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How to motivate out of sight remote staff

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When you're working flat out, it is all too easy to forget staff. That could be a big mistake. As working from home becomes increasingly prevalent, accountants need to motivate their staff in new ways.

17th Jan 2022
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There are many advantages to operating a practice where the majority of both staff and partners spend most or even all of their time working from home.

You can cut office costs, colleagues eliminate wasteful and often stressful travel time and many of the irritating interruptions that become inevitable during the working day disappear in an instant.

In principle, this means that performance should be enhanced and, in many cases, it has been.

Stresses of remote working

Against that, one of the issues that is constantly raised on AccountingWEB relates to stress, mental health and potential burnout.

Those workaholics with the right (or is that wrong?) attitude devote all of the time that they would have spent commuting to additional work, then decide that they can add a couple of hours in before breakfast and several more after dinner.

While the chargeable time will obviously hit unprecedented heights, the quality of their work may suffer. There is also a danger that, in the longer term, key workers will fall ill or decide that the profession is too demanding, switching to something more palatable. That issue is for another day.

A more pressing problem for many has been the difficulty in motivating staff whom you rarely, if ever, see and who see you equally infrequently.

Alternative strategies to encourage

Let’s be honest, accountants are often not endowed with the kind of people skills that make motivating a wide range of personalities an easy task.

For those of us who can remember back that far, to the days when turning up at the office was standard practice rather than a special treat, the ways in which you managed, monitored and motivated staff generally involved human interaction.

This could be as simple as the occasional smile when you passed someone in a corridor, a brief, sympathetic chat to those who were in the office long after the end of their contractual hours or possibly a minor motivational gift such as a bar of chocolate in moments of great stress.

None of that is realistic in the new, virtual office. Therefore, unless you leave staff to do what they like, which also means not doing what they don’t like, it is necessary to find alternative strategies to encourage them in good times and bad.

Iron rod or positivity?

One possibility is to rule with a rod of iron, doing your very best to check up on performance regularly and sending critical emails or even making aggressive phone calls to those who are not up to scratch.

In certain cases, this might do the trick nicely although it is far more likely to have the opposite effect. Particularly when people cannot see facial expressions, they might react very badly to criticism and, given the job market at the moment, decide to decamp and find employment somewhere more enjoyable.

If that is not going to work, then the best option is likely to be conveying positivity at every opportunity. Even that is far from easy when the two parties are separated by many miles and a wonky Zoom connection.

In the current scenario, I will be willing to bet that many accountants running practices do not get around to making contact with key colleagues other than on a very occasional basis.

Make staff feel appreciated

Even the odd phone call to say hello and ask how things are going could pay limited dividends.

Going a step further, congratulating individuals on every piece of good work that is delivered should put a smile on the face of the recipient, even if you can’t see it.

The equivalent to an office bar of chocolate might be some kind of gift sent to commemorate particularly strong performance. A bunch of flowers, a small gift purchased online or, if a superstar hits the jackpot, perhaps even a holiday would be magnificent.

Making your staff feel more comfortable in their jobs is another aspect of motivation. If someone is working from home with a 10-year-old mobile phone, a laptop running an antique version of Windows and little else, that will hardly persuade them that yours is the practice for the long term.

At a more basic level, think about the rewards package. Are you offering top dollar, do you pay bonuses and would it be worth thinking about letting someone have the occasional day off at quiet times, which will probably cost the practice absolutely nothing but is always a great motivator?

Nothing can quite match the motivational opportunities presented by face-to-face contact but where that is impossible, at the very least I would strongly urge everyone to think about what can be done to reward and retain their practice’s most valuable assets.

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By johnjenkins
18th Jan 2022 09:33

One of my sons used to work for EE as a team leader (phone sales). During covid some of his team had to work from home. He is a pretty good motivator, having gone through all the training, but found it nigh on impossible trying to motivate his team. In fact, some were his drinking buddies, one said that whenever my he started to spiel they put the phone in the bin or said "I'm having a beer what are you drinking?" I'm nor sure that this would directly relate to Accountants, but if it's good enough for the PM then nuff said.

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