What would happen if your goal was to regularly challenge your team’s assumptions and ways of looking at their jobs? As my 100-person firm’s chief operating officer, I am in a unique position to identify new ways of thinking that will enhance our success. I try to take a creative approach to our operational issues and to shake up the team’s ideas about the work of our firm. One dramatic example was something inspired by the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), which we rolled out at our annual firm meeting in 2010, modifying it somewhat to suit our needs. I believe we saw one of the benefits of that step last October, when Accounting Today ranked us as among the best accounting firms to work for. In that survey, 94% of employees agreed or strongly agreed that they are satisfied with the firm as an employer, would recommend our services to a friend and would recommend employment at this firm to a friend.
The basic idea with ROWE is that employees are evaluated based on results rather than number of hours worked and can work wherever and whenever they want as long as the work gets done. At our annual meeting, we introduced the idea and opened the discussion on what would be involved in working in this environment as a CPA firm. For us it means that if you need to be at home for any reason, a delivery, for example, you can stay home as long as the work gets done. It gives people the flexibility to do what they need to do when they need to do it and allows for successful work/ life integration.
The advantages we have seen include:
- Employee engagement. We believe that programs like ROWE help contribute to the strong employee satisfaction that was acknowledged in our Accounting Today ranking.
- Improved time management skills. With flexibility comes responsibility. Staff at all levels know that they need to manage their schedule in order for flexibility to work. ROWE enables staff to develop these skills earlier in their career so that they are better able to handle greater responsibilities.
- Improved communication. A key characteristic of the ROWE environment is communication. To help us keep in touch, all staff must communicate everything from expectations of due dates or completion of a task to where they will be working (office or remotely). Everyone is encouraged to communicate in multiple ways, such as marking their calendar and communicating through IM and via cell phone.
Like any firm, our main reservations about ROWE were whether client service would be affected and whether more responsibilities would be shifted onto partners. In the two years since we have implemented it, we have not seen any evidence of either.
Is your firm ready for ROWE? If not, follow these steps:
- Consider your current approaches to time management and communication. Are staff being given the opportunity to develop their time management skills? If not, what changes would help them do so? Similarly, what communication options would facilitate keeping in touch without being face-to-face?
- Assess your flexibility. The PCPS Flexibility Views Assessment, which is available in the PCPS Human Capital Center, can help you identify assumptions and misunderstandings that may hinder your efforts. If you’re not sure where you stand on the flexibility continuum, the HCC’S Examples of Flexibility offers some perspective.
- Learn more. The HCC’s comprehensive Flexibility Program Guide and tools on creating a flexibility culture and getting leadership buy-in offers practical information on flexibility policies, benefits, implementation and tips for overall success.
If you’re not ready to shake up your firm to this extent and rethink your policies or procedures, consider taking a smaller step. For example, at our last annual meeting, we decided to bring in a speaker with a different viewpoint in addition to our typical accounting related updates. Vernice “Flygirl” Armour, America’s first African American female combat pilot, focused on engaging in decisions that will make a difference. So whether you’re considering incorporating new viewpoints from outside the profession or seeking out new ways to work, it’s always beneficial to be open to fresh ideas and how they might benefit your practice. What will happen if you shake it up?
Cheryl M. Burke is a partner and chief operating officer of DiCicco, Gulman & Company, LLP, a large firm in Woburn, Massachusetts.