Generational Viewpoints: What you do, not where you go

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This edition of Generational Viewpoints features two of our own professionals at ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a 10-person entirely virtual consulting firm that delivers leadership consulting services within the CPA profession. We asked Generation X consultant Renee Moelders, born in 1972, and millennial consultant Brianna Johnson, born in 1991, to share their perspectives on the following question:

“What are your clients’ biggest opportunities related to flexible work?”

Moelders’ Gen X viewpoint

Remote work really matters to today’s workforce. Deloitte’s 2018 “Millennial Study” surveyed 10,455 millennials about the most important factors when choosing an employer, and 50 percent of those surveyed cited “flexibility (i.e. hours and location).” The 2017 Gallup “State of the American Workplace Report” states that “all employees who spend at least some (but not all) of their time working remotely have higher engagement than those who don’t ever work remotely.” These highly engaged, remote-working employees experience “autonomy and flexibility [that] could give rise to higher performance and greater connections between employees and their company.”

The picture is similar in CPA firms, as illustrated in our recently published ConvergenceCoaching “Anytime, Anywhere Work Survey Results Summary,” in which 99 percent of survey participants reported offering remote work options. Most firms have the IT infrastructure necessary to facilitate remote work, but many are not currently offering remote options widely. We coach firms to start building a remote workforce with three ideas:

Commit to retaining top employees who move away from your geographic area due to extenuating circumstances. Make an announcement at your next staff meeting about the rise of remote work and the firm’s commitment to explore its use.

Develop a list of rehirable alumni, made up of employees who left the firm over the last five years and moved out of your geographic area. Scrub the list down to those you can agree upon as rehire candidates and assign each one an “owner.” Owners should reach out to their candidates to re-initiate the relationship. Share that the firm is exploring a remote-work program and that you wondered if they might be interested.

During the upcoming busy season, pilot a work-one-day-from-home program (or one-day-a-month). Ask teams to build a schedule to ensure coverage, as needed. Request that partners participate as well. Teams should hold a kick-off meeting to set expectations about production (no change), as well as response times and availability when offsite. At the end of the pilot, launch a survey to gauge opinions on the program.

Building team members’ ability to work remotely, and the firm’s ability to successfully manage them, creates opportunities to recruit outside of a firm’s geography and, ultimately, have more tools in the retention toolkit to keep team members happy and engaged.

Johnson’s millennial viewpoint

I have had the privilege of working from home for my entire career to date — and have loved every minute of it. I am saddened when I interact with a CPA firm that hasn’t fully embraced flexibility in their workplace for two key reasons.

First, firms that don’t support flexible environments, have only basic flex programs, or limit flex arrangements to only very specific employee circumstances are missing out on a range of possibilities. Employers that support flexibility in where and when their people work experience greater productivity. Employees can also be more productive when they’re able to structure work around their flow time. Employers also have a greater chance of engaging their people when supporting a flex environment.

Second, I’m not sure that some firms grasp how important flexibility is to their people. Gallup found that “51 percent of employees say they would change jobs for flextime, and 35 percent say they would change jobs for a flexible working location.” A study we partnered with Inside Public Accounting found that work-life balance was the top factor young professionals considered related to staying in public accounting. With the technology available today, there really is no reason why flex shouldn’t be supported, or expected, in the workplace. It helps employees be more successful at work and at home, which ultimately leads to that employee being more likely to remain loyal to their employer, produce greater results, exceed expectations, and bring their greatest strengths to work every day.

During my interactions with firms that are struggling to fully embrace flex, the most common barriers are shifting away from the focus on face time and billable hours and fear of losing the established workplace culture and employee relationships. The first step in shifting away from the focus on face time and billable hours is focusing on results instead. Most of us are not great communicators and often don’t set clear expectations with others. A flexible environment is successful when the team members communicate transparently and manage expectations. Focusing on expected deliverables and deadlines enables employers to still monitor productivity and efficiency without all the challenges that come with focusing solely on billable hours.

Fear of changing a positive workplace culture is real, but flexibility, when done right, can actually improve workplace culture. It’s important that leaders discuss ways to maintain the positive culture, which include:

Making meetings equally accessible by in-office and remote employees;

Incorporating team bonding opportunities throughout the year so that all employees are able to interact;

Elevating the firm’s communication strategy by sharing firmwide updates more regularly (and in a way that allows employees who are not in the office to participate), not excluding team members from a communication because they are remote on a given day, teaching client engagement leaders how to effectively manage and communicate to their team members so that everyone remains in the loop; and,

Teaching managers how to foster strong employee relationships and setting expectations around being a career advisor.

When employees are better able to manage their work and personal life, they’re likely to be happier and more engaged. This creates a more positive culture as a result.

There are so many benefits to giving your people more autonomy in how and when they work, and I wish all firms were experiencing them.

This column is facilitated and edited by Brianna Johnson, the millennial consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the baby boomer co-founder and partner, of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and management consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. To have your firm’s generational viewpoints considered for a future Accounting Tomorrow column, email them at brianna@convergencecoaching.com.

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