Create a Wow Factor Workplace for Remote Employees: Ways to Nurture Employee Engagement

When you create a culture of ‘wow,’ it makes a powerful impact on all employees – including the growing number of people who work away from the office. Deb Boelkes shares a few of her best practices for inspiring and empowering your remote workforce.

In 2020, there’s a good chance at least some of your employees work from home, a coworking space or some other distant location. And while the arrangement has benefits for all parties, the trade-off is that remote workers get far less (if any) face time with leaders and coworkers. This may lead you to wonder: Can you truly engage remote employees? Is it possible to shape a positive company culture that encompasses everyone?

Boelkes says yes – and the solution lies in your ongoing pursuit of the “wow factor.” This is her terminology for those “Best Place to Work” leaders who consistently motivate and inspire employees, fill them with purpose, challenge them, and make them feel safe and supported.

“Many companies don’t work to deliberately shape a positive culture,” says Boelkes, author of The WOW Factor Workplace: How to Create a Best Place to Work Culture. “They think it will just happen, but that’s rarely true even when everyone is in the same place. And if a company has remote employees, the need to get intentional about culture-building is intensified.”

Engaging remote employees comes down to making them feel like they belong and are part of a cohesive team. They should feel valued and understand that their contributions are seen and appreciated, and that they are making an impact. That’s job No. 1.

Boelkes says there are plenty of simple engagement practices that make your virtual team members feel supported, connected and empowered.

Make sure remote employees know why they’re there. All employees should know (and embrace) the mission, vision, values and objectives of the company. They are a big part of how you convey the sense of meaning and purpose that’s so vital to engagement. Talk about these guiding factors explicitly and regularly. These things can change and when they do you need everyone in the loop. Additionally, make sure remote employees understand how their work aligns with and supports goals of the company, division and department.

“All team members need to know what they do really matters and that their efforts ­– and results – make a difference,” says Boelkes. “Acknowledge them in the way they prefer to be acknowledged.”

Never leave them hanging or assume they know what’s going on. This is vital, says Boelkes, especially regarding decisions made at upper levels. The biggest complaint most large or multi-site companies hear from employee satisfaction surveys is lack of communication from senior leaders. Don’t be a micromanager but do communicate, communicate, communicate…and be consistent in your messaging from the top down.

Make yourself available (on their timetable). Managers need to make sure meaningful one-on-one conversations with remote reports happen. Out of sight (and off-site) should not mean out of mind or out of the loop. Be willing to be flexible versus forcing employees to adapt to your schedule and communication style.

“Find out what works for your remote reports,” says Boelkes. “Some team members may prefer to establish a fixed time each week to catch up while others may prefer to call in for a quick update as project schedules permit. Let the employee know when you will be available and how they can get a message to you if it’s critical. Otherwise, be there for them.”

Be proactive about removing their roadblocks. If something is preventing a remote worker from being able to do their job efficiently, make sure they know to immediately come to you. In fact, ask them regularly if they need anything. It’s the manager’s job to remove any obstacles impeding team members’ efforts and to get them the resources and information they need.

Bring all team members together often. If possible, have an all-hands, on-site meeting at the start of a major project or at the beginning of the fiscal year. At the very least, schedule weekly all-hands team calls to update everyone on what’s going on, to see who needs help, to announce major accomplishments and recognize team members, and to brainstorm new approaches.

“Team members need to know each other,” says Boelkes. “They need to know what the other members are working on, and how they can help one another. They need to trust each other. Regular meetings can help achieve all of that.”

Remember: face to face matters, so make it happen however you can. You may not be able to meet in person often, but try to make it happen at least occasionally. And of course, conferencing technology like Zoom, WhatsApp or FaceTime can be incredibly valuable in helping remote employees connect and engage with the rest of the team. “Observation of facial expressions and body language can be just as important as hearing the words being spoken,” says Boelkes.

Don’t let meetings become time-wasters. Call meetings only when necessary and keep them succinct. When preparing for a remote team call or video conference, ask individual members ahead of time what, if anything, they want to present, what they want to hear or learn, and if they have anything to share. Then stick to the agenda.

Encourage team members to connect with one another regularly. “Feeling like part of a team is vital,” says Boelkes. “The boss doesn’t have to be the one who coordinates everything. Make sure they feel free to text, phone or email each other when they have questions or need guidance or feedback.”

