Seven Technology Strategies to Enable Your Flexible Work Programs
 
Renee Moelders

More Results from Our 2016 Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Survey

At ConvergenceCoaching, we’re big proponents of Anytime, Anywhere Work™, or programs that allow employees to have greater control over when and where they get work done. Every one of our employees is virtual and works from home offices or on the road while visiting clients. We’re living proof that even in a flexible work environment, you can still effectively communicate and stay connected with your team members, or be highly productive and effectively serve clients. For us, technology is a crucial component of flexibility and it is critical for the 160 distinct CPA firms we surveyed in our third annual Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Survey, too. Here’s a snapshot of the size of the firms responding to the survey.

So far in our blog series, we’ve shared an overview of our survey results, the benefits and challenges firms experience with their flex programs, how firms are enhancing their flexibility around WHEN their employees work, and strategies firms are using to allow employees more control over WHERE they work. In this blog, we’ll share seven technology strategies that will support flexible work programs in your firm.

1. Be prepared to invest, improve, update and grow your technology to support Anytime, Anywhere Work™ (and the rest of the firm as well!) We asked survey participants to identify the top difficulties they experience when implementing flexible work programs, and the third most chosen answer was “has highlighted technology issues we have,” selected by 31 of the 160 participating firms. Be prepared to invest in new offerings, run trials of potentially better software programs and in general stay open to any new ideas that your staff bring to your attention. Technology has the potential to make us more efficient and effective if we’re willing to adapt and try out new processes and procedures.

2. Form an IT Committee to input to the technology plans for your firm. The owner of IT will need a small group of people to generate new ideas, research options and serve as a sounding board for what technology investments might have the highest ROI. Assemble a committee heavily weighted with Next Gen leaders and with many levels and departments represented. Ensure that flex and remote workers are represented on the committee as well. Survey your team at least twice a year for feedback on specific aspects of your IT infrastructure that need to be upgraded and improved for maximum efficiency.

3. Make enabling flex a key strategic priority for your IT group in 2017. In our first blog in this series we shared information from the Road to Retention study, which studied motivators and drivers of young professionals in public accounting. The most noted “stay factor,” or element most important in influencing young professionals’ decision to stay working with their current firm, was work/life balance, while their No. 4 was flexible work practices. With 68% of our survey participants allowing team members to flex hours, and 45% allowing them to flex the place they work, flexible work programs are clearly becoming the norm and the standard in public accounting. To facilitate this, improvements in technology must keep pace.

4. Ensure that access to your programs and files from outside the office is fast and efficient. Firms that allow team members more flexibility on where they are working quickly find that a critical component is access to the company network from outside the office. We recommend that you invest in a solution that makes working outside of the office as seamless and fast as when you are sitting at a desk inside the office. We asked our survey participants which remote access option they are using to provide network access and found that four tools are the most common.

13 firms chose the Other category and mentioned Barracuda VPN, F5 Networks VPN, Fortinet Solutions, Global Protect, GoToMyPC, Microsoft RSAS, Netgear, Pulse Secure (Juniper) VPN, Remote Desktop, Screen Connect, Sophos VPN, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.

Eight firms noted that they are using a hosted option through a cloud-based vendor to manage their network. This means that whether team members are in the office or out, they follow the same procedure of accessing all applications through an internet browser. Hosted solutions utilized by survey participants include VM Ware (5), Xcentric cloud (2), and IV Desk (1). We expect the number of firms using the cloud to continue to climb.

5. Clarify who is “on” and who is “off.” In our work with CPA firms across the country, we commonly hear concerns about keeping track of the schedules for flexible work staff and knowing who is available when. There are great software or web‐based solutions for this, and as you’ll see, some of the solutions our survey respondents are using might be applications already available in your office.

23 participants chose the Other category and mentioned InOutBoard (5), Simple In/Out (4), Skype Personal (4), Receptionist keeps track (2), EIOBoard, Imagine Time, Jabber, Jostle, Out and About, Scotland Yard, Touch N Go and Who’s In.

6. Collaborate by storing and sharing files online. Traditionally firms have stored files on their company network which makes file sharing and collaboration easy inside the firm, but more difficult from the outside or with non-company users like clients. Increasingly firms are adopting online applications that make files easier to access, update, share, and even in some cases, work on files simultaneously.

At ConvergenceCoaching, we are heavy users of the #1 and #2 most chosen collaboration programs below, SharePoint and ShareFile. We use SharePoint more for internal purposes while ShareFile is our method of sharing files with clients and external users.

13 firms chose the Other category and mentioned Box (4), CCH Document (3), GoFileRoom (2), ACCT1st Portal, cPaperless, Laserfiche and Thomson Reuters FileShare.

7. Amp up communication by encouraging video conferencing and web meeting options. Communication is a top challenge in almost every firm we talk to, so it’s no surprise that communication arises as a challenge in firms with flexible work programs. Savvy organizations counter those challenges by using inexpensive technological tools for holding face-to-face check-in meetings over video (made easy since most laptops come with a camera installed) or providing a collaborative team meetings over a video platform.

Most of these products also allow for screen sharing, so that remote team members can take just as much responsibility for training staff and answering questions as their in-office counterparts.

14 survey participants chose the Other category and noted Vidyo (3), High Five (2), join.me (2), Lifesize (2), Cisco, Linqto, MiCollab, ReadyTalk, and Team Viewer.

We are meeting more and more firms who are offering a video and telephone dial-in option for all team meetings, and even recording meetings as well, to facilitate more connectedness among the team. They are finding that these tools are effective for all employees. For instance, a dial-in option for the all-firm meeting allows a team member to participate while in route from a client’s office, and a recording allows a team member who was sick or on vacation to catch up on what was discussed once they are back.

We’d highly recommend that you invest in mobile video options like cameras in laptops and programs that allow people to participate by video from anywhere, rather than static cameras in desktop phone systems and office equipment. The exception is investment in conference room video and audio systems that improve field of vision (who can be seen in the room) and sound quality (how well everyone can be heard). These improved audio/video systems combined with a video meeting platform like Zoom (which we love at ConvergenceCoaching!) allow for an enhanced experience for those participating in the meeting from outside the room.

Technology is a critical component to running successful Anytime, Anywhere Work programs and an amazing lever for more efficient and effective work in general. Thanks to the 160 participants for sharing what has worked for them, and we hope these seven strategies will help your firm drive success in your Anytime, Anywhere Work efforts!

Regards,

Renee

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