In the past 12 months, I’ve observed an increasing trend for the leaders of accounting firms to give their staff the option to work from home as part of their employment conditions. At this time, around 50% of the firms that I work with are developing formal policies to create structure and accountability around ‘work from home.’
For example, with one successful sole practitioner firm, the Principal works in a serviced office environment close to the CBD, with all staff working from remote locations, one around 1,000km from the CBD office. Some staff attend serviced offices close to their homes when they need to meet with clients or just require a work office location. All staff get together at least once a month. Another 3 staff work from an outsourced office based in India. Whilst there are some challenges with communication, there is a clear effort made to engage all staff with the use of technology.
There are a number of contributing factors to this increasing level of flexibility within the work environment:
- As firms develop stronger systems and processes in relation to outsourcing, they realise that it’s no longer necessary for employees to spend all their working time within a central office location.
Data and documents can be accessed remotely and securely, creating instant accessibility to the information that accountants need to do their work.
- There’s an increasing tendency for professionals to desire flexibility in work arrangements. For some, this means a stronger balance between work-based activities and other interests. Where family becomes a priority, both parents want more time with their children. For firms to retain capacity and capability, they need to accommodate the needs of their staff.
- When staff live in major metropolitan centres, the time and cost involved in travelling to and from work can make ‘work from home’ a real economic consideration. Especially when there’s a challenge attracting senior accountants and managers to smaller firms, it makes sense to give qualified staff flexibility in return for loyalty and commitment.
Of course, this trend to ‘work from home’ has created new challenges. What policies and procedures do firms need to put in place to ensure that staff working from home are subject to the same performance standards as staff working in a central office? How are issues such as workplace safety and security of data and intellectual property addressed when there’s less control over staff from day to day?
As the industry evolves from a centralised ‘production-line’ mentality in relation to compliance work to a focus on ‘connection and collaboration’ between people in adding value, there’s no doubt that flexibility in working conditions will become part of ‘what we do’ for progressive firms.
Do you have staff who work from home, either occasionally or regularly? What policies and procedures do you have in place to manage this arrangement?
Some of the key areas that you should consider:
- Regular periods of working from home should be formalised in a Working From Home (WFH) agreement, which should clearly outline:
- duties to be performed whilst undertaking home-based work,
- mechanisms for monitoring output, and
- supervision arrangements
- For staff working from home, time should be allocated to attend the central place of work on a regular basis or use appropriate online collaboration tools to maintain work contacts, give and receive information, collect and deliver work, attend meetings and training courses.
- The employee must be able to work as efficiently and effectively as if they were in the office. Relevant factors in assessing this may include:
- demonstration of self-motivation, time-management and organisational skills
- capacity to work independently and
- a proven record of satisfactory work performance
- Clear performance indicators must be in place and achieved to maintain the ‘privilige’ of working from home.
- Work Health and Safety (WHS) requirements and responsibilities should apply equally in home-based workplaces as for office-based workplaces. The home office must be shown to be a safe area to work. Specific checklists should be used to confirm that WHS standards are being followed.
- The firm needs to decide the extent to which it will provide equipment and furniture to the home office. They may use a checklist outlining furniture and IT requirements of the home based office. The technology set-up including computer, monitors and internet access must be at a level equivalent to that available within the office environment.
- It is essential that the IT hardware and software used from home to access information remotely is secure from cyberattack. Staff working from home must ensure that they have adequate antivirus software installed on their computers.
- Insurance needs to be considered. The employee may need to indemnify the firm against loss or damage to the staff member’s property through inappropriate use of firm equipment.
These are just some of the issues that firms need to address when considering formalising ‘work from home’ policies with their professional staff. Of course, this approach is not necessarily right for all firms. But for firms looking to attract and retain qualified staff who also want some flexibility in working arrangements, it can be a great way to lock in capable and loyal employees.
If you’d like to discuss how to establish and manage ‘work from home’ arrangements with your professional staff, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Director, High Tech Soft Touch. Ph 1300 872 792
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