Pair new employees with a “buddy.” Newer employees need more hand holding – especially if they’re telecommuting. Among other training, the buddy’s job is to make sure the employee knows who does what on the team, who is an expert at what, and who to go to for what.

Be sensitive to cultural differences. Not everyone interprets communications the same way. Cultural differences can occur regionally within the same country but may be especially problematic between major geographic regions and countries. If this occurs, managers must really listen for understanding, then reframe and restate what they heard, and ask the remote worker to do the same.

“Managing multi-country team members can be difficult if members never have on-site meetings over multiple days during which people can get to know each other,” says Boelkes. “When possible, it’s helpful to know locals or expats who are from the remote region and can interpret what may be intended or how things could be interpreted in various situations.”

Occasionally, oversee employee/client interactions. From time to time, managers should try to participate live when an employee has important events with a customer or client; listening to the clients’ feedback is just as important as employee feedback. While it is important to show trust and confidence in the team members serving the client, it is equally important to acknowledge when things need improvement or when action must be taken.

When in doubt, reach out. If things aren’t feeling right with an employee, they probably aren’t. Meet in person for a heart-to-heart off-site and talk through their concerns or problems. And again, as a general rule try to get together in person at least once a year if not quarterly; these meetings keep the lines of communication open.

Request feedback (from your customers AND your remote workers). During one-on-ones with each remote employee as well as during one-on-ones with clients, ask for honest feedback. Then based on that feedback, strategize ways the organization could better leverage the skillsets of the team members while moving the organization closer to its goals.

Know when an employee isn’t suited for remote work. Pay attention to signs that an employee is not cut out for being a remote team member. For example, they may frequently turn in work late, get distracted or lose sight of the project at hand, or need frequent interaction with coworkers.

“Some workers need daily live interaction to do their best work,” says Boelkes. “Be attuned to this and don’t be afraid to make changes to ensure the employee is in the right environment with the needed support and/or freedom.”

Finally, make sure every employee knows you have their best interests at heart. Be a heartfelt leader.

You can’t inspire anyone – in-house or otherwise – until you start leading with your heart,” concludes Boelkes. “Check in with your own passion and make sure it informs all of your interactions. Your heart-driven engagement will spread to your workers near and far, and together you will make a difference.”

The Changing World Of Work And A Changing, More Social Approach To Learning

Automation. Talent wars. A tidal wave of retirements. These factors, and many others, are making learning an urgent priority to attract and retain curious and ambitious accounting professionals. And the workforce is ready.

According to a recent PwC report, “Workforce of the Future: The Competing Forces Shaping 2030,” three-quarters of respondents say they were “Ready to learn new skills or completely re-train in order to remain employable in the future.” The strongest agreement to that statement was among Millennials in the survey, which covered 10,000 people in five countries.

While leaders see the need to teach new skills rapidly, observers say the firms themselves must also adapt a more flexible approach to learning. Handing power to the employees to direct their own professional development while encouraging practitioners to learn from each other are two approaches producing positive results in an environment of digital disruption.

To learn more about “future-proofing” professional staff, IPA contacted Kiara Graham, a learning strategist with Kitchener, Ontario-based D2L (Desire2Learn), a cloud-based software used in school classrooms and workplaces in various industries.

What is a “modern learning culture” and why is it so important? Graham says modern workplace learning is all about using technology to give employees real-time access to training and knowledge-sharing, “so that employees can take the reins on their own learning and development.”

She adds, “A modern learning culture ensures that employees are constantly developing the skills they need to thrive and drive business performance and is also a great way to attract and retain a new generation of talent that really cares about corporate culture and opportunities for personal and professional growth.”

Why are self-directed learning and social learning so often overlooked or under-emphasized and how can partners implement these practices? Compliance training is often centralized and owned by specific individuals or departments, but the model “misses out on opportunities to better engage employees through self-directed learning and to capture and transfer internal subject matter expertise through social learning.”

One way to do this, she says, is through Communities of Practice. While it’s not a new concept, and sometimes these CoPs can spring up organically within a firm, leaders can champion the model and accelerate learning. Practitioners can meet weekly, in person or virtually, to learn new skills or improve existing skills, Graham says.

