In our spring survey on the adoption of flexible work initiatives within public accounting firms, only 47% of respondents indicated that they have a written policy in place for their anytime, anywhere work programs. When we asked for advice that firms with flex programs had for others, or lessons they’d learned, 27 firm respondents related the importance of having a clear, written policy in place and 3 respondents went so far as to say that their success hinged upon thinking through the necessary infrastructure before starting with their programs.

  • “We did do a great deal of planning and making sure the infrastructure was in place before entertaining the idea.”
  • “Have very particular requirements in your policy. You can always make exceptions to back off but it is hard to add additional requirements.”

At ConvergenceCoaching, we have long maintained that the number one source of conflict and disappointment in each other at work is a failure to meet expectations – and, unfortunately, those expectations are often unexpressed (and definitely not in writing!). To ensure the success of your anytime, anywhere program, we believe it is critical that you develop a pilot program outline with clear guidelines – or policies – as to what is allowed or disallowed and what is expected of all parties.
So what’s important to include in your program guidelines? Consider the following:

    1. As you roll out any program for the first time, please call it a pilot! This gives you the flexibility to make changes as you learn and provides a platform for feedback and flexibility of the team members participating to modify as experience dictates.
    2. Your program guidelines should define the types of “anytime, anywhere” (flexible) work arrangements available, which commonly include:
      • Flexible start and end times
      • Working the expected number of hours in fewer days
      • Working fewer hours than the standard full-time schedule (also called “part-time”)
      • Zero overtime (either flat across the year, or heavier hours in busy season offset by fewer hours in summer)
      • Flexible location programs (working from home on occasion or all of the time)
      • Flexible leave programs, i.e. sabbaticals, short-term leave for a specific purpose, etc.

Your program guidelines should also document the expectations of any “accessible to all team member” elements like Friday’s off in summer, holiday breaks, remote auditing for engagements where clients are open to it, work-from-home during off hours, weekends, and when sick, drop-in office locations, and any other features you have in place to support anytime, anywhere work.

  1. The firm’s program guidelines should be clear about who is eligible to participate and what constitutes or earns eligibility. Consider tenure, experience, level, discipline, role, performance, circumstances, and the ability of the team member to collaborate and work independently as you consider eligibility. Also, consider whether you should have “limits” on the number of people within a department, or in a specific role or level that can participate at any point in time as some firms find that they cannot manage everyone in certain roles with certain flex options at once.
  2. Your guidelines should detail how and with whom a team member formally requests an Anytime, Anywhere Work Arrangement. This should also specify if a form will be used to apply (we do recommend that these program requests and the final arrangements be documented in writing) and how the approval process (and who is authorized to approve these) will flow.
  3. As you begin approving program participation requests, be sure that the financial details of any arrangement, including changes to pay and benefits (which would be typical for part-time arrangements or zero overtime programs for roles that have an annual overtime expectation), are fully documented and reviewed with the employee.
  4. Create specific expectations around how each arrangement will work on a day-to-day basis:
    • Changes, if any, to job responsibilities and work schedule
    • Accessibility and responsiveness expectations for those working outside standard business hours or away from the office
    • Communication expectations for those in the program and those who need to communicate with them
    • Technology needs, expectations, protocols and who is responsible to fund each element
    • Dependent care expectations when the team member will be working from home
  5. Measures of success should be mapped out for each arrangement and a return and report or “check in” structure developed (we recommend quarterly).
  6. Your guidelines should provide a framework for the factors on which these work arrangements are evaluated including a clause that suggests a regular look back to ensure the work arrangement is working for both parties and the right to modify or rescind the arrangement if it isn’t “win-win-win” for the team member, the firm and the firm’s clients.

As you enter into these flex programs with team members, be transparent. In fact, market that you’re doing these things! This way, any affected parties or stakeholders can have their expectations set. Further, you’ll benefit because team members and clients will see that your firm is progressive and flexible.
While most of us tend to think of these types of policies as set in stone, we recommend you update the guidelines on a regular basis. Your firm may also consider piloting the program with one individual person in a specific circumstance (maternity, moving out of state), or with a small group of interested individuals instead of piloting it at large. Then, plan to update the program guidelines as you experience successes and disappointments, or expand the program to incorporate others in the firm.
Remember, your firm can’t reap the benefits of anytime, anywhere work programs if your team members and your potential recruits don’t know about them. So if you don’t have a written program overview and details on your firm’s “why work for us” page, get to work on those today!
Thank you again to our 99 survey participants for taking time out of their busy schedules to share with our community. The results have been fascinating, and we are so encouraged to see anytime, anywhere work programs gaining momentum in the profession. We truly believe that progressive, exciting firms will move away from a focus on time and place and embrace virtual work programs, gaining considerable competitive advantage. And as we’ve said before, we will continue to champion these flexible work practices.
If you have your own suggestions and ideas for the essential elements of an anytime, anywhere work program’s written expectations, please share them here!