The 7-step guide for small accountancy firm owners to effectively monitor the performance of employees who work virtually

With the phased reopening of businesses over the next few weeks or months, many employers are challenged with having the majority, if not all of their workforce, working from home for the foreseeable future. As you can imagine, as the transition out of lockdown in the U.K. is looking like a long and painfully slow one, the big question on everyone’s minds is “How can I monitor employees that work remotely?”.

To help answer this question and ease the pressures that many accountancy practice owners are facing, here is a definitive guide to monitoring employee performance so that you can be sure that they are working productively during office hours.

The definitive 7-step guide to monitoring performance

With many of your employees working from home, some for the very first time, you'll be facing some big challenges (along with lots of other accountancy practice owners!) at the moment:

  • Keeping track of your remote workers,
  • Engaging with them, and;
  • Ensuring that they are productively working during office hours instead of procrastinating on the task.

During this time of global crisis, you're learning how to lead remotely just as your team is adjusting to working from home, so don’t be so hard on yourself. Hundreds of accountants are in the same boat! Take control with these 7 steps so that you can engage and monitor your remote workers easily.

1. Use communication apps

If you’re thinking “How can I monitor employees that work remotely?” the main priority that should be on your mind is communication. Face-to-face communication isn’t an option, so how are you going to communicate essential information? How will everyone communicate with each other on what they’re working on? How will you be able to reach each other quickly?

When monitoring performance, you first need to have the right communication tools that all your employees can use so look at the options out there. Choose the ones that are right for your team.

There are so many options that you can use beyond email - you could use video-conferencing apps like Skype and Zoom to instant messaging software like What’s App and Slack - just be aware that too many channels can be a nightmare! Make sure you streamline your workflow for effective and efficient communication. (Discover the top 16 tips to running effective online meetings!)

Quick tip: If you already have Microsoft Office 365, you will also have built in communication apps for your team. Such as video calls and communication channels. As one of our members found out recently that if he used is Office 365 suite of programmes properly he had no need for zoom or Slack. It saved him a few pounds!

Quick tip: Slack is one of the best-known modern communication and collaboration tools for teams. It helps save a substantial amount of time and you can organise conversations per team, project or client. 

2. Always assign deadlines to tasks

Working from home is an adjustment in itself and it comes with its own set of distractions. Throw in the specific pressures and anxiety that this global pandemic is causing and you can assume that most people aren’t working at their best. So how can you overcome this?

Using specific accountancy workflow, task management and practice management tools such as Senta, (Accountants' Growth Club members get a discount on their Senta membership) Karbon or Accountancy Manager, or more generic project management tools such as, Mavenlink or Trello is a great way to get everyone on the same page and working towards the same goal. Good tools allow all team members to see which tasks have been assigned to who so that everyone knows their individual contribution to the overall project. This obviously encourages collaboration but it is the addition of due dates that motivates individuals to take ownership of their tasks and to get them done. By assigning deadlines to tasks, this helps to change the attitudes of your employees from the ‘lax’ working-from-home attitude to a productive ‘I have to get this done on time’ one instead.

Things to remember: make sure your deadlines are realistic as this can otherwise be demotivating.

3. View team activity regularly to monitor projects

Thinking “How can I monitor employees that work remotely?” shouldn’t mean more work for you. That’s micro-management, not management. Monitoring the performance of your employees should be able to be done quickly and you can do this using one of the project management tools that we touched on above. (Discover the 10 best project management tools in 2020)

When working on multiple projects with remote teams, it’s essential to have a clear layout of all project activities. This not only allows you to view all the steps of a project at a glance, but it also allows you to check progress instantly too. Some tools, such as Senta, Xero Practice Manager or have an integrated time tracker, so you can also gain an insight into productivity as they give you an estimate of how much time was taken to complete different tasks within a project. This is invaluable to monitoring employees who are working remotely as this allows you to gauge which of your remote team members are actually utilising office hours for the tasks at hand.

Download our free weekly work report template for team members to fill in each week to keep you updated on their progress and workload.

Quick tip: always communicate clear briefs and expectations when you assign tasks to individuals and give constructive feedback where possible. This helps increase productivity and the quality of work moving forward.

