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How to work as a team when you’re all digital nomads

From using Slack to implementing ‘no-calls’ days, the founders of virtual accounting firm LiveCA explain how they work from anywhere in the world

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Josh Zweig in Bariloche, ArgentinaJosh Zweig recently spent several months living and working in Argentina (Image provided)

In 2013, CPAs Josh Zweig and Chad Davis created Canada’s first online accounting firm, LiveCA. Since then, the organization has grown to become the largest of its kind in the country. And as the 62 team members can work wherever they want, they are as likely to be found in southern Spain as they are in an office here on home soil.

CPA Canada recently talked to Zweig and Davis about the tools they use to communicate with each other and with clients, and even more important, how they organize their workdays to avoid being overwhelmed. When interviewed, Zweig was living and working in Buenos Aires, Argentina, while Davis was in Victoria, B.C., a stop on his trip travelling across North America in an RV with his wife and two kids.

CPA CANADA: What role do you play at LiveCA?
JZ:
I wear three different hats—that of a business owner, a salesperson and a team leader.

CD: As we’ve grown, my role as a co-founder has switched to more external affairs, growing partnerships and working with Josh on sales—designing workflows with prospective customers.

CPA CANADA: What tools does the team use to communicate with each other? 
JZ:
We all use Slack for day-to-day communications. I never get an internal email. Slack is built for teams, and it’s one of the more widely used applications in the tech world. I find Slack has a lot more functionality than some of the other messenger apps we’ve used in the past—it has different channels so you can communicate with your team or see what’s going on in other areas of the company. There’s also a “travel” channel where people plan meetups and the “heartbeat” channel where we post important company updates.

CD: Slack has also allowed us to do some pretty cool things remotely, such as arranging Secret Santa using a bot or sending as a virtual “thanks.” 

CPA CANADA: What other tools do you use on a daily basis?
JZ:
 I use a Google calendar that lets our team know if I’m in a meeting, as well as a booking system called Calendly for client appointments. I’m always on Karbon—a practice management and customer relationship management system that is built for accounting firms. I manage my email through it as well.

CPA CANADA: Do you talk on the phone?
CD:
Being 100 per cent remote, I have to communicate by phone, email or video chat. For the past few years I’ve been using Zoom for video conferencing, four to eight times a day.

JZ: I’m on the phone most of the day, going from call to call.

CPA Canada: Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
JZ:
I think everyone feels overwhelmed from time to time but it’s how you deal with it that matters. If you say to yourself, “Oh no, I’m stressed out, it’s terrible,” you’ll get anxious. But I like to use the analogy of going to the gym. When you put your muscles under stress, that’s what allows them to build. While I might feel stressed from time to time as I work outside my comfort zone, that’s what contributes to my professional development and keeps the job exciting.

CD: When I feel overwhelmed, I tend not to get too worked up over it, but instead try to figure out how I can avoid this feeling in the future. That has led to a lot of items being shifted to other people and sharing knowledge that was previously only in my head. Business owners who try to take on too much aren’t helping anyone really.   

CPA CANADA: Do you still take breaks?
JZ:
Yes. Personally, I do sprints—I might work seven days a week for four to five weeks, then I’ll go away for four or five days. 

CD: Family time is my No. 1 priority. So I block off three hours once a week just to be with my kids, who are being home schooled by Olga [Davis’ wife] while we’re on this RV trip. That gives her a break and lets me be involved in their education. I also block off every Thursday as a “no-calls” day.

CPA CANADA: Do you work evenings or weekends?
JZ:
There’s got to be a massive emergency for me to cancel my evening plans because of work. I wake up at 8 a.m., go to an outdoor gym where I work with a trainer in the sun, then go to the office. I am very strict about scheduling. If someone says, “I need to talk to you tonight,” I’ll try to make it work but if I have plans I’ll just say “Sorry” and give some options for a new time. 

CD: For a few years, I was guilty of working on the weekends—and that badge of honour is not one you should have to wear. That’s part of the reason I decided to start travelling across North America with my family full-time in this RV. I haven’t worked weekends for about a year and a half and I couldn’t be happier.   

In this distraction-based world, I think we could all do ourselves a favour by reading a book by the founders of Basecamp called It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. It talks a lot about focused work and the ridiculous things we’ve done as companies over the last 20 years, such as expecting responses within minutes. Busy-ness has been seen as a sign of effectiveness, putting the growth of the company over the health of the employees.

CPA CANADA: What advice would you give other CPAs on how to manage communications?
JZ:
I would say to take control of your day so you’re always on your schedule, not someone else’s. I don’t use text or WhatsApp to communicate with clients or team members, because that leaks into my social life—not to mention that it’s very distracting. The more you can get everything to flow within one system and then prioritize and deal with each item one by one—to me that’s an effective workday. 

CD: Yes, and I would also say that it’s important to have a really supportive system around you. Right from the beginning, having a business partner who shares a lot of your core beliefs about money, service and what’s important helps frame expectations. Since founding LiveCA, we’ve added new members to the leadership and partner team and created new positions. But if you don’t have a supportive culture, communications in a remote environment can be tricky to manage. 

INSIDE THE MINDS OF THESE DIGITAL GAMECHANGERS

Watch this video to find out more about how Josh Zweig and Chad Davis work—and how they demonstrate the Canadian Ideal of Good Business.