Balancing Return-to-Office Policies and Remote/Hybrid Staff
Best practices in developing “return-to-office” policies in the accounting profession continue to evolve. With complicated in-office/flex schedules, hybrid meeting policies and new cybersecurity protocols, there’s a lot to juggle. For CPA firm leadership and corporate CPAs in finance roles, there’s a balancing act between keeping clients/customers coming back, Gen Z enthralled and middle managers and partners satisfied.
With five generations in the workforce, it’s important to make sure all staff members thoroughly understand in-office and remote work protocols. Rachel Anevski, MAOB, PHR, SHRM-CP, founder and CEO of Matters of Management, LLC, recommends that leadership have clear and regular communication with remote staff and clients as well as clearly defined expectations for remote staff regarding availability, response times and deliverables. “This will help everyone stay informed about project updates, schedules and any potential challenges,” she said, noting it will, “help manage client expectations and avoid any misunderstandings or frustrations.”
Steven J. Budryk, CPA, MS, manager at Traphagen CPAs & Wealth Advisors, agrees it’s imperative to keep an open line of communication. To balance remote staff and hybrid work schedules, firms must continue to review what works with each client, he added. “Some prefer face-to-face interactions, where hybrid work schedules adjust to the clients’ schedule. Others allow for virtual options to keep schedules more fluid.”
Ultimately, he said, “As long as the work performed is at the same high-quality level, the benefit of flexibility keeps both staff and clients happy. If managed properly, remote staff/hybrid work schedules can increase efficiency, productivity and enhance the overall experience of our ultimate stakeholder, our happy clients.”
And, for everyone involved, adaptability is key. According to Anevski, it’s important to encourage flexibility in scheduling to accommodate both client needs and employee productivity. “Everyone needs to understand that remote staff may have different working hours due to time zone differences or personal circumstances.” She added, “While the client may not always be right, we have to look at the content of the relationship, the client history and the ability to find ways to perform specific tasks smarter (which may, at times, be onsite).”
Accounting leadership should also not overstep its authority regarding staff hours in such a flexible environment. “Where accountability is important, be wary of using timecards or fingerprint scans to ‘log’ time in the office. We are all adults and should be treated as such. These policies can disadvantage certain employees, like working parents who could use the time at home,” said Lauren Dunn, SHRM-CP, chief people officer at Wiss.
“Where a return to the office in a full-time capacity is certainly not winning, hybrid work is on the rise and here to stay,” Dunn explained. “The key to hybrid work is having a structure in place that all can work with.”
Another tip to keep workflow moving along in this kind of environment, as Anevski explained, is to “invest in reliable communication and collaboration tools that enable seamless remote work.” She added, “This includes video conferencing, project management software and instant messaging platforms.”
Indeed, Budryk noted that having the ability to work remotely these past few years helped create a new digital client experience for clients with remote logins onto client portals, real-time data, Zoom meetings and teleconference calls.
“We also instituted an online engagement platform that connects our remote and hybrid workforce to those in the office via challenges, hybrid activities, shout outs and opportunities to share insights about each other no matter how far away we are,” added Dunn. “It’s all about connection!”
No longer is the “dress for your day” perk on the top of the list when it comes to in-office work advantages. And, what entices workers back into a large New York investment bank is not always applicable to a small CPA firm in suburban New Jersey. However, providing training and professional development opportunities for remote and in-office staff will go a long way to keeping employees around.
“Whether employees are working hybrid or fully remote, ongoing technology training is essential,” said Dunn. “Almost all of us are competent when using Zoom or Teams post-COVID, but do all team members know how to utilize more advanced features such as annotation, recording or close caption features? Making sure your team is fully comfortable with technology can increase efficiency when away from the office.”
According to Dunn, Wiss announced guidelines for in-office work, not hard and fast rules. “There is also an ability to apply for a remote working arrangement, which requires a formal submission, interview, discussion of guidelines (i.e., letting us know about a move to a new state before it occurs) and technology review so we know the team member is set up for success. This arrangement also comes with quarterly check-ins, hopefully keeping the employee engaged.”
A healthy balance of in-office and hybrid seems to be the sticking point at most organizations. As Budryk noted, “As important as our clients are, retaining qualified staff is paramount.” He added, “Hybrid work schedules allow for a healthy work-life balance, providing them with the flexibility they need to accomplish more personally and professionally.”
Steven J. Budryk
Steven J. Budryk, CPA, MS, is a senior accountant at Traphagen CPAs & Wealth Advisors. He is a member of the NJCPA Emerging Leaders Interest Group and Student Programs & Scholarships Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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