4. Keep an eye on employee internet usage

Many employers and business owners worry about remote workers because working from home poses different risks and distractions; distractions like noisy family members, social media and Netflix that could result in hours of wasted time. This worry is among the main ones when employers ask themselves “How can I monitor employees that work remotely?”

To highlight any productivity issues when it comes to internet usage, software such as TimeDoctor can be used to monitor applications and websites that are being used while they are working. With this information then, a detailed report is sent to employers at the end of the day so that they can see what unproductive sites or applications are being used during work hours. Subtracting this time spent procrastinating from the total hours logged by your remote employee then gives you the actual amount of they spent working.

When using software to monitor internet usage, don’t forget to add certain websites that the employee needs to use into the ‘productive’ segment. In some cases, this could include social media sites so this needs to be marked down as official work.

Things to remember: According to a ConnectSolutions study, 77% of remote workers get more done in fewer hours thanks to fewer distractions like meetings, conversations, and noisy coworkers. This has been reinforced in other studies where 74% of respondents said they work remotely to get away from colleague interruptions.

5. Track how much time your employees are working

One of the biggest challenges with monitoring employees who are working from home is that you don’t know when or how much they are actually working. There will be times where remote workers will have to answer the door or the phone or they’ll get distracted by their kids or spouse. A minute quickly turns into thirty, and whether it’s intentional or not, they’ve committed time theft.

Download our free weekly work report template for team members to fill in each week to keep you updated on their progress and workload.

To overcome this issue, try to use time and attendance software where employees can clock in and out each day or where they log the amount of time they have worked. Time-tracking software such as TimeDoctor or HubStaff is great for this as they run in the background and monitor your employee’s keyboard and mouse activity. When your employee is away from the keyboard, the idle timer kicks in to record the time spent away from the desk. Unless the employee manually adds in time spent on official work that is not computer-based, this time will tell you how much time is being wasted.

Time-tracking software allows you to feel reassured that you are paying for the actual time spent doing work and it motivates your employees to be more productive in the time that they are working. Put simply, it recreates that “someone looking over their shoulder” that they have in the office environment. As well as spotting time theft, another benefit of using this software is that it shows you who is over-working too. Some employees find it very difficult to separate their work and home life while working remotely, so if you see someone consistently working far more than they should, you should help them to develop a new daily structure with healthier habits.

6. Supervise employees remotely

If you’re having issues with productivity, have a discussion with your remote team about the decision to use employee monitoring software. Some tools like the ones we’ve mentioned earlier in the article have the capability of taking screenshots of your employee’s screen at fixed time intervals (e.g. every 5 minutes) so it’s important that you’re transparent with this as it can be seen as an invasion of privacy.

When you bring up the need for this kind of software, emphasise your desire to increase team productivity so that you can reach the growth targets for your practice as a team. This software only becomes active during working hours when they start logging their time so ensure them it’s not being used to spy on their everyday activities. With this information that you get from this software, this allows you to see whether your employees are actually working full time at a glance.

7. Encourage employees to send an end-of-day (and end-of-week) report summary

You don’t have to enforce end-of-day reports, but when it comes to monitoring the performance of your employees working from home, daily summaries are beneficial for both parties. They allow you to track progress and to see how long it is taking individuals to complete certain tasks, whereas, with your employees, end-of-day reports hold them accountable and helps them keep track of what they’ve accomplished in the day.

End-of-day reports are great for feeling a sense of accomplishment which is great for motivation and productivity moving forward. It's the same with end-of-week summaries. They are great to help you and your team member see what they have managed to achieve in the week.

Download our free weekly work report template for team members to fill in each week to keep you updated on their progress and workload.

8. Manage from afar with the right apps and software

In this article, we set out to answer the increasingly popular question “How can I monitor employees that work remotely?” to help accountancy practice owners manage their remote teams. The best answer to that is to invest in and use the right apps and software that encourage engagement, collaboration, and accountability, and if needed, tools that monitor employee time and internet usage.

With the right mixture of software for your team and processes, you can be sure that your remote employees are working productively during office hours. Just remember, it’s not about micro-management, but smarter management instead.

rob jones

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