Moving Toward the Virtual Firm (Part 3 of 5) Reviewed by Momizat on . Virtual firm tools and digital technology removes barriers and excuses In this third installment (moving toward the virtual firm) of her five-part series, Simon Virtual firm tools and digital technology removes barriers and excuses In this third installment (moving toward the virtual firm) of her five-part series, Simon Rating: 0
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Moving Toward the Virtual Firm (Part 3 of 5)

Virtual firm tools and digital technology removes barriers and excuses

In this third installment (moving toward the virtual firm) of her five-part series, Simone Hoover examines who is the best candidate for a virtual firm transition and the logistics to consider for both remote employees and business owners.

Moving Toward the Virtual Firm

Moving Toward the Virtual Firm

Who Makes a Good Virtual Candidate?  

The staff:  Disciplined, self-starters who can work alone, remotely or in a more casual setting while keeping deadlines and coordination in mind. I find that age has little to do with it, on either the employee or supervisor’s part. Some can and some can’t adapt to the lack of daily contact. Even in the community of virtual professionals there are degrees of ease. Visit the International Virtual Assistants Association, IVAA, to educate yourself on the training afforded to these remote workers and help in developing your internal policy. While many work their virtual firm from home, the hourly rate can begin in the range of $20/hr and climb upward based on skills sought and the experience of the candidate. 

You might consider moving to a more outcome-based evaluation system. Focus on the deliverables and standards of quality. It’s a good idea to establish agreed working hours and “Check in” to which both parties can commit.   We use instant messaging (I/M) software and ask all participants to sign in during work hours. If you are fortunate enough to have an intranet you can utilize, MS Office Lync communicator, Skype or Yahoo Messenger, you can easily set up this type of system.  Establish a trial period and agree to revisit the experience at the end for review and revision. If you’re clear about your expectation at the start, it can be a normal process for both parties. 

When hiring, don’t be afraid to explore in-depth the nature of a virtual relationship. Discuss the tools used, the schedule and assessment process, at a minimum. If necessary, arrange a written agreement that sets forth these conditions and consider what costs, if any, beyond the hourly fee will be absorbed by the employer (you). Don’t be surprised that some candidates will not adapt quickly. Some employers have asked to inspect the virtual workspace. Discuss this with your business insurance carrier.

Deal with the distractions:  Whether it’s the unending social media, visitors, or the laundry needing to be done, home base is likely to be more relaxed and present temptations. If small children are in the home, consider necessary childcare arrangements, a caregiver that comes in during peak work hours or a regular schedule of day/elder care visits. Pets too, can be a blessing or a curse in a virtual firm. I find mine keep the stress level down for both myself and the clients who visit, and security is never a concern. 

The client base:  We live in a transient world. If your clients are used to dropping in to visit and require face time, you’ll have to plan around that. Maintain an office schedule that is limited to less than five days a week and make that public. Over a period of time, train the clients that your presence in the office is limited and supplement with increased video chat or other remote communication. I have moved to a regular quarterly “check in” e-mail and actually use the phone more often with the recurring client base. They hear from me, whether they need it or not, and it has resulted in a deepening relationship with many. Some clients, and many of my peers, have moved to social media as a way of staying connected with clients and their activities, as well. By now, most of us know that this platform is a double-edged sword. It is not going away and increasingly, we are asked to communicate through it.  

The owners:  Running a virtual firm puts challenges on the owner group. Plan on a regular board meeting of management.  Likely at least two of these meetings should be face-to-face and at an offsite location. Document your agreements and discussions at those meetings. Communicate more frequently, and log the instances of communication. Whether it is an e-newsletter or e-mail message, keeping a record of such meetings is a useful tool. It helps introduce newer users to the communication plan and gives me valuable information if the recipients are getting my messages. 

Invest in Yourself

You’ll want to invest your time and finances in the technology, policies, and practices to succeed. Here are some suggestions:

Communication and collaboration:  There are many industry specific suites, HipChat, Hall.com, Flowdock, and Campfire that are scalable, private, secure, and searchable, and allow team members to talk over video.  37 Signals is one provider of tools for the virtual world. Their suite includes:

Campfire

Instant messaging for groups. Eliminates cross platform conflicts ie; AIM/MSN/etc.  Also works with a variety of add-ons.

