By Dave Sukert, JD
The post-pandemic business model remains unclear for many firms, but data indicates that many will be moving away from traditional office requirements. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ most recent Business and Industry Economic Outlook Survey, 91% of firm leaders are currently participating in a mix of on-site and off-site operations, and they plan to continue to do so into 2022.
A smart hybrid model is about so much more than simply employees having a level of flexibility in work location. After all, a hybrid environment impacts everything from firm culture to employees’ perceived opportunities for advancement. To keep a team engaged, no matter where they might sit, firm leaders should consider the following critical components:
Consistent communication – Imagine you’re in an airport and your flight is late, but no one has explained why. You’d get pretty irritated, right? You might even commiserate with other passengers about what’s going on. By the time the airline finally makes an announcement, you’re not really listening to what they’re saying and might be unhappy enough to avoid that airline in the future. The same thing happens when we don’t communicate enough with employees.
It is important to maintain regular communication with your employees at a cadence and format that makes sense for your organization – especially during times of uncertainty. Not only will this keep everyone informed, but it can help manage expectations among your staff for how and when you’ll communicate, spark productive conversations, and minimize speculation.
Policies and procedures – Will your firm require a vaccine to enter the office? What happens if someone doesn’t want to come into the office after you’ve reopened, or simply can’t because of personal responsibilities? Will traveling for business be allowed? What happens if someone travels for leisure? May guests come into your office; if so, how many and under what circumstances? With so many questions and no established playbook to guide firms, working with your team of experts – including human resources and legal – to develop policies and procedures is an absolute must.
Provide equal opportunity – Trying to ensure equal opportunity for staff growth and advancement is challenging, even when everyone is in the office together. Addressing this issue with a hybrid team will require more vigilance and effort from firm leaders. The bottom line, however, is that employees need to feel as though they have opportunities to contribute, grow, and advance their careers no matter where they are working. There cannot be a perception of favoritism toward an employee because he or she was willing to come into the office or travel for business. As a firm leader, paying closer attention to empowering your employees can be key in their success, no matter where they are working from.
Designing the physical set-up – Your old office space probably needs a bit of a remodel. At present, though, your chief designers will be the Centers for Disease Control and local regulations. Under their guidance there’s a lot to think about, and to keep thinking about, as the rules continue to evolve. Alongside specific regulations, you also need to take your employees and their varying comfort levels into consideration. Making the office feel like a safe space to work is crucial to retaining employees, maintaining the firm’s success, and generating the least amount of stress possible.
Offer flexibility – When creating and managing a hybrid firm, it’s important to be flexible throughout the process. Every day is unknown territory, and every day we see more changes. Keep an open mind and listen to what your team thinks. Different points of view and perspectives can be invaluable as you chart your course.
Trusted technology – Over the past year, we’ve learned that technology can be a great tool to connect with your colleagues, but it can also be unreliable and inconvenient at the same time. So, firm leaders need to make sure that all employees are comfortable working with technology and that the technology being provided actually works. Investing in technology that has a great success rate and giving employees more time to get comfortable with using it will work wonders in successfully connecting from any location. Paying attention to the importance and relevance technology has will make transitioning between on-site and remote work much easier for CPAs.
Dave Sukert, JD, is senior vice president for Aon Affinity Insurance Services Inc. in Ambler, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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