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December 20, 2023 | read

When a Virtual Firm Meets Face-to-Face, Awesome Things Happen

Brandon Hall

As you may know, we are a virtual CPA firm. We don’t meet clients face-to-face and we certainly don’t accept paper documents. We’re techy, cool, and in the cloud.

What you may not know is that, true to form, all of our employees are also virtual. We don’t have a physical office. Instead, we interact daily on Zoom and Slack.

Though such an arrangement poses unique management issues, I truly believe it’s the best way to work in the 21st century.

You see, when managing a virtual workplace, you can’t count on time tracking. I’d drive myself absolutely nuts trying to verify if my employees worked a full eight hour day. So instead, we focus on results. Output. What did you do this week to add value to the firm?

It’s a much more sobering work environment. Everyone knows who is crushing it any particular week. There is no space for slackers to hide.

That said, there is a certain something to having face-to-face interactions that you miss in a virtual environment. Not being able to high-five a teammate or go to team lunches wears on you.

So being the fearless leader that I am, I decided to fly our team out to Charlotte, NC in December 2017 for our first face-to-face meetup.

What We Learned

The biggest lesson for me is that the virtual workplace does not eliminate the team’s need for face-to-face interaction.

We rented an AirBnB in Uptown Charlotte and had a blast. Kevin Smith, an Accounting Wizard at our firm, rigged the TV (without any of us knowing) and started playing my BiggerPockets Podcast episode.

Can you image how freakin’ creeped out I was? A random TV, in a random AirBnB, in a relatively random city, is playing my voice through its speakers as I’m talking to Brandon Turner and Josh Dorkin on BiggerPockets.

Kevin eventually fessed up that he was controlling the TV with his iPhone, which no one even knew was possible. Seriously, the guy is a genius.

In a virtual environment, we don’t get that type of fun interaction. We miss out on a lot of the inherent team building that comes with interacting in a central location face-to-face every day.

But I also strongly believe that if we weren’t a virtual CPA firm, our physical meetup wouldn’t have been nearly as fun and productive.

We also learned that by getting everyone together at one time, we can control work priority. For example, we sat everyone down at the kitchen table and basically said “we’re getting this darn deliverable system cleaned up and ready to go before we do anything else.” What ensued was a high energy four hours of everyone working on our systems. That’s the most productive I’ve ever “seen” our team.

Lastly, we learned that meeting up face-to-face spurs our creative minds. We were all excitedly planning and strategizing for the future.

How do we build systems as our firm grows? How about teams? How do we create a kick-ass client experience? How do we create a kick-ass employee experience?

These are the things we pondered over wine, beers, and juicy burgers.

Our New Creations and Developments

After the December meetup, we had a fully functioning deliverable management system. This system basically tracks everything that we need to do for our clients from strategy calls, to tax returns, to quarterly tax estimates. The system assigns a team member to complete the deliverable and a due date. I can then track performance per employee and even per client.

It’s beautiful.

It’s also how we’re automating a lot of the admin and project management work that other CPA firms hire people for.

The coolest creation in my opinion is our new employee management ideology.

We are striving to create and develop a flat management system at our firm. This is tough to do as the standard CPA firm model is to have associates, senior associates, managers, directors, and partners. Changing this model means saying no to a system that is centuries-old.

We enjoy the challenge, but the major problem is that CPAs are currently trained to expect this old and tired system. So we need to re-train all future employees on expectations. That’s tough to do.

As far as I can tell, our new management model does not currently exist anywhere in the business world. We pulled our favorite management techniques from popular firms such as Netflix, Zappos, and Red Hat and combined them into one new system. It’s a way to visually show employees how they can add more value to our virtual CPA firm.

Unfortunately, I can’t go into a ton of detail just yet. We’re developing it internally and will be testing it out in the months and years to come. Once we have the kinks worked out, and assuming it’s successful, I’ll be singing its praises to the business world.

Group Shots

What would a meetup be without cool photos? Not pictured are our two newest CPAs, Thomas Castelli and Taylor Brugna.