“Working remotely” or “Working from home” was taboo for many old-school thinkers in the work force. It was code phrase for “you are just taking the day off.” But in today’s day and age with the technology that is available to companies, is it really all that unbelievable to be able to work from anywhere, anytime? Silicon Valley companies are known to be at the forefront of technological advances and applying progressive principles to their employees. Is it really that crazy to think that these advances can filter down to a historically conservative field such as tax and accounting?
From my perspective, the field of tax and accounting is not much different from other industries in the sense that accounting firms are always looking for ways to reach the younger generations and find talent to fill their ranks. Like other companies, accounting firms increasingly need to employ a nimble work force that can be connected from anywhere, anytime. Not only is the nature of the job now allowing remote options, but good talent requires it as part of their effort to balance career and personal life. With all of the above being said, for remote working to actually “work”, it’s not just about firms saying they embrace it. It’s about truly embracing and encouraging the concept holistically. People can say they want to work remotely or companies can institute policies that allow for it, but how can remote working truly work? As someone who lives and breathes remote working daily (for all those that live in Los Angeles and deal with the traffic can understand where I’m coming from), I have identified three crucial aspects that need to be present in order for something such as remote working to transform from an abstract concept to a concrete reality.
These three aspects are infrastructure, culture, and trust.
Infrastructure is clearly an obvious “must-have” in order for remote working to be even feasible. Everything that I have talked about is a moot point if the infrastructure is not in place. The most important aspect of infrastructure is technology. Employers must be willing to invest and develop the technology to allow for remote working. This includes fast laptops for employees, virtual private networks, acquiring software that function over a remote connection, flexible email and voicemail servers, etc. Only when the company is willing to invest in the infrastructure can remote working begin to become a reality, and this goes hand-in-hand with the second aspect.
Culture is a word that gets tossed around to describe work place environments. For me, culture is the living soul and embodiment of a company’s beliefs, feelings, and perspectives. For remote working to function properly, a company must make it part of their culture. To that end, investing in infrastructure and technology demonstrates in one way that a company has embraced remote working as part of its culture. Otherwise, why would they be willing to spend so much money and resources when doing so is definitely not cheap? Furthermore, a company’s culture certainly has a “top-down” effect. In other words, it starts with upper management and trickles down to the rest of the company. Upper management has to believe that remote working is the right direction for the company. Without a firm belief and fully embracing the concept, remote working will not work. It’s no different than any other belief or perspective that the company is trying to instill in its employees. For upper management to believe, it’s a two-way street and there has to be trust.
Trust, as we all know, is hard to come by and takes time to develop and nourish. If infrastructure is the “hard” feature of remote working, then trust is the “soft” feature. In order for a good piece of computer to function, it needs both hardware and software. I believe remote working is no different. There has to be trust from the partners that their management team is able to get the job done efficiently and be productive while working remotely. That trust further trickles down from the management group to the associates. On the other hand, there has to be upward trust from the management and associates that the partners truly encourage working remotely. In my experience, I have heard comments such as “They are just saying it. If you really work remotely, you will get dinged for it.” Such a mindset is not conducive to making working remotely work. In fact, it’s quite impossible for it to work if the management team and associates believe that the partners are merely “talking the talk but not walking the walk.” Trust goes both ways, and both sides must have trust in each other.
Embracing remote working is a big decision for any company, regardless of whether they are in the tax and accounting field or in another industry. One thing for certain is that many factors have to be considered by upper management. It is not up to me to say that remote working is the way to go and that it will work for all firms. Accounting firms should assess factors such as the nature of the work, client base, employee profiles, resources/economics, cost/benefit, etc. In my experience, remote working can work for tax and accounting professionals as long as the above three factors are present.
At GHJ, we know that remote working makes an accounting firm flexible and able to respond to their client needs in a way that they could not before. I do believe that remote working is here to stay and that accounting firms, even the most conservative and old school thinking firms, should be open minded to the concept and truly assess whether it is the right direction to go for their firm.