4th August, 2021
Flexible working arrangements have become the norm for professional services firms. But are they working for your organisation?
Many businesses have been worried about giving employees too much control over where and when they work. Without oversight, how can you tell that your people are actually working while they’re at home?
For business owners, productivity is an ongoing concern, but it’s no longer so clearly tied to the presence of the workforce in a central time and place.
The pandemic, with its strict working-from-home requirements and disrupted childcare arrangements, created the ultimate test – and by and large, many organisations have seen that working from home and flexible work hours are possible.
Increasingly workers are choosing their employment based on the availability of flexible working conditions, and there are direct benefits for businesses that are quick to adjust their systems and processes to accommodate it.
In the professional services industry (including Australia and New Zealand based advisors, like accountants and bookkeepers) offering flexible working arrangements is a huge issue when it comes to attracting and recruiting top talent. But, it needs to be thoroughly considered if it’s to be implemented effectively.
Flexible working arrangements are a change to traditional patterns of work, whether they relate to where or when an employee is working.
In New Zealand, employees can ask to change their work arrangements, place hours or days and employers must consider the request, as outlined on the Employment New Zealand website.
Requests can be made by Australian employees as well, with further detail on which categories of workers can make a request available on the Fair Work website.
Flexible working has also become a trend in corporate culture, whereby organisations actively promote their employees’ freedom to choose when and where their work gets done. Over time, it’s increasingly seen as a form of employee benefit.
But, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible working arrangements have also become a necessity.
Can an employer choose not to offer flexible working arrangements?
In both Australia and New Zealand there’s no obligation to offer flexible working arrangements and it’s also possible to decline an employee’s request on certain grounds.
Offering more flexibility to employees brings benefits to them and, as we’ve seen demonstrated in recent times, to the organisation itself.
A two-year study, for example, showed that by letting staff work from home, one company increased productivity equivalent to an extra full day of work, reduced office overheads and halved staff attrition rates.
Having a flexible workforce also means you’re more likely to keep the lights on when faced with significant disruptions, from quite minor things like power outages to more serious ones, like pandemic restrictions.
When you don’t have the easily understood parameters of a nine-to-five in an office, you need to work a bit harder to set rules of engagement, for example, when, how and why people should contact each other.
Perhaps send simple, non-urgent messages via email, video meetings for more complex ones and internal instant messaging when a response is needed fast.
Set expectations about what hours your people must be available, and the targets they should be aiming for – are you looking for particular outputs, or for your team to rack up a certain number of billable hours?
When your team is remote, you can’t just look over at their desks to see if they’re stressed, overworked or worried about something. You have to wait for them to tell you. And with many employees, you’ll likely wait forever unless you make a point of asking.
Whether it’s a quick phone call at the beginning of the week or a video catch up, make a point of scheduling regular meetings.
Ask how people are coping, if they have enough work or too much and if they need anything in order to be successful.
Email is great, but it has its limitations. More options for communication will get closer to replicating the in-person working experience.
At a minimum, find a video conferencing tool that works for you and implement a workplace-friendly instant messaging system to allow for more fluid interactions.
Chances are, you already have the basics in technology needed for your people to work from home. If you want to maintain this long-term, it’s worth reviewing your systems and security.
Do you have an easy way to share and access files? Is your tech set up to protect against data breaches?
If you’ve been in business, then you know managing data systems and security is easier said than done.
That’s part of the reason why so many organisations are turning to cloud-based solutions. They offer the flexibility of access required to manage a distributed workforce, while also managing the data and security side of things.
When it comes to accounting and bookkeeping, that means having the ability to access and work on client files remotely, meaning work can be done easily from anywhere, with full transparency and security for your business.
As people get used to working from home, the home office environment begins to take more of the spotlight.
For some, the working from home lifestyle is nothing new, and these employees will come well-prepared with multiple PC displays, ergonomic chairs and a well-lit space all good to go.
Others may be working from home for the first time, and may’ve never had to set up a place in their home that meets workplace safety requirements.
So, while you may not be able to dictate to employees how to organise their home, it’s important that employers take an interest in promoting best practices and safety guidelines whenever possible.
You might also consider how to incentivise or co-fund any upgrades for more ergonomic equipment.
Investing in your employees this way may require a significant initial outlay, but it will deliver the long-term benefits that come from maintaining a more healthy workforce.
To reap the benefits of flexible working – including increased productivity and staff retention – you’ll need to set expectations for communication, keep in touch with at-home staff and use more than email to exchange information.
Provide the health-protecting equipment a home office may not have (think ergonomic chairs) and take up cloud-based solutions that enable flexibility and security.
In no time, flexible working will be business as usual for you and your organisation.
Need to work on your business, not in it?
MYOB Advanced Professional Services Edition delivers all-of-business management software in one cloud platform, giving business managers the peace of mind that comes with data security and visibility.