Is Your Firm Tapping into the Power of Flexibility?

December 20, 2017

There is a new currency gaining strength in the workplace. This one is capturing the hearts and minds of many, especially Millennials. We are talking about flexibility. It is all about having greater control over when and where we work. Not only does it impact our decision to accept and remain in a job, it affects employee engagement, trust and work-life balance. And it doesn’t stop there.

This month’s Feature Focus is dedicated to flexibility. Inside, you can gain a greater understanding of the importance flexibility plays. You can learn new ideas and tools available to boost your firm’s flexibility.

A Closer Look at the Numbers

Let’s start with a look at the numbers.

Flexibility is on the Rise

  • More people do their job virtually or remotely and at various times of the day rather than between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (Gallup’s State of the American Workplace)
  • From 2012 to 2016, the number of employees working remotely rose by four percentage points, from 39-43% and employees working remotely spent more time doing so. (Gallup)
  • 44% of employees say their company offers flextime. (Gallup)
  • 84% of millennials report some degree of flexible working in their organizations.(2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey)
  • Teams have fewer face-to-face interactions, communicating increasingly through email, instant messaging and conference calls. (Gallup)

What Employees Want

So what do today’s employees want in the area of flexibility?  

  • 53% of employees say a role that allows them to have greater work-life balance and better personal well-being is “very important” to them. (Gallup)
  • Increasingly, people want to be able to adjust their hours and schedules as needed and work remotely when they can without compromising work quality or productivity. (Gallup)
  • 51% of employees say they would change jobs for one that offers them flexible work time. (Gallup)
  • 37% would switch to a job that allows them to work off-site at least part of the time. (Gallup)

The Impact of Flexibility

Is there an upside to changing mindsets?

  • Employees whose organization allows them to change their hours and schedules as needed have higher levels of engagement and well-being than other employees. They may be more likely to strongly agree that a manager who lets them set their own schedule cares about them as a person. They may leave work at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. most days so they can get in a workout or volunteer, giving an added boost to their physical and community well-being. (Gallup)
  • Millennials say that flexible working arrangements support greater productivity and employee engagement while enhancing their personal well-being, health and happiness. (Deloitte)
  • For Millennials who have flexible working arrangements:

o   67% feel flexibility has a positive impact on productivity.

o   66% think flexibility improves their well-being, health and happiness.

o   65% believe flexibility enhances their work-life balance.

o   65% think flexibility increases their levels of engagement with work.

o   62% feel flexibility has a positive impact on their organization’s ability to meet their objectives.

o   56% believe flexibility enhances their organization’s financial performance. (Deloitte)

Is Flexibility Part of Your Firm’s Culture?

“If leaders want to compete for a modern workforce, they should consider weaving some element of flexibility into their culture.” according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace. Consider these questions in your firm’s quest.

  • Does your firm have a flexible culture?
  • Which elements of flexibility are considered among your culture’s makeup?
  • Which components of your firm’s flexibility do employees value the most?
  • How do you incorporate your flexible culture into recruiting conversations?
  • What stories do you share to help potential candidates understand the presence of flexibility in your firm?
  • What areas relating to flexibility should your firm consider adding or strengthening?

Trust and Accountability in the Flexibility Equation

One of the greatest fears of firm leaders considering flexible operating models is losing control. More specifically, losing control over work done by its employees. If you can’t see employees, how can you know they will get the work done, on time and in an efficient manner? Conversely, just because employees are in the office, how can you know they will get that same work done, on time and in a proper manner? Could office distractions make it difficult to concentrate on key projects? Could personal distractions such as missing a child’s soccer practice or foregoing a favorite yoga class cause less than optimal performance? Bottom line, just because an employee is in the office at a specific time, does not guarantee their best work.

Another key consideration is accountability. “Accountability and flexibility are highly correlated; those working in the more flexible environments report higher levels of personal responsibility. For example, where flexible working is most deeply entrenched, 34% take “a great deal” of personal accountability for their organizations’ reputations. This compares to just 12% within enterprises where there is low flexibility.’’ according to the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey. Could a more flexible environment result in increased accountability in your firm?

“There is clearly potential for employees to feel colleagues are taking advantage of flexible working opportunities, or for line managers to be suspicious of those who regularly work from home or vary the start and finish of their working day.” according to the Deloitte survey. “However, the potential for a distrustful atmosphere is largely unrealized with:

  • 73% of those offered flexible working opportunities saying they trust colleagues to respect it.
  • 78% feel trusted by their line managers.
  • Where flexible working is most embedded, the levels of trust are greatest with only one in 10 suspicious of colleagues or believing that their line managers doubt them.”

Trust and accountability are two critical areas where a flexible environment can give your firm a boost. Have you considered the impact of such benefits?

Flexible Paths Forward

Creating a more flexible culture can also include alternative career paths. Gone are the days when a single career path is right for everyone. Firms need diverse talent to stay relevant. Alternative career paths provide employees greater flexibility in the work they do for the firm and its clients. This means more opportunities to work in areas best aligning with an individual’s skill set, talents and interests.

  • A mother of school-aged children wants to become a partner and needs to work remotely.
  • An HR professional wants to become a shareholder but does not have an accounting background.  
  • An IT specialist wants a professional career path toward a leadership role as a director.

There are all sorts of talent that could fit nicely into your firm. Talent to fill needed gaps and provide diverse solutions. Is your firm attracting them based on current practices?  

Practical Tools You Can Use

Yes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed as your firm looks to incorporate new initiatives. Good news. There are numerous flexibility tools and best practices already available. As a member of the PCPS section, these resources are available free of charge.

  • Flexibility Toolkit
    This toolkit has been designed with busy practitioners in mind. Use it to get up-to-speed on this increasingly important area. Tap into its guides and tools that are easily customized to meet your firm’s needs.

o   Flexible Work Arrangements Guide
Discover what a flexible culture is, different forms of flexibility, common myths debunked and what it takes to make a flexibility program successful.

o   Action Plan: Creating a Flexible Culture
Use this easy-to-use plan to build a flexible work culture in your practice.

o   Flexibility Policy Template
Tap into this template to craft a flexible workplace to fit your firm.

o   Flexibility Guidelines & Tips - for Managers
Use this resource, designed especially for managers to develop a more flexible workplace.

o   Flexibility Guidelines & Tips - for Employees
Discover these guidelines designed especially for employees to help incorporate more flexibility in their work environment.

o   Flexibility Views Assessment
Gauge views on your firm’s flexibility with this tool. Use the results to improve your organization’s stance on flexibility and enhance lower rated areas.

Here’s to finding more flexible ways forward for your firm, ones that encourage talent to more actively engage in their roles and create more balanced lifestyles. 

Note: The Practicing CPA will go on hiatus during busy season. Look for our next issue in May 2018, and have a successful busy season!