While accounting leaders were shepherding their firms through a global health and economic crisis this year, their employees were watching closely, taking stock of how well their managers performed under pressure and identifying which short-term adjustments they would like to see their employer institute long term. Employees are viewing this historic moment as an opportunity to transform their workplaces to better address their needs, both personally and professionally.
To better understand what this workplace of the future could look like and how employers can execute it, the Adecco Group, parent company of accounting and finance staffing solutions provider Accounting Principals, recently polled 8,000 office-based employees, managers and C-suite executives across eight countries to better understand their specific pain points and ideas for the post-pandemic workplace.
The survey found some distinct themes: a departure from traditional working hours and expectations, a desire to humanize interactions with leadership, and an increased pressure on companies themselves to deliver on the promise of a better workplace.
The future is flexible
Many accountants and firms began working remotely for the first time in March, which created its own set of challenges, such as adopting new technology and creating a functional at-home office. But once these growing pains subsided, many accountants and CPAs found their productivity did not waver based on their physical location. Clients could still be reached by phone or email, and with the proper technology, spreadsheets and forms could be easily completed digitally. Some even found they preferred working remotely as it reduced distractions and eliminated commute times, giving them more time for themselves and their families.
According to the survey, most workers enjoyed the change of pace that working from home provided but were not committed to working this way full time, with 76 percent of U.S. workers feeling that a mix of office-based and remote working would be the best way moving forward. While many firms may already offer occasional work-from-home days, respondents indicated they would like a more even split between time spent in the office and time working remotely — 48 percent of U.S. workers in particular would prefer to spend their week working remote. And this isn’t just a preference of younger, tech savvy generations. This stands true across generations globally as Gen X (50 percent), millennials (50 percent) and boomers (47 percent) would all prefer an even division of time.
For firms who do not already have a remote work policy, their managers should consider creating one. Allot a certain number of days weekly or even monthly for employees to work from home and allow them to choose their own work environments. The formal policy should also contain a communication framework, such as giving 24-hour notice before working from home, so teams know how to reach their coworkers.
Rethink the 9-5
Similarly, experiencing such a drastic shift in basic working conditions has encouraged both employees and employers to consider which other entrenched work patterns could use an adjustment. With less oversight and no need to be physically present in the office, many workers are questioning the need for set working hours. Parents in particular, who are juggling childcare on top of their regular workload, know their tasks rarely get completed during normal working hours and the workforce has come to realize their most productive hours don’t always fall within a traditional 9-5 workday.
A large majority of U.S. respondents (73 percent) feel employers should revisit the length of the working week and the hours when employees are expected to work. Similarly, many respondents (75 percent) believe employee contracts should be based on meeting the needs of the business rather than on a set number of hours. After months of working altered hours out of necessity — and during tax season no less — accountants now know they can successfully maintain this flexibility in a post-pandemic workplace.
Similarly, for firms that do not already have a flexible-hours policy in place, they should consider starting with “Flexible Fridays.” Having an allotted day in which the entire firm may be working adjusted hours provides an opportunity to troubleshoot logistics on a small scale before expanding the offering and can also encourage employees to take advantage of this benefit.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the new IQ
Most accounting firm leaders never anticipated they would lead their team through a global crisis, and almost all of them probably felt unprepared for the challenge. But while the crisis was stressful for all, it brought out a new side of leadership — a more humanized side not often seen in buttoned-up settings like accounting firms. Conversations surrounding mental health and general wellbeing were more frequent and employees’ personal lives outside of work were taken into account when making decisions and assigning work.
According to the survey, most respondents liked seeing this new leadership side and want their leaders to have a more sensitive touch moving forward. In fact, 82 percent of U.S. employees want their managers to demonstrate a leadership style focused on empathy and a supportive attitude moving forward. Even before the onset of the pandemic, a more humanized approach to management was gaining popularity. Now that emotional intelligence is a practiced skill among managers, employees see no reason to revert.
While the need for frequent personal check-ins has passed, accounting leaders can still find small ways to consider their direct reports and staff holistically. They should consider starting team meetings or weekly one-on-one appointments with a brief personal check-in or sharing a monthly or quarterly anonymous survey as a great way to check in on the issues that may be impacting staff’s personal lives and mental health, thus impacting their productivity.
These expectations may seem intimidating. Completely transforming a company’s culture, particularly within more formal industries, is no easy task. But employees are looking to their employers to deliver change. In the U.S., the survey found 84 percent of respondents believe it’s their employer’s responsibility to ensure a better workplace post-pandemic, and 94 percent of employees felt managers met or exceeded their expectations in adapting to the challenges of the pandemic thus far. So, while workers’ expectations are high, their trust in leadership is also at an all-time high. By using the foundation of mutual trust, resilience and sensitivity that both employees and managers have cultivated during this time, the ideal workplace of the future is well within reach.