Jennifer Wilson

Earlier this year, we launched a survey to collect information about the adoption of flexible work initiatives within public accounting firms. We received valuable insights from 99 distinct firms and shared the overall results of the survey in my Survey Results blog. In this post, we’ll explore the positive and negative results firms experienced as a result of their anytime, anywhere work programs.

Why offer anytime, anywhere work?

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Firms who have implemented flexible work programs felt that they had a number of positive benefits including:

  • Better balance for team members – 85 out of the 92 firms that answered this question (92%)
  • Improved employee morale and engagement – 69 out of 92 firms (75%)
  • Retention of team members who would have otherwise left – 63 out of 92 firms (68%)
    One firm shared, “Our turnover has been lower since we implemented this program eight years ago.”
  • Made the firm more attractive to prospective employees — 54 of 92 (59%)
    Said one firm, “4 x 10 summer schedules are a huge recruiting tool.”
  • Improved efficiency – 31 of 92 firms (34%)
    Another firm shared, “Allows high performers to accomplish more with the time they would otherwise spend commuting.”
  • Allowed the firm to recruit employees from other geographies – 15 of 92 (16%)

Other comments firms shared on the positive benefits of the program included:

“Be as open to it as possible in order to appeal to younger generations–it is a high priority for
them.”

“Get out of the butt in a seat paradigm. It is not pragmatic and destroys trust.”

“It will help create more longevity in the younger generation.”

“Helped relieve space constraints.”

“This is a big part of realizing we are a knowledge based industry and not a manufacturing
industry. We can access brainpower even when it’s not in the building.”

“Offering an anytime anywhere workplace program will empower your employees as they will
feel as though they are truly professionals who are trusted and highly regarded by firm
management.”

These programs create or highlight challenges, too

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When asked to share any negative results they experienced as a result of their anytime, anywhere work programs, fewer firms responded (82 firms) than had responded to the question on positive results (92). Firms that did experience negative impacts shared that these programs:

  • Made communications more difficult – 42 of the 82 firms that answered this question (51%)
  • Caused some work to become less efficient – 29 of the 82 firms (35%)
  • Created some resentment from those who don’t believe the programs should be in place – 29 of the 82 firms (35%) and from those who don’t qualify to participate in the programs – 24 of the 82 firms (29%)
    “Our struggle has been that the admin team members cannot work from home as they need to be here as work arrives. This has caused some resentment. It’s been difficult for them to see that as support people they need to physically be here to support the rest of the team.”
  • Have caused areas where trust is missing to be highlighted – 23 of 82 firms (28%)
  • Have highlighted technology issues – 19 of 82 firms (23%)
  • Highlighted staff performance issues – 15 of 82 firms (18%)

Other potential negative consequences firms shared included remote employees not progressing as quickly, not being considered for work assignments or not being available for non-billable administrative or management functions or getting as much “face time” as others felt they needed. Other comments include:

“Remote employees are not available to train our interns or less experienced staff.”

“An unintended consequence of the employee working offsite is they are reduced to primarily
billable time tasks.”

“Perception exists that these workers may not be able to advance as quickly as normal.”

“Some of us feel disconnected by those who no longer come to this office on a daily basis. They
may not be considered for work due to out of sight – out of mind.”

“We don’t achieve the face-time feature that people value.”

“Management by walking around is more of a challenge with work from home teams.”

“One negative effect of working remotely is the expectation of not being able to be completely
off the grid. This creates the illusion that although you may be on vacation, you are still
expected to check on emails and answer them.”

From where we sit, the negative consequences of anytime, anywhere work that firms cited can be mitigated by shifting expectations and changing the way people communicate – leaving the “attachment” to face time and the need to be in the same physical proximity with someone behind. The fact that these programs highlighted trust and technology issues within firms is a positive – not a negative – consequence because those firms were then driven to get better.

The positive impacts of virtual and flexible work practices seem to outweigh the negative results – both in the number of responses received, and in the impacts to the practices themselves. Anytime, anywhere work drives those firms who embrace it to improve our own leadership and management practices and that’s a good thing!

In our next blog in this series, scheduled to be posted November 19, we’ll explore the way that firms measure the success of their people when they moved away from strictly time-based measures. Until then, what positive or negative impacts has your firm seen from your anytime, anywhere work programs? We’d love to hear from you!

Gratefully,