Marjorie Adams is president/CEO of AQB, a business process & software consulting firm that improves the efficiency of client accounting departments. The firm specializes in QuickBooks integration and conversion projects.
I hire for talent, not location or any other factor. This is a strategic decision that allows our company to serve clients with the most talented staff locally, and in offices all around the country.
Remotely managing our staff definitely has its own set of challenges. In the five years since I've started my business, I've learned how to do it the hard way. Our fast-growing company's initial goal was to hire 20 employees, yet we still weren't succeeding after 18 months. We would hire an employee and he or she would quit. We also saw a decline in client satisfaction. We were taking good care of our clients, but some refused to pay.
When the problem started impacting the bottom line, we really took notice. Here's what we did to remedy the situation.
Establish a Strong Culture
Our company became more intentional about establishing a culture after reading Verne Harnish's Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. We've found that culture breeds staff and client loyalty and improves the bottom line. Our culture is our corporate identity and the personality of the organization and our brand. This includes our leadership style, policies and procedures, and a clear reporting structure that allows employees to succeed.
One of the first steps in establishing a strong culture is to build core values to clearly guide performance and decision-making. We strived to better define roles and responsibilities--including better processes, training and documentation--so that employees clearly knew what was expected of them. Here's what we came up with:
- Bring value to every company we work with 100 percent of the time.
- Make every day worth it.
- Make sure employees are excited and empowered everyday.
- Always be consistent.
Our values have measurement tactics in place as well, such as a follow-up call from management to clients post-project and a daily staff survey.
Use Smart Technology
Our company uses a variety of cloud-based technologies to run our infrastructure. We chose our software solutions very deliberately to serve the needs of our remote staff and clients with accuracy and flexibility. Our tools enable our remote employees to access the functionality and information they need for their daily work. Here are some of our favorites:
- Intuit's QuickBase. This relational database offers flexibility to manage many aspects of our business. We use it as a CRM, to keep track of customer data and projects we've completed with them, and for client-staff interaction. At any given time, we have an accurate history of our relationship with a certain client. We also use QuickBase as a "Knowledge Base." It is a repository for information regarding HR policies, project management, and more. We've integrated QuickBase with other software tools, like Docusign, to further customize and add the functionality we need.
- Microsoft Office 365. Due to the email and calendar interoperability, Outlook 2013 is a tool we use to communicate and manage our time effectively. We use the standard suite of MS Office products so that we're all speaking the same language. OneNote is a great tool for creating universal to-do lists and organizing shared information.
- Docusign. Managing legal documents via mail for HR purposes and client agreements can be cumbersome and time consuming. Our custom Signature Capture tool integrates directly with QuickBooks and QuickBase, and extends our remote work capabilities to allow us to store files quickly and easily by adding signatures to receipts, invoices or other documentation.
- GoToMeeting. Regardless of staff location, internal meetings are absolutely necessary. Using this online meeting tool enables us to share documents and take turns presenting during staff meetings. We also use it for client meetings and webinars.
- LogMeIn Rescue. This tool saves us travel time and expense by giving us access to client computers and databases remotely for projects or troubleshooting.
Be Diligent About Communications
As our company grew, we created another line of defense: mid-management. The goal was to help better manage my time as the owner. Employees were instructed to go to management first, regardless of what they needed.
During this time, two of our key employees had major life changes. One got married and had a new stepson, and the other moved out of state and had twins. I slowed my communication with them to give them space. At the same time, they were instructed to begin going to their manager with issues. However, they felt slighted by being asked to follow the new chain of command. These individuals were our first hires, and have been a huge part of our successful growth ever since.
Luckily, they are still part of the team. Now, we have an in-depth conversation at least monthly, so that we can maintain a personal relationship and let them know what a valuable asset they are to our team. This communication effort allows me to ensure they are happy in their role.
Bi-monthly staff meetings, daily management meetings and ad hoc department meetings also keep us in touch and help us problem solve. We take advantage of industry events to schedule face time with employees. Our in-person team meetings allow us time for business and team building activities. Last spring in Austin, for example, our team went on a Top Golf outing, which was both fun and productive.
Our efforts are working. We are over the hump and have 20+ employees supported by a demand for our services. This summer, we hired six employees, some of whom I've never met in person! Having a strong culture in place allows us to train and develop relationships with these individuals as they embark on a career with us. While it is still a challenge to juggle keeping in touch with what is happening with clients, employees and running a business, the remote strategy is working.
Now, it's time to check in with my staff.