How to manage a remote accounting team
Founder, Cone Accounting
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we have had to adopt a remote working regime. For some firms this is the norm but for many others, this was a new way of working and they faced some challenges moving setting it up in a short space of time. It also gave rise to many questions about how you efficiently and effectively manage your team when they are not in the office with you.
We caught up with Ben Nacca, Founder and CEO of Cone Accounting. All of his team work remotely and he shared some hints and tips on how he successfully manages to run his business in this way.
Ben, can you give us a quick introduction to who you are, when you set Cone Accounting up and how many team members you have?
Yeah so my name's Ben Nacca and I founded Cone in 2015. We set up to work with small businesses who are embracing technology and focusing on a mix between the creative and e-commerce sectors. We're now a team of five, soon to be six and the idea is that we work with fewer clients on the basis that we're giving them more care and they're getting more from us in that package. So the idea is to have more high-value clients than a thousand low paying ones. And it works really well, and we do it all remotely! We've never had an office and we do it all from our own homes, or it used to be cafes and some coworking spaces for collaborative stuff. So, the people you've got working for you now, are they all in the UK or are they spread over the world?
So, we do still keep everyone in the UK at the moment because as accountants we still need to have people who know UK accounting rules and regulations. I also think from a hiring aspect, finding the best candidates in this technology-focused world is a difficult task as it is, so it’s just easier with people in the UK.
How do you maintain team culture, morale and motivation with your remote team?
We do little monthly meetups. We all come together one evening and we'll go grab some dinner and then bowling, or go and do an escape room, whatever it might be. It's all part of the team culture. Obviously we have the perks of not having to commute and managing our own day and flexi-time but that still can leave people feeling isolated with remote working. So when we're looking at the culture aspect it's really key that we’re making sure everyone's happy, everyone's together. Using tools like Slack and having those monthly meetups, workations, those kinds of things really just help bring that camaraderie together despite working wherever they want.
What is a Workation and how do they work?
Rather than pay for an office, we put that money into our team workation where we all go away for a week. We went to Barcelona in 2018 and to Mexico in 2019. In that week the team provides two hours a day of email support but no other client work. In the other time then discuss how they think we can do better, what things they'd like to see, what things could we do better for our
clients so I can hear the ideas for improvements from the people who are on the ground with the client’s day to day. We also have break-off sessions where we look at our processes and how to improve them. But for the most part, it's a lot more of just chill, drinks and food, music and just general team bonding. When it comes to hiring people for a remote team, what does the interview process look like? It's definitely still a work in progress. We learn every time we recruit for a job. Some interviews we do face to face to coincide with when we have a get together for some collaborative work and some interviews we do via Zoom. Our interview process involves the team so they can have some input as well. I think it's vital when we bring someone onboard that they're going to fit in and that everyone's going to get along. The main thing we're looking for is the person because the skills can always be taught. And I think this is probably the same for most jobs regardless of remote working, but it's the character of the person and what they want and it’s their self-belief and that desire that is crucial.
"Obviously we have the perks of not having to commute and managing our own day and flexi-time but that still can leave people feeling isolated with remote working. So when we're looking at the culture aspect it's really key that we’re making sure everyone's happy, everyone's together"
Recruiting is definitely not easy and I think a lot of people just see the perk from work from home, and looking for that discipline is one of those things where it's hard to spot that. It's whether they have the passion and drive to do it themselves and get up in the morning? I don't even care if people stay in their pyjamas all day. If they're meeting deadlines, keeping the clients happy, I don't care if they haven't even got out of bed yet. That's the thing, it's very trust-based. What made you want to go down the remote team route from the beginning?
I hadn't done it before in my previous roles. I'd always had the commute, gone into work. But it was mainly, I think for the first year and a half of running Cone, I got used to this new way of working. When it came to hiring our first two apprentices we just asked ourselves does it have to change? It just so happened the two apprentices were fairly local anyway so we thought we’d have the ability to open an office as a backup plan. They came to our home for the first few months for onboarding then moved to working from home but all other staff have worked remotely from day one. The fact that they work remotely has been a big pull factor for recruitment as they no longer have to do the commute and spend money on fuel etc. They know they've still got their deadlines, but it's in their control to work towards that and always let us know if they need anything. What would you say is the essential tech stack for running an effective remote team?
First and foremost is that any application must be cloud-based or it will not be in the tech stack. So the main tool that I feel is a vital cornerstone is Slack and that's where all of our day to day work lives with all the different channels for events, marketing, sales and so on.
Zoom is the next part. Zoom is perfect for client meetings and webinars. We have a weekly Monday stand up on a Zoom call to just go through the work that we've got coming up, who's doing what, who needs help with what, all that kind of stuff. Next, your CRM system is crucial and we use Karbon. It doesn't really matter which one you use so long as you use something because the team needs to know what work they need to be doing. I would say the one big final piece of the puzzle for us is 15Five which is an employee checking-in tool. So they take 15 minutes on a Friday to review their week and went well, what they struggled with and so on then I spend five minutes reviewing that, commenting and actioning it, and it forms a basis of our monthly one to ones, and our quarterly reviews. Those weekly check-ins are just really good to get that pulse score of how the team's feeling and it is very important when working in isolation, especially in this day and age with mental health issues in the workplace It's probably one of our biggest tools for team management because you need to know where everyone is because otherwise, that does lead to the isolation, the lack of culture, the lack of support people might feel. Everyone goes through ruts, everyone has high and low moments in all jobs. What would you say are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to running a remote or virtual team? I think sometimes it's delivery of training because sometimes you just want to sit down next to each other and just crack on and get them through it. However, for the most part, the main challenge comes back to finding that team, keeping that culture, and constantly keeping the conversation going.
Also, I think the challenge is always with tech to just make sure that it works, that everyone can access it. Whatever the challenge or task, there's always going to be an app for it and my biggest challenge is making sure that that app is the right app and that it’s going to actually benefit the team or our clients. What advice would you give to practice owners right now that are in the process of letting their teams work remotely?
I think that the biggest thing is to have a dedicated space - have that desk where you go and do your work. When you take your lunch break, step away from your desk, have your lunch somewhere else. You can watch an episode on Netflix in your lunch break, or chill out and scroll through Facebook, or whatever it is you want to do. Just get away from your desk. For people who've got teams, I would definitely look at having something like 15Five to keep a check-in during this time because if they're not used to working from home, it might be tough at first. Also, I'm probably closer to my team members now with all our WhatsApp and Slack messages and I speak to our team members almost every day which is really good. You need to focus on your team and make sure your people are happy and looked after. Make sure that they're not stuck, they're not feeling isolated or alone, especially in this time where it's going to hit a lot of people that they can't go outside. So it's one of those things where I think if you look after the team when you're remote working, they will feel the gratitude and they will put that work in to make sure that the clients are happy. If you've got a happy team, happy company, happy employees, everything will be fine. Our team comes first.