Backpack

File storage for individuals or groups. Includes calendar, journals for notes in time sequence, writeboards to share ideas in text documents, reminders sent to your cell phone, as well as track activity on the site.

Basecamp

A project collaboration and management application that allows you to manage files and discussions, all in one place. Pricing starts at $20/month after a two-month free trial.

Highrise

An online customer relationship management system, (CRM) allows you to organize notes, e-mail for up to 30,000 contacts and share across your team. Includes follow ups and with over 100 add-ons including iPhone apps, I/M integration, e-mail, and accounting modules and others with new options coming online regularly. CRM plays a crucial role in making a virtual office successful and should be strongly considered. Pricing ranges from $24/mo. to $99/ mo., and you can migrate across plans as you grow. There is a 30-day free trial period.

Zoning and neighborhood association rules:  Is a second business license needed for a homebased or remote business office?  Are non-traditional buildings allowed to house the office?  Do your neighbors agree that you can work from home and how much can they limit your activities?    Governing documents should be consulted and possibly a legal advisor, as well. Think about the client base you serve or plan to serve and decide if you want them accessing this location?  

Vendor relations:  Will your regular vendors continue to service you in a remote setting?   UPS and similar services charge a little extra for residential pickup/delivery. That cost can be mitigated by the ease of access to drop boxes locations for outgoing items. Know the shipping time deadlines and where the last outgoing shipment is collected. Keep that information current. In our community, UPS and Fedex both have a location at the airport that is the latest pickup in town, often past 9:00 p.m. 

“By now, most of us know that this platform is a double-edged sword. It is not going away and increasingly, we are asked to communicate through it.”

Insurance coverage:  Consider the existing coverage and if it addresses loss of physical business property, liability for injury, and business interruption coverage. Are paper and electronic files covered in case of loss and privacy issues?    Auto policies may need to be reviewed and, at minimum, you may wish to ask the employee/contractor to produce their insurance policy declaration pages. Adapt your policies and practices to consider proposed risks.  

Workflow and business practices:  Take the time to document and evaluate how you will:  assign and monitor work, review and revise work, interface both the staff and the client component in each of these. Online collaboration tools have proven helpful in this capacity. As you add new tools, consider their impact on document/information retention policies and which, if any, would be more successful if a contemporaneous record were made by through-recording conference calls or presentations. 

Software delivery options need assessment:  Moving to the cloud presents an opportunity for increased savings from traditional on-premises software to hosted software or to SaaS. Diversity Limited has published a white paper, “Software Delivery Models,” comparing approaches and debunking some myths, which does a credible job of comparing and contrasting the three alternatives and explaining the pros and cons. 

Write and employ an office policy document that outlines the protocols employees/contractors must follow while working for the firm. The document should cover policies designed to mitigate the firm’s risk from encountering problems with privacy, risk management, and human resources issues. Discuss this with your Workers Compensation policy provider.  

Ensure the firm complies with all laws and regulations overseen by the state labor departments in the areas where the firm has employees. Consider having a human resources professional look over all written policies to ensure they are in good order.  

Simone Velasquez Hoover, CPA/CVA is President of Simone Velasquez Hoover, PA.  The firm provides comprehensive financial, development and management support to nonprofit, membership organizations and high net worth individuals.  In addition, the firm provides forensic accounting, litigation support and dispute resolution services to individuals, families and business clients.  Ms. Hoover served as Executive Director, NACVA State Chapter Foundation Chapter President from 2005 through March 2013.  Currently, she is also Executive Director of Operation Homefront – Florida, a 501(c)(3) that serves the families of deployed and wounded service members throughout the state with emergency financial and other support. Simone can be reached at hoovercocpa@aol.com

The National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA) supports the users of business and intangible asset valuation services and financial forensic services, including damages determinations of all kinds and fraud detection and prevention, by training and certifying financial professionals in these disciplines.

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