How technology and systems can help in the pursuit of flexible working

I’m just back from realising my dream of living in the south of France, while my children attended the local primary school to learn French. I spent about two years preparing the business so I could manage it remotely. Here I will detail the tools that enabled my cloud practice.

To work remotely, or indeed to enable flexible working, I’ve found that cloud systems are the optimum solution as then your data is synchronised over all your devices – particularly handy when using mobile devices when travelling. However some of the cloud systems are still quite new and therefore lacking in features so a server-based solution on a hosted desktop is another option, and a quick way to move your existing systems on line.

Centralise and systemise

It is essential that your practice is paperless with all files stored electronically where your team can access them from anywhere they have an internet connection. We use a solution that synchronises our files onto our local device, which is very useful in avoiding connectivity issues if your internet connection is slow or unstable.

A central client database is key so everyone knows where to find client data. Ideally an administrator should oversee keeping the database tidy, so all data is current and consistent. This also helps meet the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It is handy if client contact details can also be accessed remotely (and securely).

Your practice needs to be fully systemised so every team member knows their role and the actions that are expected of them in any week. We use a cloud-based internal workflow tool that automatically allocates the next action in a job process when the preceding action has been completed. Clear reporting allows visibility over the progress of every set of accounts and tax return, so these can be managed by an administrator.

Our online password storage crypt is invaluable for allowing the team members access to all the practice log-ins, so long as everyone makes sure they keep it up to date. This enables the administrators to run the practice without resetting lost passwords all the time. This would normally need dual authentication, and therefore require input from the managing director. We store our client passwords in a separate crypt for security.

I instigated an instant messaging system for internal communications so my team could quickly talk with me and their emails didn’t get muddled with all the other correspondence in my inbox. When I was travelling, it took less bandwidth for me to access instant messaging than our full email system.

We have used a VoIP phone system within our offices for many years now as it allows a seamless transfer of calls between team members, wherever they are working. Our latest system includes a mobile app so I can even receive calls when I’m travelling, again subject to sufficient wifi.

Having a shared cloud calendar and email accounts allowed my PA to take over diary management and tidy my inbox. Our system synchronised onto my local machine, which was invaluable when the internet connection was poor as I could continue to write draft emails to send later.

Empower

For me, as the business leader, the key to working remotely was to see it as an opportunity to empower my team. Keeping everything accessible and transparent meant that my staff had clear objectives, as well as the information they needed to accomplish these tasks.

Flexible and remote working is available to all my team. In fact, one of them is planning to spend the summer holidays next year in New Zealand , where she will take three weeks’ holiday but work the rest of the time remotely.

Remote working maximised the potential of my employees as well as making maximum use of the systems we had put in place. It is a means of working that is also a perfect fit for my flexible working team.

 

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