Working From Home (WFH)
We have visited this topic on a number of occasions, particularly at the time of the outbreak of the Covid pandemic. When discussing this with my clients around the world I hear that this strategy is mostly determined. Some firms have their staff fully back to work with an understanding that WFH is permissible but an exception rather than the norm. Others have a hybrid arrangement in place that is understood and working as well as can be expected. So, what is there to change?
HYBRID STILL GIVES RISE TO CHALLENGES
There is still unease revolving around hybrid arrangements. In an open conversation last Friday Tim from New South Wales admitted that the partners (a 6-partner firm) had agreed to hybrid working arrangements. This was partly due to the fact that Australia has endured stringent lockdown requirements for much longer than most countries. Partly also due to ongoing high number of Covid cases. But Tim tells me that partners really want to see all staff back at work behind their desks. Currently it is reported that half of Australians are now back in the office full time.
While clients of mine in South Africa and the UK largely have their staff back behind their desks – lockdown for them is a distant, unpleasant memory.
Meanwhile Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceEx) tells his workforce that he is happy for them to work at home provided they have worked 40 hours in the office! JP Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon complains about remote work and advances the argument that returning to work will benefit diversity. Meanwhile a Stanford economist advances the case for WFH and its role in empowering global growth. On the other hand, some employees continue to say that WFH is making them lazy and anti-social.
The debate continues, while mostly it has generally been settled – or has it?
So apart from Tim’s firm’s long-term objective – what might change the status quo?
Another pandemic? OK, nothing can be ruled out but the way I read it in the media is that there will not only be a very strong outburst should governments seek to impose further lockdowns but also there may well be those who seek to resist such an imposition. There have been very few post Covid studies these past few years, but those that have been commissioned do not conclude positively that lockdowns were necessary. The arguments are largely economic but then the human costs have to be factored in. Life was being prematurely ended. I suspect that there are volumes to be written yet on these past 30 months. Will there ever be a consensus? I think not. For that reason I will pay these reports little attention.
Back to the question – what might change our current working arrangements? Notwithstanding the benefit of reduced travel costs and commute time saved we now have a global energy crisis. There continue to be alarming reports regarding the staggering cost of increasing home utility bills. Reports in the UK suggest that 1 in 4 households are not planning to heat their homes this winter. I have already agreed with my wife that we will turn the radiator stats down one level and reduce the time the heating is on by an hour a day. But, what about employees? Might they not be tempted to absorb the cost of travel in order to leave the home heating off? Some estimate that home heating in the UK will be close to £30 a day. And then there is the cost of powering the computer and lighting. Compare that, in the UK with the average costs of the daily commute which is estimated at around £13.
There is no doubt that some employers will welcome this situation, especially those who have experienced resistance from staff when it comes to returning to the workplace.
While many firms struggle with heavy workloads, work backlogs and shortage of quality staff, others have invested time planning for tomorrow. As Covid demonstrated even the best laid plans of man and mice can go awry. By nature, we live in an environment where reactivity rules the day. Clients, while accommodating our needs for records and cooperation, rarely prioritise delivering these records when we want them and how we want them. The ever-increasing regime of file on time or pay a fine and interest has changed the marketplace to a point. Many firms are being ‘abused’ by clients who still deliver within days of the deadline expecting us to turn on a sixpence and deliver statements and returns for filing.
DO YOU HAVE A BUSINESS PLAN?
Empirical evidence gathered during years of lecturing point toward there only being 25% of accounting firms who admit to having an up-to-date business plan. I accept, however, that to you that statistic is an irrelevance. You either have, or have not such a plan. But it prompts me to ask this question – do you have an up-to-date business plan? If not, will you, commit to creating one? I suspect that you will allow me only a modicum of time to expand on this point. But here are ten critical areas that your plan could, and maybe should, address.
1. What needs fixing?
It is oft said that plans fail due to lack of commitment to implement. It’s like the cobbler and his children who have no shoes. We advocate the advantages and importance of planning to our clients but fail to follow this counsel ourselves. So, before we launch into other aspects of planning – create a list of what needs fixing now. Then standard problem-solving processes should be followed, such as:
- Create a problem statement. Write a clear and brief statement to describe the problem area to be addressed
- Task description. Convert the problem to a task statement that describes what should be done to address the problem. Be sure to be positive and specific
- Clarify the expected results and deliverables
- Agree necessary resources – time, space, money, equipment
- Deadlines – when should this start and when should the problem solving be finished? What are your key milestones and dates?
- Team members – Doers, Deciders and Experts?
- What is the Follow Up and Evaluation?
2. Team members
Like many around the world I follow a Premier League Team. Up until the 1 September I was constantly pressing refresh in the hope that my team would announce they had signed a new high quality goal scoring striker – a rarity unless you have the financial backing of the ‘top’ clubs.
You too may well have a desire to recruit new talent. One of the toughest tasks firms face – even before Covid. A good number of US firms have had to let clients go due to their inability to find staff to perform the work. The Great Resignation continues to mean that the labour force is reducing – just like the water levels in so many lakes around the world.
You may have staff whose careers will be better served at another place of employment but letting people go isn’t always easy. I have a client in the north of England who finally let a staff member go and the impact of the remainder of the staff (a firm of about 12) has been very very positive.
SOME STAFF RECRUITMENT OPTIONS AND STRATEGIES
- Recruitment agencies? OK, I know not every one’s favourite source of new team members
- Your website – many firms are refocussing their websites so they focus on staff recruitment as opposed to new clients
- Linked In – I know of a good number of firms who have found staff using LinkedIn
- Existing staff – do you have a Bounty Scheme? Maybe offer as much as 100% of the agency fee as an incentive
- WFH – notwithstanding my first article – firms are employing ‘out of town’ team members by allowing them to be home based. If they are, say, 20 miles or away from the office this does not have to necessarily conflict with your current WFH policy
- Pay and benefits – it is well understood that salary levels are not top of people’s lists of what they are looking for. BUT, with inflation and energy costs going up and with people in debt the prospect of a pay hike may well be attractive
- Community involvement. I recently devoted three days to clearing a garden for a single lady in our church. That involved cutting about 30 feet off the top of five trees. On day 3 we were joined by Dave, a 32-year-old Credit Controller. His firm allow him a maximum of three Community days. He had chosen to come and work alongside us.
I have a client with 25 partners. No-one can make partnership unless they are a member of a community organisation. Having a corporate social responsibility programme allows firms to engage their employees on different levels, which ultimately dives overall engagement in your company.
Chartered Accountants in Australia and New Zealand have their Everybody Counts- https://www.charteredaccountantsanz.com/about-us/corporate-responsibility/everybody-counts
Walker Wayland (Sydney) – their focus is on the environment and socially sustainable practices – https://wwnsw.com.au/csr-corporate-and-social-responsibility/
3E accounting in Malaysia – their focus is on tree planting, charity donations, clothes recycling.
Other firms are focused on their net zero emissions programmes – https://www.accountingforsustainability.org/abn-net-zero-commitment.html
- Learning budget – some firms offer staff a budget to spend on their own self development
I look forward to outlining eight more key strategies for your Business Plan in my next blog.