COVID-19 may have catapulted firms like yours into the world of servicing clients remotely, but it’s nothing new for me and my tech-savvy team. It’s what we’ve been doing since I launched Ironstone in 1994. Back then, “telecommuting” companies were pretty rare. In fact, I was audited in 1996 because the IRS wasn’t sure what to make of a cloud-based operation like mine. Today, Ironstone isn’t an outlier – we’re remote-work pioneers!
Yet for our clients, Ironstone’s business model paid instant dividends. Having home-based teams meant we’ve never added fees to cover the ever-rising costs of brick-and-mortar overhead. And because we’re not limited by geography, we have always been able to tap top talent from around the country to address our clients’ needs. Our expertise isn’t limited by zip-code proximity to an office. As long as tasks are performed at the level that I expect, it doesn’t matter where my staffers live.
Still, for many of you, the abrupt shift to servicing clients remotely remains a work in progress. It’s tough running your practice at full speed when you’re juggling technological, communication and staff hurdles daily, if not hourly. That’s why I wanted to share some of the most useful lessons I’ve learned as a veteran remote business owner.
For Your Clients
Some of your clients may be tech-challenged or uncomfortable on Zoom calls. Others may be 70 years old and rocking it on Facebook. Since both groups need your services, it’s crucial to ask them for their preferred method of communication, which might not be yours. But think of it from the client’s perspective: If they can’t visit you at the office, it might be harder for them to believe that you’re on top of their accounts and doing the work they pay you for. Yes, it adds a degree of difficulty for you to adjust to individual communication styles, but it’s the best way to inspire client confidence in your team and your practice.
For Your Team
Remote teams must be armed with the tools they need to succeed. These could include laptops, ergonomic desk chairs, ring lights for Zoom calls, software management software (we use Monday.com), file hosting services (OneDrive, Office365), VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) systems, plus ample training time to master new technology.
Remote workers also need to pace themselves. The line between work time and free time has become blurred. As a result, worker burnout is spiking as the pandemic trudges on. So when people talk about “Zoom Fatigue,” I think it’s more about setting appropriate boundaries around home offices, whether it’s taking structured breaks or limiting after-hours calls, emails and texts.
Business owners, you need to encourage and respect your team’s boundaries. Don’t text an employee at midnight and expect a response. Let staffers know that their job satisfaction and wellness are important to you. Set the example by modeling that behavior yourself.
For Your Practice
If there’s one thing the pandemic has proven, it’s that the cloud is the future. Without access to office files and with teams operating from different locations, it’s imperative to automate and hold all of your business documentation in a secure online environment. Doing that reduces human error, and it can also make your systems and standard operating procedures seamless.
At the rate the industry is moving, the cloud is not an option. It’s a necessity. Clients must trust your vault. If you’re not sure where you stand, hire a tech pro to conduct an “IT audit” of your practice. We are never going back to the way it was because teams no longer have to be in the same office to work. If your firm is not paperless, you need to go paperless, via cloud storage and file sharing.
Bottom line? The rise of remote work demands a paradigm shift in your business, but also, your mindset. I would argue that remote teams can be more productive because they’re not distracted by the office environment, or frazzled by the hassles of a long commute. They can often start work earlier or work longer, thanks to time they’ve recaptured not traveling to and from a building. Offices may not vanish entirely, but downsizing your space may be a cost-saving option to consider.
For Your Future
Service your clients. Support your team. And remember: Just because you can work 20 hours a day, doesn’t mean you should. When I started Ironstone in my home office, I struggled to establish a healthy work/life balance myself. There was always one more call to make, one more email to send.
Fortunately, my husband came up with a great solution. Years ago, I was given a plaque with a replica of the Liberty Bell on it. We keep that plaque on our bar at home, so Bill began a ritual of ringing the bell at five o’clock to signal that it was time to call it a day. Bill helped me set clear boundaries as a remote business owner. I would advise you to do the same.