Work remotely or return to the office? Why not both? These tips will help you learn how to set up a hybrid work model at accounting firms that works for you, your employees and your clients.
Hybrid work, a combination of working from home and in the office, seems to be where a lot of organizations have settled when considering whether employees should be remote full-time or commute to an office permanently.
Managing the hybrid office requires a special set of considerations that aren’t quite the same as for fully remote or full-time office work. Your firm needs to take into account employees’ comfort, productivity and security in two settings. You also need to think about how to manage people in an environment in which some staffers will see a lot of each other and others will rarely be present in person.
Why create a hybrid work model at your accounting firm? Because hybrid work is (still) here to stay.
The trend toward remote work that began in 2020 isn’t a trend anymore. It’s reality. Research and consulting firm Gartner recently predicted that more than half of American “knowledge workers” will work in a hybrid environment by the end of 2023. Some economists have already declared full-time office work to be “dead.” Hybrid work is so popular now that about 30% of workers are choosing to work from lush vacation destinations, taking what they call “paycations.”
Remote work in general has led to cost savings and lower turnover for employers, and greater productivity and improved work-life balance for employees. But working in a strictly remote environment can lead to loneliness for workers and a sense of disconnection for managers. So, the hybrid model at accounting firms is the best option for many firm leaders.
Working in a hybrid system presents challenges that differ significantly from either full-time remote or full-time office work. Here are a few best practices firm leaders need to consider when developing a hybrid work model.
Technology for the hybrid work model at accounting firms
The first and most obvious category to consider is technology. If your firm doesn’t get this right, nothing else will work. Your employees need access to critical tax and business applications and data from anywhere at any time. That means in the office, at home or even on paycation. And the way to get there is by working in the cloud.
When you run QuickBooks® Desktop and your other favorite business and tax applications in the cloud, you give everyone in your organization access to whatever they need whenever they need it—without compromising security. In fact, the right cloud provider will offer the same level of security big banks enjoy. That includes using world-class data centers and having expert staff in place to keep your systems constantly updated and your clients’ data safe.
You can further bolster security by partnering with a cloud provider that protects the devices your workers use every day (e.g., laptop computers), wherever your employees use them. The same provider can also train your employees to avoid security risks.
But there’s more you can do with technology. With document management, you and your employees will always know where to find critical files, as well as the status of those files. And keeping them secure in the cloud lets you set up customized workflows your firm can use to track client projects from creation to completion.
Everyone needs to be on the same page in the cloud with a hybrid work model in accounting firms. That way, your firm can eliminate errors, master version control and have updates for clients immediately at hand. You can also generally improve both efficiency and client service.
Hybrid work at accounting firms and the office environment
When employees work in the office and at home, you need to consider how they will function in both environments. That means making the office as comfortable as the home office…or close to it. There is some complexity in carrying out this task.
One of the benefits of remote work for firm leaders is reduced cost. When employers don’t need to buy and maintain equipment for every employee, they save money. Running applications in the cloud means getting rid of in-office servers. This virtually eliminates the cost of maintaining and updating an internal network.
For the most part, employees should be able to transport company-issued laptops, and possibly firm-owned cell phones, to and from the office. But firms still need to think about other equipment, such as monitors, mice and other peripherals. Chances are you can have employees share some equipment, such as monitors or speakers. Those devices don’t really involve a lot of touch contact.
Employees might need limits on personalizing workspaces
Equipment like mice and headphones are high-touch peripherals. Most of your Monday-Wednesday-Friday employees probably won’t want to share them with your Tuesday-Thursday employees. Those pieces of technology are important to the general comfort of the work environment, though. So, you’ll need to decide whether to have employees take them back and forth or whether to buy a separate mouse for every employee to use in the office.
Along those same lines, think about how people will use their offices or cubicles when they come to work. In a hybrid environment, one way to save costs is to have employees share an office or cubicle. Otherwise, that space sits empty several days a week. You want employees to be comfortable at work. However, you might need to decide whether to limit how much they can personalize their office spaces. It might not be feasible for them to customize it at all.
People management in a hybrid work model at accounting firms
Of course, the reason most employees will come into the office in a hybrid model is to collaborate and chat with coworkers. There will likely be a group of employees who see each other a few days a week and another group that gets together on other days. (For example: Monday-Wednesday-Friday vs. Tuesday-Thursday.)
Others might work at home full-time or close to it, only coming in once or twice a month. Even with all these disparate schedules, however, there are several ways to keep everyone working in harmony.
First, if possible, have set days when everyone comes to the office. Once a month might be enough. Fully remote workers outside your geographical area can either travel or dial in remotely. But the idea is to get as many people meeting face-to-face as possible.
Look to training and celebrations to get employees together
Beyond that, two effective ways to keep everyone together are training and celebrations. Collaboration-focused training should go beyond how to use Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Those are important topics to cover. However, you might also consider discussing:
- How to promote participation during meetings.
- How to make sure people keep in touch when they’re not in the office together regularly.
- How to foster a sense of identity among team members both virtually and in person.
When things go well, celebrate as a group. Get everyone involved, whether in person or remotely, for big celebrations. For smaller celebrations, send an email or direct message to everyone in the firm. And don’t make it all work-related. Did a coworker’s kid hit a home run in a baseball game? Let everyone know!
Some other things to consider as your budget allows:
- Send firm-branded swag (sweatshirts, notebooks, pens) in advance of get-togethers.
- Create a standard birthday package to send to employees on their birthdays.
- Send out goodies to celebrate big holidays like the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving.
Hybrid work is both the present and the future. When you run your applications and protect your data in the cloud, and when you manage your physical space as effectively as you manage your people, you can make the hybrid model work for both you and your employees.
A successful hybrid model requires the cloud. Move to it today.