Earlier this year, we launched a survey to collect information about the adoption of flexible work initiatives within public accounting firms. We asked firms to submit only one response per firm and were blessed with the generous sharing of 99 distinct firms. In this initial blog, we’ll share the highlights of the survey. In future blogs, we’ll dive deeper into some of the specific questions asked and the depth of advice and insights shared by our respondents.
We sent the survey request to Managing Partners, HR professionals and Firm Administrators. 57% of our respondents were either Firm Administrators or Human Resource professionals. 31% were Managing Partners or CEOs and balance included a Controller, several Operations Directors, a CIO, a Learning Director, two partners, two managers and a staff person.
In terms of firm size, nearly three-quarters of the respondents work in a large (21 – 74 CPAs) or major firm (75+ CPAs). The majority of the final quarter work in medium firms.
Some of the survey highlights include:
- 94% of the firms surveyed offer flexible work arrangements like late start, part-time, 4-day work weeks, etc. and another 1% of firms are considering doing so. Only 5% indicated they do not offer flex options.
- 83% of respondents have invested in cloud or other technology to support work away from the office that they believe is as efficient as working in the office. Additional technology-related comments included the following:
- “A lot of time can be wasted if you don’t have the technology.”
- “Make sure IT security is in place to protect sensitive and confidential client information.”
- “Make sure employee has the proper setup at home.”
- “We have good success with remote audit staff, but we are still working on technology issues with remote tax staff.”
- “Make video-calling mandatory throughout the Firm.”
When asked about challenges with remote work programs, 19 firms shared that these programs have highlighted current technology issues within their organizations. We will dedicate an entire future blog to both the benefits and challenges of anytime, anywhere work programs that were enumerated by respondents.
- 77% of firms responding offer a work-from-home program. Fifteen respondents noted that their programs are limited in some way (to certain personnel, offered on an as-needed basis, not the normal protocol, short-term solution, or prefer staff in be in the office). One respondent shared that all employees have multi-monitor setup at home. A few representative comments include:
- “A lot of our staff work from home some of the time.”
- “In our firm, everyone works remotely. It makes hiring decisions that much more important because the wrong people will abuse the situation.”
- 47% of respondents have a written policy in place for their anytime, anywhere work programs, with 53% of firms having no policy in place. We received 27 comments relating to the importance of having a clear, written policy in place for a successful flexible work program. Three respondents noted that their success hinged upon thinking through the necessary infrastructure before starting with their programs.
- “We did do a great deal of planning and making sure the infrastructure was in place before entertaining the idea.”
- “Be fair and consistent.” (4 respondents)
- “Have very particular requirements in your policy. You can always make exceptions to back off but it is hard to add additional requirements. Remote team members are expected to participate in all team meetings via web-conferencing so that they know what is going with their team. Their remote work situation cannot create additional burdens for other team members. They communicate (digitally) with admin to let them know when they are or are not in “the office” so that callers can be quickly rerouted if needed.”
- 41% of firms no longer mandate Saturday work during busy season, while 53% still mandate Saturday work. Participants who answered “other” gave the following comments:
- “It is not mandated but encouraged.”
- “Not mandated in AA Department but expected / required in Tax Department.”
- “Most work Saturdays, although this year the firm encouraged everyone to take at least one Saturday off.”
- “I feel the elimination of mandatory Saturdays was a huge step forward for our firm. While I am a little surprised by the number of people that still come in on Saturdays, I know that the people who do not, love the flexibility. When you have kids, lots of things happen during the day on Saturdays. It is great to know that you can attend those things, guilt-free, as long as you get your work done on Friday night, or Sunday or whenever works for you.”
- 39% of firms have implemented performance measures for staff that are not based on time, while 47% have not. 13% of respondents answered that they are thinking about implementing performance measures based on something other than time.
- In a future blog, we’ll explore the types of non-time based performance measures firms are using.
- 37% of the responding firms employ remote workers in another geography not tied to a specific office. Several respondents clarified that their remote work arrangement was initiated by a particular employee who was highly valued and relocated away from the office.
- 29% of respondents close for all or part of Fridays during the summer. 6% of firms indicated that they are considering closing Fridays and 52% do not close on Fridays. 12% of firms responded that they do something other than close on Fridays with the following details:
- “We do not close on Fridays; however, staff members are allowed to work a four day week and take Fridays off. At least one person has to be in the office on Fridays.”
- “We are not closed but employees are allowed to work a reduced schedule from mid-April to mid-September.”
- “We allow our people to manage their own schedules. As long as they are accountable for their overall hour’s targets they don’t have to use PTO.”
- “Employees have the option to work a partial day if their hours are in and their work is finished.”
- “We close 6 – 7 days during the summer.”
- “Only for four Fridays during July.”
- “We close at 3pm on Fridays during July and August.”
- “We provide every other Friday off between 4/16 and Labor Day.”
- “(We close at) 4pm Memorial Day to Labor Day.”
- “Each employee has the opportunity to create a flex/life arrangement. Some take Fridays, some Mondays, some work partial days. Plans are personalized rather than a firm-wide mandate.”
- “Flex time program where employees get a certain amount of additional days during summer only. Days can be taken at any time but not more than two in a row.”
- Only 8% of those surveyed close for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, while 87% of firms responded no. One firm indicated they are considering such a program, and two firms answered other with the following comments:
- “We do close, but employees are required to use PTO to cover this time.”
- “We offer one extra day (off) only because there is too much year-end tax planning work.”
We are so encouraged that nearly all of the responding firms offer some sort of flexible work arrangements to their people and a super-majority have invested in cloud or other technology to support remote work and offer work-from-home programs. While the adoption of other anytime, anywhere work practices moves to the minority after that, we are confident that these practices will continue to gain momentum.
Firms of the future will move away from the time and place paradigm and embrace virtual work programs. And you can count on us to continue to champion flex practices. Stay tuned to this blog for our next installment, due to be posted October 22, where we’ll examine the positive and negative results firms experienced when implementing their flexible work arrangements.