Virtual meetings, file sharing, posting and watching videos, online discussion groups and the like can be made easier through technology. “Members of CoPs engage in joint activities that enable them to learn from and with each other,” she says. “When employees are part of a CoP, they have easy access to a network of peers who can assist with problem-solving and sharing best practices.”

Some CoPs can focus on one function in the firm, but they can also be used to transfer knowledge throughout the entire organization, a helpful tool in succession planning.

Graham says that transforming a firm’s learning culture and training program won’t happen overnight, but once the business goals and objectives are clearly communicated and individual learning goals are aligned with the overall mission, the firm can set aside “learning time” on a regular schedule. “It doesn’t need to be long, 20 minutes of dedicated learning time every week could be enough.”

IPA Launches 2020 Survey Focused on Employee Transformation and Development

RESHAPING MINDSETS, SKILLSETS AND TOOLSETS

“Transforming while performing” is the mantra of many firms today, ensuring current performance while re-tooling and re-engineering the firm for the future. “Transformation” refers to many areas of business, including employees, technology, business model, business processes, partner activities, governance, pricing models, new performance metrics and even definitions of success. This month, we begin capturing information on employee transformation.

Throughout the year, INSIDE Public Accounting (IPA) will be collecting and reporting on information on the theme of Firm Transformations. This month’s focus is on employee transformation and development. Please consider taking the survey, which should take no more than 5 minutes to complete.

All survey participants will receive a complimentary copy of the results when published. The survey is open from Jan. 23 through Feb. 21.

 

TAKE THE SURVEY

Partners Can Be Complacent And Ego-Driven, But Their Success = Firm Success

Without the support of the partner group, MPs can’t move their firms forward. The realities of gaining consensus among hard-driving professionals with different working styles, skills and drivers can be more challenging than even the most insightful firm leader could anticipate. One MP says, “It’s like herding cats, and it’s very difficult to get all partners on the same page because not everybody has the same value proposition and not everyone is motivated by the same metrics.”

No MP owns a how-to guidebook on juggling the multiple – and sometimes competing – priorities demanding their attention every day. INSIDE Public Accounting, therefore, asked more than 70 MPs to offer anonymous insights on the frustrations, challenges, joys and rewards of the top job. In a 12-question survey, they offered unfiltered, candid insights. Here are responses to just a few of the questions.

What are two of your biggest frustrations with the partner group? Two themes – egos and complacency – immediately emerged from MP responses to this question. Some MPs say partners think their way is the only way. They fail to see the benefit of trying a different approach, close themselves off from other points of view, second-guess decisions (after failing to participate in the discussion), and stay in their comfort zone of client service without committing to professional development, marketing, timely billing and collections.

One MP said two or three partners are so negative “they’re like a cancer.” Some partners think they’re “too busy or too important to follow the rules,” says another.

However, with the success of the partners goes the success of the firm, and MPs are quick to acknowledge the massive amounts of work they handle, the numerous clients they serve admirably and the demands they address without fail.

Frustrations With Partners IncludeLack of Participation “They don’t speak up. When we need them to vote it’s like pulling teeth to get them to respond on time.”

Lack of Accountability “Partners like to measure others but don’t like to be measured.” Another MP says, “Too many of our partners are cruisers. Some of these, though, think they are dynamos and they aren’t.”

Self-Centered Thinking One MP is frustrated by “getting them to work together as a team, and not be so concerned about themselves.” Another says, “Partners think they are suited for all jobs because they are successful in one or two areas.” Another disappointment? “Partners who occasionally want to be MP, but only when they don’t like something specific but don’t want any part of the running of the firm on a daily basis.”

Hanging on When it’s Time to Retire “They seem to want to continue to come to the office, take up a large office, and distract staff and have no desire to step away. This can hold back some of the younger partners and potential partners.”

Failure to Use Time Wisely – A top-notch partner, one MP says, should “discuss issues with other partners when they arise and not behind their back, seek to interact more with fellow partners, be joyful in what you do and how you carry yourself, and help others at all times when asked.” Another MP comments that partners often complain about being overloaded with work. “As a result, they can’t hit their goals, or do this or that. What I find is that they’re not looking inside and prioritizing, pushing down or making good choices.”

“What’s the most valuable piece of advice you would share with an MP?…Don’t try to be popular, say many MPs who responded to this question. “You have to make what you feel is the best decision for the firm and don’t take unhappy partners or staff personally,” one MP says. “They will get over it.”

