As many companies and other professional services firms mandate that their employees return to the office, will tax & accounting firms do the same?
Recent headlines reveal that a large number of large companies are issuing return-to-office mandates for their employees. The autonomy offered to employees during the pandemic to work at a location of their choosing seems to be shifting back toward on-premises work requirements.
The policies vary by company, of course, Disney is requiring employees be back in the office at least four days per week; while other companies are mandating a set number of days but allowing employees to choose which days they come to the office.
This all begs the question, why? Many studies and surveys have reported that productivity did not decline during an extended period of remote working, but rather went up. And employees were grateful for the ability to have more control over their schedule and work location, allowing them to craft a better work/life balance for themselves.
Leaders requiring a return-to-office mandate cite the need to reconnect teams, foster greater collaboration, and create equity for those who cannot work from home. Many of these concerns have been voiced by leaders of tax & accounting firms as well.
Accountants return to the office
So, are tax & accounting firm leaders implementing similar policies? To answer that, let’s look at a recently published report, The 2022 ConvergenceCoaching, LLC® Anytime, Anywhere Work™ (ATAWW) Survey. This comprehensive report examined the adoption of flexible work practices in 216 accounting firms across the country and reported significant increases in adoption and expansion of access to remote and flex work programs.
Of the 216 accounting firms that participated in the 2022 ATAWW Survey, 97% allowed their talent to choose where they work, while 94% offer flexibility in when people are working. The report notes that with more firms leaning into outsourcing, offshoring, and fractional staffing resources, it is increasingly important to learn to work asynchronously across multiple time zones. The survey also shows that surveyed firms are leveraging gig-based workers (30%), domestic outsourcing teams (30%), and overseas offshoring providers (35%).
With an increasingly tight talent pipeline, the report illustrates that leaders need to get innovative on staffing their teams. In fact, the 2022 ATAWW Survey found that “81% [of survey respondents] hired at least one remote team member they had not employed before,” which essentially means that firms are hiring new staff in their remote geography. It’s remarkable to note that this result was up from 38% in 2020.
Tax & accounting firm leaders are also eliminating outdated mandates to work Saturdays during peak seasons. In fact, 73% of responding firms now make Saturday hours optional, giving their talent the ability to choose when they will complete the extra workload required during busy seasons, the survey found.
Outside of peak periods, firms are implementing creative ways to give their talent a collective break. Almost half (47%) of survey respondents close their office on Fridays, while another 11% remain open and rotate which employees can take the day off. And just 1% of the respondents said they provide Fridays off all year round.
With the discussion of the four-day work week increasing — for example, Maryland has a proposed bill to encourage employers to offer a four-day work week — many firms are offering these kinds of benefits to be more attractive to talent.
Extending more benefits
Unlimited paid time off (PTO) is another benefit that is being discussed across the tax & accounting industry. “Unlimited PTO programs emphasize a culture of flexibility built on personal responsibility and mutual trust,” the survey notes, adding that accounting firms that offer this benefit rose from 11% in 2018 to nearly one-fifth of participants (19%) in 2022.
In fact, these benefits are being extended to all levels of client-facing staff as well as administrative and operations personnel. This level of flexibility “works for partners to administration — it works for everyone,” says Renee Moelders, ATAWW Survey co-author and Partner at ConvergenceCoaching. The 2022 ATAWW Survey found that 83% of participants offer these flex options to some or all of their operations and administrative talent as well. With cloud access, paperless documents, and revised workflows, it makes sense that all team members would be offered the option to work remotely or in a hybrid fashion.
Based on the ATAWW Survey data, it’s clear that there is a growing commitment in tax & accounting firms to extend more flexibility to their talent. And those firms embracing more flexibility will have a competitive edge in hiring and retaining top talent, while those holding onto more traditional models of work are at risk of facing greater staffing challenges going forward, warns Moelders.
Of course, there are still many challenges around greater flexibility that tax & accounting firm leaders still have to address, such as how they will ensure team collaboration, how they will train and teach remote team members, and how can they keep a remote team on track.
The answers to these challenges will take innovation and intentionality to implement and execute, but it can be done. When the pandemic hit, tax & accounting firm leaders were forced to find new solutions to keep their practices running while ensuring safety for team members and clients. Now, it is time to reignite that creativity and look at remote and flex work as a long-term solution.
Firm leaders shouldn’t let the headlines about return-to-office mandates lull them into thinking their talent will willingly accept such policies. Tax & accounting practices are well-equipped technologically to offer firm talent these flexible options, and leaders need to expand their thinking on flex and remote work so they can make their firm a destination workplace that will attract top talent.