The business world and accounting firm community are abuzz with talk about getting people back into the office. In accounting, it has been a challenging few years, with significant client needs, low capacity, and increasing turnover. To “right the ship,” some leaders envision a return to office (RTO) as the universal solution.
I don’t agree that RTO is the cure to what ails our profession. Here are strong counterarguments to the RTO philosophy:
- For many of you, non-traditional hiring strategies mean that your people no longer universally work in your geography. It’s not realistic to think that you CAN get them all back together
- If you haven’t begun borderless recruiting, you have likely found that talented people are scarce. You might not be able to find people in your geography and will face my first counterargument as you expand outside your borders
- Remote team members are increasingly KEY to production and firm success. It is disheartening for your remote talent to hear messaging that being back in the office will enhance your culture and make your people more productive and engaged
- Team members have choices, and they are choosing to work more away from the office. Forcing them back may have them choose another firm over yours (and your competitors are hiring remote talent)
- COVID risks still exist, for both vaccinated and unvaccinated team members. Risk tolerance can depend on spouse’s job or health status, kids, and their status, etc. It doesn’t feel supportive of your people’s personal situation to dictate their work location
- Anxiety, stress, and overwhelm are at an all-time high in this country. Adding undesired commutes, increased costs for gas and parking, or required travel may flatten or deflate your people and impact their desire to stay with your firm
- Best news of all – remote and flex aren’t the root cause of your problems anyway! There are other solutions to the challenges accounting firm leaders face
Instead of implementing an RTO strategy that is likely to backfire, I’d like to suggest another way. Stop focusing on where and when your team members are working. Instead, embark on a learning plan as a leadership team to overcome your objections and obstacles and truly embrace a flexible and remote/blended/hybrid team – what we call an Anytime, Anywhere Work™ team - that delivers anytime, anywhere services. We’ve been operating this way for over 22 years, and at the same time we’ve been helping accounting and consulting firms to adopt this cultural approach to work – way before the pandemic. Because of our many years of experience, we have developed a wealth of tools, resources, and articles to support your team’s learning journey.
To create a learning plan for your firm’s leaders:
- Assign an “owner” to your team’s flex and remote learning process
- Have the owner evaluate the Anytime, Anywhere Work™ competencies below and identify where your firm’s leaders are today
- Use a scale of 1 – 4, where 4 means your firm leaders are doing great in that area, and 1 means your firm leaders need to make more progress
- For competencies with a score of 1 or 2, the learning owner should pull the tools and resources offered and outline a structured learning plan for leaders to follow. Break learning into smaller pieces so that over time, leaders can:
- Independently read an article or two (which takes 8-10 minutes max for each)
- Come to a flex/remote “huddle” and be prepared to discuss the ideas
- Out of each huddle, leaders should:
- Agree upon any changes the FIRM should make
- Identify an individual action they should commit to
- Then tackle the next competency area
Leadership Competencies of an Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Environment
- Operating with trust: Believing that people can be productive and committed no matter where or when they are working
- Avoiding unempowering or demoralizing language (SLUDGE): Talking straight about concerns and issues
- Operating with more consistency, parity and transparency: Ensuring equal access to flex programs, offering remote team members opportunities to participate and advance, making sure that all meetings offer dial-in access, upgrading conference room technology
- Creating a more productive, "count-on-able" TEAM: Keeping team members on track, knowing how and when to access them, ensuring your people are productive, and focused on the RIGHT activities
- Expanding your team's openness to the roles that Remote/Hybrid team members can play: Remote and flex (and non-traditional) talent don't need to only work behind the scenes
- Creating an Anytime, Anywhere Work Culture: Ensuring that all team members, including those with a flex schedule or those working remotely/hybrid feel connected, supported and able to COLLABORATE with the team
- Collaborating in a Blended Environment
- Inspired Ideas Podcast: Award-Winning Firm Shares their Internship Program "Secret Sauce"
- Maintaining a Strong Culture While Working Remote
- The Key to ATAWW Success- Communication!
- Don't Leave Your Remote Culture to Chance
- Maintaining Rapport and Trust in a Virtual World
- Expanding your leader's ability to develop and "shepherd" your team: Getting related and building rapport, fostering connections, supporting one another
- Improving onboarding and training methodologies: Centralizing onboarding and learning, developing online programs delivered independent of location, recording all trainings to create on-demand (anytime) learning libraries
- Embracing technology to facilitate an Anytime, Anywhere Work Approach: Making investments, exploring tools, digitizing everything (paperless), embracing video
- Exploring and expanding remote auditing (Audit leaders are big RTO offenders right now, asking team to return to the client's office): Recognizing that not all audits or parts of an audit require an onsite team, exploring opportunities to evolve past requiring a full audit team onsite with the client
In addition to the learning plan and resources above, you might assess our DIY Remote and Blended Work Video Learning Programs. These inexpensive, on-demand videos are designed to break flex and remote leadership competencies and strategies into smaller bites (about 12 – 20 minutes per video) to share with your team members in much the same way as we’ve outlined above.
We are confident that your firm can make a lasting transition to being a truly flexible and remote/hybrid/blended firm, bringing you closer to your goal of being a destination employer. Don’t repel your people with RTO language – instead, master remote and hybrid/blended and become a magnet for talent both in and outside your geography!
P.S. Our sixth ConvergenceCoaching, LLC® Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Survey will be launching this month! We would love to have your firm’s participation. Please keep an eye on our website for details.