Flex Is Not An Option Anymore!

The adoption of flexible work initiatives within public accounting firms is on the rise; however, some firms are still wondering whether they can provide a truly flexible work environment. Others are committed to do so, but wonder what changes they have to make. Progressive firms know that flex programs are a must for attracting – and retaining – top talent and they’re taking steps toward a truly flexible culture. In this Leadership Lessons, we’ll explore the types of flex programs to drive your firm’s flex culture and we’ll supply ideas to help you begin or further your programs. In our Practice Perspectives article, we will go deep into one aspect of flex, Unlimited Paid Time Off and explore ways to implement this advanced flexibility idea in your firm.

Flex in Both Time and Place

A truly flexible work environment provides team members more control over when (the time) and where (the place) they get their work done. In this article, we’ll explore ways to provide more flexibility in both areas to expand your flex programs.

Before we begin, let’s agree that flexible work programs do NOT necessarily mean less time or reduced output. While there are three flex options that do involve a reduced-hours schedule: part-time, zero overtime, and reduced hours during non-peak periods (seasonal work arrangements), most flex options involve a difference in when work takes place, not a reduction in effort or results. Some examples of full-production flex programs firms can implement include:

  • Early Start / Late Start – providing team members the ability to have a schedule outside of normal “office hours” where the team members may come in and leave earlier or come in and leave later in the date
  • Compressed Work Week – establishing a three or four-day work week that is still full time, such as working Monday through Thursday and having Fridays off (this may not be something you can offer to non-exempt employees due to certain states’ over-time rules)
  • Day-to-Day Flex Time – allowing team members to work flexibly when they need it, for instance attending to medical appointments or getting your car into the shop
  • Flexible Non-Core Hours – allowing team members to manage their own schedule and flexibility outside of the firm’s declared core hours of accessibility (often 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
  • No Mandatory Saturdays – lifting the requirement to work Saturdays during peak busy periods and allowing team members the flexibility to manage their own extra effort and production at a time that works better for them than a Saturday might including evenings, Sundays, etc.
  • Shortened Work Weeks During Non-Peak Times (i.e. Fridays Off) – establishing a shorter work week, often during the summers, where team members have all day or half-day off on Fridays
  • Unlimited PTO – eliminating the accrual and tracking of paid time off (PTO) and allowing team members to manage their own schedule and take as much time off as they can manage while still meeting their committed production and other goals (more on this in Practice Perspectives!)

In addition to lifting the time constraints, enabling team members to work from anywhere is a key component to a truly flexible culture. Technology enables team members to work away from the office, which lifts the constraints of the limited space of traditional “brick and mortar” office space, which is one of the highest expense areas for firms. In addition, when you remove geographic constraints, you can recruit based on your firm’s needs, you can source the best people regardless of where they reside, and further your overall diversity, too. And, lastly, firms often experience an increase in productivity (really!) when they allow flexibility in meeting personal commitments and provide the resources their people need to work remotely from home. Some examples of flex programs that remove the “place” constraints include:

  • Day-to-Day Anywhere Work – providing team members the flexibility to choose to work from the office, home, a client’s location or some other location on a day-to-day basis
  • Work from Home – providing team members the ability to work from home on an as-needed basis or as a permanent work arrangement
  • Remote Team Members – having a team member in another geographic location away from your office – that may work from home or from a virtual office (see below)
  • “Virtual offices locations” – having an office space available for team members to work from that is often a leased or shared space in another geographic location. This may be more cost effective in some geographic areas rather than expanding office space in your firm’s main major city location.
  • Public Location Drop-in – identifying public locations that can be available for team members to work, such as at library or hourly rental office spaces
  • Drop-in Offices – having “open” offices in your firm’s facility that are used on a rotating basis by remote or work-from-home workers or even from other team members, such as auditors who are often out at a clients and only need an office on an occasional basis. This is also called “hoteling.”
  • Working from the Client’s Office – allowing team members to work from the client’s office on other work rather than having to commute back to the firm’s office to work
  • Virtual Audit Work – conducting more audit work from your firm’s office (or remotely from home or other locations) rather than requiring team members’ to travel to and perform all the work at the client’s office location

Developing a Truly Flexible Environment
A truly flexible environment means providing your people with a variety of options as to how, when and where their work is done as we just explored.

To begin or further your firm’s flexible work environment, engage your firm’s team members in defining your firm’s flexible work programs. Begin by gaining agreement on your non-negotiables, and ensure your flex programs meet and/or exceed them, such as:

  • Profitability (same production or better)
  • Client relationships (strengthening relationships virtually or not in a traditional office setting)
  • Excellent client service (responsiveness, meeting deadlines)
  • Quality (focus, minimizing distractions)
  • Teamwork (collaborating with employees who aren’t in the same physical location at the same time/place as me, accessibility and responsiveness)

All of these flex time-based options require transparency about team members’ schedules and increased specificity on the results each individual team member is expected to deliver, too. Accessibility and responsiveness expectations should be defined for both the flex and non-flex team members. For example, agreement on how to return and report the status or progress of client engagements or projects (one of the five elements of committing with clarity that we wrote about here!) need to be established as well as the expectation for supervisors or partners to be available to answer team member’s questions.

Flex is also a two-way street. One mistake firm’s can make is not discussing that flexible work environments require flexibility from those using it, too. In a flex environment, the need for clear, specific and frequent communication is increased as well as the expectation that team members need to sometimes “flex up” when peak periods or certain clients require it. Being accessible and responsive is critical, too, and expectations need to be defined. For example, a team member may be expected to increase their time and results during peak periods, such as spring tax season, and reduce their time during the summer, or increase efforts for particular projects and reduce efforts during other times.

For more ideas about how to begin piloting additional flex programs, flex “must do’s” and lessons learned, access our Inspired Ideas blog series from last year’s Anytime Anywhere Work Survey by clicking about here and then entering ATAWW in the search box. In addition, we invite you to complete our 2016 Anytime Anywhere Survey to share your firm’s flexibility practices. The survey will be open until June 15, 2016. If you choose to supply your contact information, we will send you a copy of the survey results article(s) as they are initially published.

Control over their schedule and measuring performance based on results instead of time is fast becoming a non-negotiable for our Millennials. To attract next generation talent and sustain your firm long-term, move away from the time and place paradigm and embrace flexible work programs – the sooner, the better! You can count on us to continue to champion flex practices and if you would like to explore how we can help your leadership team to further your flexible environment, contact Tamera Loerzel at (952) 226-1780 or tamera@convergencecoaching.com.

P.S. If you missed our webinar in May, Moving Away from the Time and Place Paradigm, you can access the recording here.