Skip to content
Tax Talent & Culture

Measuring the different viewpoints on remote and flex work environments in tax

Samantha Mansfield  Consultant & Leadership Coach / ConvergenceCoaching, LLC

· 5 minute read

Samantha Mansfield  Consultant & Leadership Coach / ConvergenceCoaching, LLC

· 5 minute read

A new survey shows how tax industry leadership and team perspectives on remote and flex work arrangements both align and differ in many ways

Remote, hybrid, and flex work environments have become an expected benefit in organizations today. Recent research by Robert Half on the demand for skilled talent found that 60% of those looking for a job want a hybrid role, and 37% want a “fully remote position.” The question is, do team members and leadership have similar points of view, especially around establishing best practices for operating in these new environments.

Another study — the biennial Anytime, Anywhere Work survey (ATAWW), conducted by ConvergenceCoaching, a remote consulting team that has served tax, accounting, and consulting firms since 2000 — has looked at remote and flexible work programs in public accounting since 2014. “We perceive a real disconnect between official ‘firm leadership’ survey responses and team members’ experiences with flexibility,” explains Renee Moelders, a partner at ConvergenceCoaching.

This disconnect leads to unmet expectations between leadership and team members which can then create disappointment and frustration around work environments. If left unresolved, trust could disintegrate, and the firm’s culture and ability to retain talent could be at risk.

One area that firm leadership can begin clearing up unmet expectations is around the different points of view within their own leadership team. ATAWW Survey data from 2022 showed that 79% of participating firms’ leadership fully embrace the concept of anytime, anywhere work (20%) or see it as important (59%)​. As encouraging as those percentages are, it reveals that 21% of participating firm leaders do not fully support remote and flex work styles and may restrict flexibility options for their team members.

Team members who are assigned to leaders with this minority viewpoint may want to switch to another team, resent colleagues who have more flexibility, or leave the firm out of frustration with the disconnect. “We’d like to see firms clarify and commit to their official stance and stand behind that more consistently, so the whole team has access to these benefits,” says Moelders.

Remote work and productivity

Some firm leaders continue to question how productive remote team members can be or express doubts about how their remote team members spend their time, believing that remote talent are doing laundry and chores instead of their work. Firms may be tempted to employ technology to monitor performance, including trackers that measure screen activity or the location of their individuals or their devices. Given that accounting is a profession driven by knowledge workers, this lack of trust and suspicion may drive away quality remote and flex workers and therefore, has no place in a healthy employment relationship between professionals.

To build trust, firm leaders could instead implement metrics that measure deliverables, output, and contributions to results. Does it matter when and where people work if they are delivering results? Leaders should create a win-win situation by setting clear expectations on production measures or revenue contribution and holding people accountable for their targeted activities and outcomes. Then team members can have the autonomy to work when and where it is most effective for them. And at the same time, the firm can achieve its goals.

The 2024 ConvergenceCoaching, LLC Anytime, Anywhere Work (ATAWW) Survey is currently open for data inputs from firms through June 28, 2024. An executive summary will be shared with participating firms by the end of November 2024.

Also, those who prefer to work in the office may have a proximity bias. This occurs when learning opportunities or plum assignments are given to those in close physical proximity to the person assigning work. For most leaders, this is an unconscious bias and not what they are truly committed to as a people-management strategy. To counteract this natural bias, leaders should establish intentional learning experiences and competency pathways that map the skills necessary to grow and provide flexible mechanisms or delivery methods to develop those competencies. This way, every individual, whether they work in the office or remotely, will have a greater likelihood of receiving advancement opportunities.

When leaders master intentional learning approaches, they improve their ability to hire people at all levels — including interns and new hires — without geographic constraints. Only 38% of ATAWW respondents said their firms had hired remote talent, according to the 2020 survey; but by 2022, that number jumped to 81% of respondents who said their firm had benefited by hiring a remote person.

Connecting through remote work

In addition to being intentional about learning and development, leaders need to think remote first when it comes to creating connectedness and giving all team members a sense of belonging. Without belonging, talent engagement levels can wane. This reduces productivity and the likelihood of talent staying with their firm. Even hybrid team members report feeling disconnected when they go to the office and very few others are there.

Instead of thinking everyone should return to the office, which will remove a highly sought-after benefit, develop connections and interactions that tether people to the firm. Leaders should assign a shepherd who can check in with their assigned team members, know what is happening with them personally and professionally, and will make their assignees feel seen and heard. Every person in the firm should be assigned to a shepherd.

Despite the differing points of view on these topics and others, many people would like to achieve better work/life integration. Remote, hybrid, and flex work options are tools that offer individuals more opportunity to balance time between important personal and professional commitments. The seasonality and workload compression of the tax & accounting profession poses a real challenge to many professionals. “If your people aren’t winning at home, they will struggle, at best, winning at work,” says Tamera Loerzel, a partner at ConvergenceCoaching.

Tax & accounting firms, along with all organizations, are still learning how to make remote and flex work for themselves and their employees. Those firms and their leaders that seek to reconcile the differing points of view will gain a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent.

The author is a Senior Consultant with ConvergenceCoaching.

More insights