Tips on Working Virtually whenever life takes you out of the office
I took a road trip with my daughter last month. Over the course of four days, we flew from our home in New York City to Detroit, Michigan and then drove to Norman, Oklahoma. In between snapping photos and sampling burgers along the way, I was able to review my office files, participate in a virtual business conference, and view logo proposals. If I had taken this trip even 10 years ago, it would have meant disrupting my work for almost an entire week! Now, I can take my office with me virtually anywhere I go.
I have two full-time employees who began working for me in New York but now live in other states. Monica and Myriam are smart, loyal, self-motivated, conscientious, independent people; both irreplaceable members of my team. When I first experimented with working remotely we were relegated to express mailing paper files and floppy disks (remember those?) back and forth. Years later, fax and email offered a significant improvement. Today, we use virtual meeting software for discussing client issues, training sessions, and keeping in touch. When necessary we send documents via our portal system, though usually both Monica and Myriam access the client documents through our remote log-in software. They, as well as the rest of my office staff, work with client information and documents using cloud based accounting software and payroll systems.
Was it worth it? Was it scary? Did it require research to find the right products? Do we still work with our IT firm what seems like daily to make sure we are using the best technology for a good system? Did it require work on everyone’s part to make it work? Does it require ongoing effort to make it work? Did we ever consider parting ways? Yes, No, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and No (remember the I Love Lucy episode where she poses as the Maharincess of Franistan?).
5 tips for making it work
# 1 Know your team
It takes a certain relationship between employee and employer to keep an office running: trust and respect are paramount.
We use a practice management software to schedule and track all projects. This works well for our office based staff too. In addition, a dedicated administrative person keeps our remote employees in the loop.
We have set up written processes for all types of projects that flow through our firm, including on-boarding clients, corporate advisory services, corporate, estate, payroll and personal compliance projects (various tax returns).
My onsite staff, my remote employees and myself are all committed to making this work. We recognize that our remote employees are valuable and integral team members. They do come into the office on a regularly scheduled basis, usually during high-volume times of the year and for intensive training sessions. It’s always a good excuse for an office party.
It is critical that each of the remote employees has a full operating office in their home similar to what they would have in an office environment. Each of them has a computer with easy remote login capabilities, a scanner, printer, fax machine, and landline as well as high speed internet. They are charged with keeping this equipment in good working order.
Bonus benefits to having a good virtual system
- Trusted, valued, trained staff can continue to work even if they need to move for personal reasons
- Systems that work for remote employees work for remote clients too. We make extensive use of a virtual meeting system to share our screens, mouse and keyboards with our clients. (One caveat, make sure you are wearing make-up and are dressed appropriately… from the desk up at least.)
- If anyone has a health or weather emergency and has to work remotely they can do so with no extra effort. Those snow days become productive days, and you have a great excuse for not digging out the cars, walkways, and driveways.
- Take that road trip with your family, and don’t worry about a previously scheduled conference call, tax deadline or client meeting.
- Use your virtual system to connect with clients across the country – have a virtual hug and get to work!
I considered writing this article while sitting on my back porch with a glass of wine and the sound of the waves crashing in the background, but instead I decided to work in my office with the air-conditioning and music playing in the background. Welcome to autumn 2017!