The good, the bad and the ugly of working remote

Joe Collins, CPA, CA / 7 min read
The rate of remote workers has been growing steadily for years, but March of 2020 brought a never before seen shift. Today, there’s an estimated 19.5 million people working remotely, and this number is expected to grow to 36.2 million by 2025. What does a firm who has been remote from the start look like? Let us tell you!

The rate of remote workers has been growing steadily for years (over 159% since 2007!) but March of 2020 brought a never before seen shift. Today, there’s an estimated 19.5 million people working remotely, and this number is expected to grow to 36.2 million by 2025.

Clearly, we’re trendsetters here at Avalon, because we’ve been championing remote working since our founding in 2015. We have team members scattered all across Canada and even in the Philippines, and over the past six years we’ve learned a thing or two about how, and how not, to run a remote office. In our experience, having a full understanding of what working from home is like makes the transition to a remote team that much easier, so let's get into the good, the bad and the ugly of working remote.

Remote working means a little more responsibility and a lot more trust

Before she started working with Avalon, one of our Bookkeepers, Kate, said she always thought working in an accounting firm had to be stressful. At her previous job, she felt like she was constantly being micromanaged, or that someone was looming over her shoulder to make sure she was getting her work done.

With remote working - at least, the style of remote working that Avalon does - you won’t have a manager breathing down your neck. We believe in treating our team like adults, because that’s what you are. If you say you’re getting your work done, we trust you’re getting it done! And that doesn't have to be during the typical 9 to 5 office hours, either.

Our core office hours are 10am - 2pm Pacific, but other than that we truly embrace flexible working. Our team members get their work done around school drop offs, driving lessons, or even helping a cow give birth on their ranch! How many accounting firms can say that?

However, being free of micromanaging means the responsibility of getting your work done falls to you. We’re a team of self-starters and go-getters, doing what it takes to get the job done and get it done well. Some workers perform better when they’ve got a manager by their side to keep them on track, but at Avalon, whether you’re working at our HQ in Victoria or in your living room hundreds of miles away, you cherish both the freedom and responsibility that remote working gives you.

Forming connections with your colleagues is possible, it just takes some extra planning.

It’s easy to build relationships with your colleagues when you’re working just a few feet away from each other, or having lunch together in the breakroom. Remote working eliminates many of the organic social interactions that you might be used to after working in an office.

We pride ourselves on being an incredibly close-knit team here at Avalon, but this doesn’t happen without some effort and planning. Some of the ways we stay connected are:

  • Mandatory Fun: this phrase might seem like an oxymoron, but we’ve actually found ways to make our mandatory fun, well, genuinely fun! Once a month we organize a virtual get together for the team, like having drinks or playing board games or cooking a meal. Nothing bonds a team better than a competitive round of Scattergories!
  • Weekly Chats: with remote working, it’s easy to fall into a rut of only chatting with the people you work directly with. Our Avalon team is always growing, and we don’t want people to feel like they’re divided into cliques, so once a week we have 15 minute chats with a random team member. This gives us a chance to have a cup of coffee, catch up, and get to know each other more.
  • Coffee On Me: We may not be able to make each other a cup of tea during a stressful day, or grab a croissant while we’re at the coffee shop, but we’ve still found a way to treat our teammates! We like to send each other UberEats - on Avalon, of course - as a special, random surprise. Whether they’re working hard as a deadline closes in, are dealing with some personal challenges, or just because, this is a great way to show your teammate you’re thinking of them.
  • Avalonicon: once a year we have a teamwide meetup at our Headquarters in Victoria, BC. This gives us a chance to get together in person, hang out, plan the coming year, and of course enjoy lots of food and drink!

Some advice from the Avalon team when it comes to forming relationships remotely: lean into it. It may feel a little unnatural for the first month or so to shoot someone a random “how’s your day going?” message or send them a latte from 80 miles away. But when you embrace it, it’ll eventually feel like a normal Tuesday!

Remote working: the most distracting, distraction-free environment

In a survey done by Microsoft, Work Without Walls, a distraction-free environment was listed as one of the top ten benefits of remote working. It’s true that you won’t have to worry about water cooler gossip dragging your attention away or someone popping by your desk when you’re in the middle of a time-sensitive task; but working from home has its own unique distractions to consider!

Kids and pets are the most obvious one. Many of us have experienced a toddler wandering into the room in the middle of a Zoom call, or Luna the Lab wanting to play a round of fetch while you’re trying to focus on spreadsheets. You’re also at risk of being distracted by a delivery person at your door, the plumber fixing your bathroom pipes, or the desire to lie down on your very comfortable couch.

In our experience, working remotely doesn’t have fewer distractions than working in the office; it just has different types. At Avalon, we like to laugh off these distractions when they come (combining our buffoonery and empathy values!) but also take the responsibility of creating the most distraction-free workspace possible for ourselves. And we promise, we’ll never complain if your cat decides to join us in our Zoom meets!

You could work your dream job from anywhere

Just the other week, our co-CEO Paul spent some time with his family back in his hometown. For a few days, his Zoom background was his childhood bedroom, and his desk was his mom’s kitchen table. Even so, Paul was able to get all of his work done, while visiting his family and having a mini-holiday.

The best part about remote working is you can do it from anywhere. The introverts among us prefer to work from home, while others enjoy a co-working space. Maybe you’re staying in a chateau in France or a villa in Italy or your friend’s couch in New York for a few months. Wherever life takes you, we don’t care where you’re getting your work done, as long as you get it done.

Over the years, countless studies have found that remote working increases not only your productivity, but your job satisfaction as well. Remote workers have far lower levels of stress and psychological burnout and are significantly more likely to stay in their jobs than non-remote workers. At Avalon, we’ve found a system that works for us as a business and for our team as human beings. And that’s a pretty big win.

If you want to read more about what sets Avalon apart from other accounting firms, or to see what positions we have available and how you can become a member of our team, check out our hiring page here.

Article by Joe Collins, CPA, CA.Originally published September 10, 2021.

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