In the recent IPA/ConvergenceCoaching Road to Retention survey, an astounding 60% of the over 723 young accounting professionals we surveyed said the element of work they least enjoy is the hours.  As firms continue to move towards a flexible work environment, one of the biggest challenges is around this “time” paradigm. For instance, while 97% of our 2016 Anytime, Anywhere Work™ (ATAWW) survey respondents allow team members to flex time, even if only on a case-by-case basis, an unfortunate 31% of the respondents cite “flex is not really supported at our firm” and there is still guilt associated with asking for and/or using flex options.

In this blog series, we’ve shared an overview of our survey results and we’ve explored the benefits and challenges firms experience with their flex programs.  In this 3rd blog of the series, we’ll explore how firms are enhancing their flexibility around the time that they expect people work and gain insights to the programs they support around the flexibility of time.  In addition, we’ll discuss how firms define and measure success based on things other than time.

Flexing Time

The reason to provide flexible options for when team members can complete their work is summarized well by the most popular positive result that firms experience from their flex programs, which is that it “Allowed team members to experience better work/life integration. Team members want more control of their schedules and the flexibility to meet all of their commitments, inside and outside of work. And while this may be especially true of young team members, we know that this same flexibility and control is a key benefit that partners appreciate about being in business for themselves as a partner in a CPA firm.

Work arrangements that provide flexible hours or time options don’t have to translate into less work. While some flexible hours’ programs are “part-time” or “reduced hours” and defined as something less than full time, most flex of time options have their people working the same amount of time, just not necessarily doing it within the a “normal” 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. work day.  Even so, 61% of our Anytime, Anywhere Work respondents still have a “core hours’ policy” where all employees are expected to be available during a certain portion of the day, unless they are on leave. A new finding this year is that many firms have a different core hours’ policy during the summer, such as 10:00 a.m.- 3:00 p.m., four-day work weeks or half-days on Fridays.

The respondents to our survey cited flexible time options in the following areas:

  • 51% offer some sort of Fridays off benefit during the summer, 22% of whom close their offices for part of or all day every Friday in summer
  • 39% no longer mandate work on Saturdays (even during busy season!) and of those who still mandate them during busy season, half allow their team members to work the expected Saturday hours from home
  • 12%, or 18 innovative firms, close their offices or keep a skeletal crew between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays
  • 5%, or eight leading-edge firms, offer an unlimited PTO benefits and another 19 firms, or 13%, are thinking about offering this benefit

If you are one of the leading-edge firms offering unlimited PTO, lifting mandatory work on Saturdays or reducing schedules or closing offices during the holidays, be sure that you are promoting these competitive differentiators in your recruiting efforts, employee orientations, busy-season kick off meetings and other team member meetings – because you are special (for now)! And, some sort of Fridays off benefits is still “special” and should be touted, too, until more firms catch up and embrace this trend.

Other time-based flex programs firms have embraced include alternative schedules with flexible start and end times, variable or open schedules throughout the week, and four-day work weeks. Respondents shared this for firms offering these options: “Openly communicate about flexible work arrangements and expected availability of participants” and “Our program is open and transparent to all.”  Because communication is the top challenge that firms face in managing ATAWW arrangements for the third year in a row, it’s imperative that you clearly document the expectations around your flex programs including expectations for accessibility, responsiveness, inclusion and teamwork for both those on flex arrangements and those on traditional schedules.

Communications protocols for responding to emails or voicemails (i.e. within 24 or 48 hours internally to team members as well as to clients) is an excellent way to get everyone on the same page and explore how to preserve the non-negotiables of client service and quality while also offering the ability to flex the timing that the work is done. In a future Anytime, Anywhere Work™ blog, we will explore some technology applications that firms use to enhance their communication.

Measures Other Than Time

Flexing time requires a shift in mindset as to how success should be measured. Because time has traditionally been the indicator of an employee’s productivity and what to bill a client, firms typically overemphasize time as a measure. This needs to change, however, as firm leaders experience push back from their youngest team members who want to know what results they need to produce other than time as a measures of success.

Our ATAWW survey reported 61% of firms are making this shift in mindset and have implemented performance measures for staff that are based on something other than time (up from 43% in 2015 and 39% in 2014!). Other performance measures firms are using include:

When you measure results in terms of tax returns prepared or number of audit sections completed during a specific time period, team members then need to determine the effort required to meet those goals. When they get the work done is not as critical – and if it is, such as conducting an inventory observation on a Saturday for a particular client or holding a client meeting on a Wednesday when the board is in session, this can be communicated and planned for up front.

Accessibility and responsiveness to team members and clients as described above can also be planned and agreed upon up front, too, during the kick-off meeting (and in your firm’s flex policy, which we’ll discuss in a future blog).  We can usually do a better job of managing deliverable due dates and the interdependencies team members have on each other during an engagement - flexible time arrangements heighten the need to proactively discuss and agree on expectations and can cause us all to do a better job of communicating with each other and managing project timelines.

Time isn’t a true measure of productivity or revenue anyway. When there is an overemphasis on billable time, people enter non-realizable time just to hit that goal or don’t spend the time training and developing others to create a true leverage model where everyone is working at their highest and best use but instead focus on their own chargeability. That is why a blend of measures, including specific deliverables and results required, training and development, business development or other firm initiative goals as well as behavioral-based goals (i.e. upholding the firm’s values) are important to achieve the results you’re intending. For more ideas about how to move away from measuring (solely) on time, read my partner Jennifer Wilson’s CPA Insider post Want to Make More Money? Focus on Revenue Producing Behaviors.

With the talent war we face and the need for future leaders to fill the succession gap, “anytime” work programs are a must. Need more proof? In the Road to Retention survey, young professionals said their No. 1 and 4 factors respectively for staying in public accounting are work/life balance and flexible scheduling!

What can your firm do to move toward even more flexibility around when your team members work? We’d love to hear your successes and questions you’re grappling with in implementing these ideas! We’re all in this together!