Over the past few days I’ve been speaking with my accounting clients about what they envision for their office environment and company culture over the coming months. Employees that are parents of little ones and are juggling both full-time work and homeschooling seem to be the most excited to return to the normalcy of “work time” vs “home time,” but not everyone is looking forward to the old status quo. There seems to be an increasingly apparent feeling of "hey, if my remote work sufficed over the past 2 months, do I really need to return to commuting to my 9-6 job, 5 days a week?"
The comfort of being around large groups of people will take time to return, so many firms seem to be considering a hybrid of remote work and traditional office time. With only 3% of employees nationwide reporting that they were entirely remote workers prior to the pandemic, this opens a lot of possibility for work/life balance never before seen in the US. With careful consideration of a few key questions, firm managers can benefit from creating a flexible culture that helps keep their workforce both lean and motivated.
How can I set expectations and follow up with my employees if I don’t know when they’ll be in?
The firms that are in the best position for success are those that still get a little facetime with employees. Set an expectation of in-person one-on-one meetings with employees and schedule them regularly. This allows them the freedom to come and go throughout the week and still maintain accountability for the in-office meetings. Use this time to check in on both work status as well as concerns from the employee who may not feel comfortable voicing issues or suggestions over email and potentially having their tone be misinterpreted.
How do I know if my employees are working?
As the saying goes, “Hire character. Train skill.” (Peter Schulz, motivational speaker). If you do not trust the employees working for you, they may not be the right employees. While virtual office platforms are a great resource for making sure your employees are available and collaborative, make sure that the focus falls to productivity above all else. What are the quantifiable milestones that the employee should be hitting? Are they meeting objectives or going above and beyond? Use trackable and measurable parameters available through your technology and set clear expectations. Your employees will quickly show you who is and isn’t willing to put in the work.
How do we avoid an email burnout if that’s how we’re sending work?
Email is an overly-used communication platform, not necessarily meant to disperse and assign work. Without the right technology and work routing tool, your project may get buried under a hundred other emails. As suggested by Steven Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, help your employees know if a project falls into the “Important, Urgent” category or “Important, Not Urgent” through a work routing platform such as Worklayer. This will help you keep milestones and project statuses transparent and know when your employee has the capacity for more.
The steps accounting firms and employers take now in setting up the infrastructure to allow for flexibility will not only make them employers of choice, but help them run leaner while reducing overhead costs (like expensive real estate) moving forward. Despite everyone’s excitement to get back to the office right now, coming back to a more flexible environment can only mean better things for our future. What concerns do you have around hybrid work options?