This week, we launched our ConvergenceCoaching® 2018 Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Survey, where we gather input from public accounting firms about their adoption of flexible work practices. We’re huge proponents of these programs because we have been operating in a 100% flexible and virtual environment for the last 18 years and have experienced first-hand the benefits flexibility provides. We also understand how critical these programs are to firms when attracting and retaining talent. Firms of all sizes are implementing Anytime, Anywhere Work™ programs and reaping the benefits through more loyal, satisfied and engaged team members.
In each survey, we ask the question, “What one piece of advice would you give other firms planning to offer any form of Anytime, Anywhere Work program?” Looking back to our 2016 survey, we can learn from the recommendations supplied by the 160 firms that participated.
While the advice varied, let’s explore five clear themes that emerged.
Develop a clear policy and agreement on eligibility
Almost 21% of respondents recommended that you establish clear and consistent written guidelines for who is eligible to participate in the program. Having this policy will help you “avoid confusion,” “treat people equitably,” and “create management buy-in.”
Two firms emphasized that the program isn’t for new hires until they “have demonstrated the ability to manage themselves in a flexible environment.” One forward-thinking participant said, “Be ready for men and women without children to want it!”, which we love to hear. We agree whole-heartedly that Anytime, Anywhere Work programs benefit team members at all levels and stages of life.
If you are wondering how to get started in developing or updating your policy, check out Progress to an Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Policy and Reap the Benefits, where we outline a detailed approach and tools to create a clear policy. Once you have the policy developed, you’ll be ready to drive buy-in from your leadership team, engage and retain your team members, and showcase your program with campus and experienced recruits.
Set clear performance expectations and metrics for success
The recommendations for setting clear guidelines and expectations came from 15% of our 160 participants. One participant wisely shared that getting clearer about what we expect benefits the whole team, not just flexible and virtual employees. Distilling the advice down leaves us with a best practices checklist:
- Gain agreement on the workload to be produced
- Set expectations for availability and times to be working
- Implement non-time-based measures
- Once expectations are set, monitor them to ensure the team member is on track
- Check in with the team member every 30 to 90 days to evaluate and correct course, if needed
We would add that along with clear performance expectations comes the willingness to give feedback when things aren’t going as planned and collaborate to find a solution. One participants said “Expect there will be issues. Don’t base the decision to continue the program on the experience with one employee” and we agree! See Are You Ignoring Spinach in Someone’s Teeth for specific strategies to address performance concerns with your team.
Get your leadership team to buy-in to the program
17 of our 160 survey participants emphasized the importance of leadership team buy-in to the success of Anytime, Anywhere Work programs. Comments include “have buy-in from all leaders that these programs are necessary to retain staff” and “firm culture must fully embrace the concept.” One participant touched on the importance of educating those who manage the team, saying “Managers will ultimately determine if it works.” We believe that these programs are strategic tools from which firms can recruit and retain, but if the team doesn’t feel supported or “safe” using them, the tools won’t be effective.
Some of you may be wondering where to start when building buy-in for your programs. Our next piece of advice is a key component - communicate! – so stay tuned for that. For additional strategies, check out this blog about the resistance all change efforts run into and learn strategies to neutralize the naysayers.
The best leaders act as role models, and one participant illustrates this principle by saying “Have someone at the partner level use flexibility openly.” Many of your partners and senior leaders currently benefit from flexibility and with encouragement, could become walking billboards for your programs. Ask them to promote the benefits they experience, mark private appointments as “personal” on their calendar, and emphasize the great things they’re doing away from the office to encourage a healthy work-life balance across the firm.
It’s not surprising to us that 9% of survey respondents focused their “one piece of advice” on the importance of communication. Communication is our #1 change tool, our most effective way to get people on board and moving in the direction we want, and we can’t overemphasize its importance. We love these wise recommendations:
“Communication is key.”
“Include support for flexibility in every communication you send.”
“Continue to make a business case for it. A few success stories will go a long way. Some are hesitant in the beginning but keep trying.”
The last quote highlights another piece of advice, which is to be patient and tireless in your efforts to implement these programs. So often, we allow ourselves to be stopped by the resistance of others; if instead, we recognize that struggle is a normal part of the change process, we are bolder and continue to charge forward. Check out this blog on communicating to drive change for additional strategies and ideas to employ.
Do it! Try It! Don’t Wait!
We love that 8% of our 160 survey respondents showed up as cheerleaders for Anytime, Anywhere Work programs! The tone of their advice ranges from urgent to encouraging as you’ll see below, but they all agree that you must get in the game today to implement these programs in your firm.
“It is rapidly becoming a baseline expectation.”
"If firms want to stay competitive, they must implement programs like these.”
"Offer these programs and recruit great people.”
"Offering these programs will increase your competitive advantage in attracting and retaining the best talent.”
“We’ve had much success in this area.”
“The most important thing is getting the work done. Where and when it gets done is not relevant.”
“Don’t be afraid to try it.”
Now, here’s our “one piece of advice” for you. Participate in this year’s Anytime, Anywhere Work™ survey and benchmark your firm’s flexible and remote work offering against other firms around the country. You may learn that your program offerings are cutting-edge, or discover that you’re trailing your peers, but either way, the survey will give you a clearer picture of your firm’s competitive positioning around flex. This fall, we’ll share a Survey Results Summary with all survey participants; in addition, we’re planning a blog series exploring deeper survey insights.
The survey is open now through June 1, 2018 and is designed for one entry per public accounting firm, so please coordinate with your firm leaders on your inputs. Click here to participate -- we can’t wait to hear from you!