MPs, in various ways, advised new executives to make the tough decisions, but be respectful. Communicate clearly and often, and put the long-term best interest of the firm above selfish or short-term gains. Always.

More advice from the trenches…

  • Don’t Rush – “Be patient. Making changes is like moving a battleship so take it slow and do it right.” Another MP says, “Think more. Do less.”
  • Be Direct – “Establish up front that you’re not going to put up with negativity, complaining, etc., or they’ll be brought up before the executive committee.”
  • Think ‘Big Picture’ – “Communicate, communicate, communicate. There has to be someone in charge that creates the vision and rallies the employees behind it.”
  • Get Support – “Find four or five other managing partners or consultants that they admire and respect and build close relationships with them. That gives them a sounding board outside his or her own partner group. Other MPs are also great sources of new ideas that can be implemented.”
  • Learn the Role Before Taking It – “Just because you’re a good accountant doesn’t mean you know how to run a business.”
  • Watch the WIP – “If you don’t bill, you don’t collect money. If you don’t collect money, you can’t pay the bills.”
  • Manage Your Time – “Block off chunks of time to work on administrative duties and client duties. Constantly switching back and forth is difficult and draining.”
  • Stay Focused – “Work hard, never lose the trust of the partners who are willing to trust, and don’t let the naysayers distract you.”
  • Be Open – “Understand you need to learn as much as you can about how to work with different types of people.” Another MP agrees. “Get to know all your partners, and determine what really motivates them, and what is it that they care most about at the firm. Do not play favorites, and don’t allow little partner groups to form and break down the vision of the firm. Rather, bring their concerns to the table, and resolve them.”

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INSIDE Public Accounting Launches 2020 Culture Assessment

INSIDE Public Accounting (IPA), the accounting profession’s benchmarking leader, is offering a new tool to help partners better understand their firms’ culture and how to improve it.

IPA has measured hundreds of financial and operational metrics for firms for 30 years. IPA is now partnering with CultureIQ, corporate culture experts, to take the seemingly intangible aspects of culture and measure the key qualities that research shows lead directly to business results.

Today success means more than a healthy bottom line. With staffing a top concern for accounting firm leaders every year, culture can’t be left to chance. A desirable culture attracts talented professionals and encourages the best performers not only to stay, but also to drive the firm forward.

IPA’s Excellence in Firm Culture Assessment – launching in May or November – will provide insights into whether firm culture is keeping pace with expectations in a rapidly changing professional environment. Consider it a “culture audit.” The all-staff survey will help leaders see whether the culture described in the mission statement and core values matches the real behaviors, beliefs, interactions and attitudes at the firm.

Participants in the assessment will receive:

  • A customized report. It includes an overall score, aggregated employee data, and strengths and weaknesses by key demographics. The rankings cover agility, alignment, collaboration, customer-centricity, empowerment, engagement, growth development, innovation, quality, recognition rewards, trust integrity and work-life balance.
  • An Employee Net Promoter Score. Like the well-known Net Promoter Score, this data shows how likely staff are to recommend working at your firm.
  • Benchmarking Information. Compare your firm’s scores to that of other participating firms. All data is aggregated by firm size and region. All data on individual firms is confidential.
  • Eligibility to earn the IPA Excellence in Firm Culture award. Firms of distinction that rank highly will receive the award in December 2020.

To participate in the 2020 Excellence in Firm Culture Assessment please complete an online application.

IPA Editor Featured on Ingenuity Marketing Podcast

Chris Camara

Chris Camara

IPA editor and journalist Christina Camara has been featured as an influencer in professional services marketing on the INGenius podcast.

Ingenuity Marketing Group produced the episode as part of its new Ingenuity Masters Series. Host Dawn Wagenaar, principal of Ingenuity Marketing Group, interviewed Camara about trends in the accounting profession and opportunities for accounting firms to gain visibility. (Spoiler alert: focus on experts and firm culture.) The podcast also touched on the changing media landscape, reporting on public accounting and building better relationships with the trade press.

Camara discussed IPA’s 2020 cultural assessments, offered in May and November, which can help answer the question, “What does it feel like to work here?” The data can help firms bring culture top-of-mind, develop a well-defined, positive culture, boost brand awareness and increase retention. Interested? Contact culture@plattgroupllc.com.