It’s Friday and one of our account managers logs in for work from... Argentina.
He participates in a program called
Remote Year, and will work from 12 different cities around the globe in just 12 months. While he may be overlooking the Taj Mahal in India, exploring the Grand Pyramid in Egypt, or taking in Big Ben in London, he is conducting business as usual.
A decade ago, this would not have been possible. Luckily, we prioritized integrated technology as a core component of our culture and service offerings. Our firm is virtual, paperless and mobile. Our bookkeepers and controllers need only a laptop and internet connection to work.
Matthew May teaching at a public incubator
Acuity has grown swiftly over the last three years – from 10 to 70 employees. As a result, hiring is a discipline that we take very seriously. On the top of our list is ensuring every applicant can mesh with our technology-driven culture. They should be adaptable, great communicators and self-motivated. Our employees must believe, as we do, that the cloud is the norm, not the exception. We’ve placed great focus on hiring people that fit with our technology-forward values, and this has allowed us to gain and retain top talent.
So how can you use technology to create a winning team? Here are a few ways to use technology to attain the best talent.
1. Eliminate geographic barriers When we first launched, we focused on hiring locally in the Atlanta area. We thought it would be easier since we could leverage our own network and train new hires in person. But as we grew, we realized how quickly a network dries up, which makes great talent harder to find. We knew we needed to expand our search, and as we refined our operations and moved more aggressively into the cloud, we decided that location did not matter. Since we enable virtual working, we have the freedom to search for talent across the nation, giving us a significant competitive advantage. Now we have bookkeepers and controllers in ten cities across seven states. 2. Build technology into your hiring narrative Since technology is at the core of who we are as a business, we always lead with our technology story. When hiring, it is important to have a technology filter for candidates. This filter reflects our core values, so it made sense to hire people that not only accepted, but championed, our beliefs.
We use Slack for communications, Bill.com for AP, and Xero and QuickBooks Online for accounting. By emphasizing technology, we tend to attract a type of applicant that fits our needs, saving us countless hours of interviewing incompatible candidates.
3. Emphasize flexibility and productivity Technology enables us to evolve our position on flexibility and productivity, which offers a compelling perk to candidates. We believe the 40-hour work week is an archaic notion. You should complete work correctly and accurately, but not have to spend an inordinate amount of time doing so. If one employee takes six hours to finish an assignment and another takes four hours, they get paid the same amount.
Technology has allowed us to evolve our charging structure to fixed fees rather than hourly fees. Rather than racking up hourly charges, we can focus on productivity and deliver true value to clients. As a result, employees are able to work independently, regardless of location. We don’t have any mandates or utilization goals for each person. They can work as much or as little as they like, as long as the job gets done.
Interviewees frequently say that they didn’t know jobs like this existed. We give them the freedom to choose whether to work full-time or part-time and we never exclude candidates that are over qualified. We attract accountants and CPAs to do bookkeeping because they value the flexibility of this job. This kind of flexibility empowers our team to their highest levels of productivity.
4. Professional development At Acuity, we want our employees to be better off when they leave than when they start. Technology plays a critical role in supporting this philosophy. For example, bookkeepers are not considered bookkeepers when they join, but rather technology specialists with a bookkeeping background. We educate every new hire to ensure they are well-trained on the solutions we use to deliver the best possible service to our customers.
We also believe personal development is pivotal to job satisfaction. So, we offer to pay for certifications that help employees become specialists in the technologies we use, which in turn, helps them become more effective for our team and our clients. And this emphasis on growth pays off — in fact, our technology partners often say our employees know their solutions better than they do.
5. Partnering with technology companies If there’s one thing we learned, it’s never to underestimate the power and potential of a strong partnership.
We forge partnerships with solution providers to leverage new features, suggest additional ones, beta test and co-market. The partnerships allow us to stay on the cutting-edge of these technologies and attract talent. We also gauge our return on investment for technology, since we invest in training and certifications. For example, our partnership with Bill.com has helped us develop a service that brings in $250,000 a year in revenue.
6. Preparing for the future Technology and what it enables keeps us relevant to both our clients and talent. The entrepreneurs and business owners we work with expect an online and on-demand accounting experience. Their companies, as a whole, don’t run on paper and neither should their accounting. This same preference extends to up-and-coming talent. Modern talent prospects won’t tolerate reams of paper or driving around town to get checks signed, nor should they have to.
Now, our bookkeepers can handle 20-30 clients each. Paper and data entry are no longer involved in the bookkeeping process and bookkeepers can focus on more challenging aspects of their jobs.
All of these factors help us retain employees for longer periods of time. Our hiring process and employee relations aren’t perfect, but we take every opportunity we can to improve them. With the right mindset and a commitment to integrated technology, firms can attract and retain top accounting talent to ensure success now and into the future.
Matthew May is the COO and founder of Atlanta, Ga.-based Acuity.