouts, a cloud accountant could still service the business’s financial needs without having to be onsite,” Pasquarosa says.
Is there an ideal business model for a cloud firm?
In a perfect world, where you could staff your firm however you’d like, is there an optimal organization strategy that would maximize the benefits of the cloud?
Ian Vacin, VP of Product Marketing, Karbon, says cloud firms need to fill certain positions that traditional firms may not, such as operations manager, business development manager, service delivery expert, onboarding specialist, and an IT specialist.
The most important of these roles, according to Vacin, is the operations manager.
“While resources may become more virtual, more outsourced, and more remote, there has to be an operator that brings it all together,” Vacin says. “Think of it like an air traffic controller ensuring that all the activities are working harmoniously together.”
Vacin identifies the biggest key to cloud accounting success as a shift from a firm mindset to an entrepreneurial one.
“By being more entrepreneurial, cloud firms can focus on how to make the business thrive and grow, not just on service delivery,” Vacin says.
Oliver, for his part, believes the ideal cloud staffing model requires remote employees to be close by so they can attend occasional in-office meetings.
“With this setup, you can recruit people who want to work from home, but you also have the benefit of being able to get the team together and build culture without spending a fortune on travel,” Oliver says. “It’s a limitation on hiring remote employees, but it exponentially expands your hiring pool versus the old way.”
Our own CEO Jeff Phillips says the correct staffing model for your firm is based on two factors: 1) supply and demand and 2) your existing headcount and growth trajectory.
“If you need a Xero-based bookkeeper and you’ve posted an in-house job but haven’t gotten the right fit, then it makes sense to open the search to a remote pro,” Phillips says. “And if seasonal projects are forcing you to temporarily expand your staff, it might be better to bring in per diem talent.”
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Getting in-house level productivity from remote employees
With some (or even all) of your employees now working remotely, how can you ensure that your clients get the same level of support as they would if your staff was in-house?
According to Pasquarosa, this isn’t much of a concern, as he finds that remote workers routinely provide better customer service than their in-house counterparts.
“With the cloud, clients and accountants can communicate in real-time, any time, anywhere. It doesn’t matter if clients are in their own offices or halfway around the world,” he says.
Oliver agrees, bluntly stating that “most traditional accounting firms provide a pretty terrible customer experience.” He advises taking advantage of the lower overhead of remote employees to free up team members to answer phone calls and emails in a timely manner.
Phillips believes that, with today’s technology, in-house quality relationships can easily be achieved through virtual engagements. He points to this video from cloud firm My Accountancy Place as a solid example of how to build partnerships through remote interactions.
Which employees are best for which tasks?
With a mix of in-office, remote freelance, and permanent remote employees, the workload distribution can get tricky. Which tasks are best suited to each of these roles?
Pasquarosa has found that per diem freelancers work best doing admin, billing, and general reconciliation work. He uses permanent remote workers for recurring work such as financial reviews and business meetings. And in-office employees take on tasks that require face-to-face interaction and general oversight of administrative duties such as scanning, mailing, and filing documents.
Oliver agrees that remote workers can handle the transactional tasks, but offers a differing view of how to treat your in-office workers.
“Maximize their value by freeing them up to meet with clients,” Oliver says. “Or better yet, be proactive and send them to visit clients in person. When employees are heads down in the office, they miss a lot of sales opportunities.”
Clear skies ahead
Hopefully by now you’ve got a pretty good idea of what a cloud accounting team looks like, how it should be organized, and the ways in which it can boost customer engagement and streamline business processes. If you’d like to know more, check out the video below featuring a conversation between HPC Founder and CEO Bruce Phillips and our own CEO Jeff Phillips (no relation…as far as we know.)
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