As an accounting firm coach, consultant and mentor one of the questions I am getting from firm owners and managers is what are other firms doing about work from home options post COVID?
Unlike some businesses that cannot exist without face to face contact the reality is that an accounting firm can function without that contact. The question in my mind and that of many others is can it function well that way for a long period of time? To answer this question I want to consider three periods:
Period 1 – Pre-COVID
Prior to COVID many firms already had some people working at locations other than the main office. These were typically in the following circumstances:
- Outsourcing of work to people in offshore or onshore locations (very common)
- An existing employee who has relocated due to their spouse taking a different job or being posted to a new location (very common in defence, teaching, police and so on)
- A person with some parenting or other care responsibilities who found it worked much better for them if they could do some work from home
- A person with an unusually long commute who wanted to stay loyal to the firm and was happy to do so if they could work a couple of days from home
In many firms the percentage of the total workforce covered by these four circumstances was relatively small – the bulk of the team was working from the office. During this period I believe I was seeing some increasing demand for greater flexibility and for some firms this was a new thing they were grappling with.
Period 2 – During COVID
For most, but not all firms during the past year it has been necessary to have people work from home. The exceptions have typically been regional/remote firms or those in cities where there have been limited lockdowns and where they have had premises of sufficient size to achieve genuine physical distancing. As I write this in March 2021 there remain plenty of firms where there is a significant percentage of people who have not returned to working in the office.
During this period firms very quickly adapted their ways of work and supporting technology to allow business to continue. If your firm was already fully digital and cloud based this was easy. For others still more attached to paper, it was a struggle but most got there. So in a relatively short time we went from a small percentage of our workforce being “remote” to 100% working that way.
What have we learned during this period? I think we learned that:
- Some people were more “productive”. For some firms this was pretty much across the board and for others it was some people only.
- Some people were less productive and /or really struggled – mainly less experienced team members who missed having others around them for informal mentoring and on the job training
- Some people really enjoyed not having a long commute
- Some people absolutely hated WFH due to their living arrangements
- Some people found having a bit more family time a positive experience
- Some people just enjoyed having a bit more privacy to get work done
Period 3 – Post COVID
We are not really in this period yet but are arguably on the cusp of it and barring any major disasters are not going to see massive lockdowns in Australia.
Based on the experience in periods 1 and 2 as discussed above I believe where we are going to end up is here:
Most quality firms will have a formal work from home policy which will clearly articulate the circumstances when working from home, or another location that is not the office, is appropriate. It will not be appropriate for all roles in the firm but for those where it is there will be the possibility of working from home up to two or three days per week. There will be guidance in the policy on certain firm events or meetings that will necessitate being ion the office and there may even be some days where “everyone” is in the office. There will also be guidance in the policy on the process for having a home or other location approved as a work location to cover off on WHS, privacy, security and other matters that need to be addressed.
My view is that this is a sensible place to end up because it balances both the benefits of working in a distributed way with the benefits of working in an office. In November 2020 I wrote an article titled Why does and accounting firm need an office? Why does an accounting firm need an office? – Planet Consulting Have a look at that to be reminded of some reasons why the office has value. Some of this value is linked to the concepts of culture, socialisation, collaboration and learning.
If you don’t yet have a work from home policy then I’d encourage you to get something in place. I’d also love to hear from you if you would like to add to this conversation.
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