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Employers: 5 Tips to Make Work from Home Policies Successful

Part II

Remote workersWorking from home brings with it a special set of challenges and benefits for employees, covered in Part 1 of this series. But what if you’re the employer? An increasing number of employers – from boutique firms to huge organizations – offer their employees everything from flexible work arrangements to full-time remote work. Many have found that with the right protocols in place, flexible work arrangements benefit employers as well.

Increasingly Small World 

There’s an online video featuring two co-workers...they walk, stop for coffee, cab to work…they’re apparently working on a project together. At first they seem to be in the same place at the same time. Then it hits you – the locales are different, the cultures are different, even the time zones. But when they work, they work as one.

This concept of working together from a variety of locations has been around for years – particularly for CPA practices. Many small, medium and large firms have incorporated the idea of a remote workforce. Technology has completely changed the profession by [more easily linking employees and in] opening up new ways to add value for practices, employers, employees and even clients.

Talent Can Come from All Over

If your firm is located in <insert major metropolitan area here>, for example, you probably have no problem finding talent. But if your firm is located in more far flung areas, finding the right talent might be a bit more challenging. Enter the idea of a virtual firm. With this model, firms can pick and choose from a broader hiring pool that’s never location-specific, so they can choose the practitioners they need by skillset, experience level or even time zone (effectively extending the work day if your practice tag-teams projects). This flexible, remote workforce model also helps firms retain top talent considerably longer. Because even when life throws your employees a curveball, they can remain with your practice via technology.

Carolyn Sechler, CPA, Founder and President of Sechler CPA PC, says her virtual team practice came about after she worked inside large firms for years, including serving as partner. She used technology to communicate with clients often and eventually realized that knowledge was what clients most valued. “It’s what we knew, what we could share, and how we could support organizations [that] was valuable,” says Sechler. Her current practice consists of employees working from five states and Canada, who have all worked from home for 18 years or more.

Gabrielle Luoma, CPA, is sole owner of GML CPA, an all-virtual firm located in Tucson, AZ. She points out the ability to attract staff from almost anywhere who prefer to telecommute, and who bring the right combination of education, skills and experience. “Where we may not have that skill as a small practitioner in-house, we can actually contract other CPAs to offer that type of service, and collaborate with other CPAs all over the nation,” says Luoma. By doing this, her firm can bring added value to clients.

Give Employees What They Want and They’ll Stick Around…Even if They Move Across Country

Happy employees are less likely to look for another job. And what makes people happier than feeling like they have the flexibility to maintain a good work-life balance? Additionally, those employees who feel their needs are being met are often more productive. Whether your employees have young children, assist elderly parents, work with a disability, or need to relocate, the ability to work from anywhere can help keep employer and employee together.

At Baker Tilly, remote workers often began working in-house, says Katherine Wiernicki, Partner Assurance Practice Leader in Washington, D.C. Wiernicki has worked with  numerous employees who work remotely. One audit manager needed to relocate to be closer to family to help raise young children, another  was looking to rebalance time between home and work, a financial statement specialist wanted to move across the country to spend time with grandchildren. All wanted to stay with Baker Tilly and telecommuting was the answer. With today’s technology as well as office space considerations, remote workers can still do their jobs well and stay connected. Wiernicki says it’s a win-win for everyone.

Ensure Employees Know What You Expect

While working remotely may offer employees a more accomodating environment from which to work (hopefully their home office), Wiernicki observes that the telecommuter – not the firm – must take responsibility for their career and stay proactive. “The responsibility is on the person working remotely – they have to make sure they remain connected and stay involved. It’s up to them to not be invisible.” She adds, “Someone once told me the bar for promotion doesn’t change. You still have to fulfill all the skillsets to be promoted.” 

Finding the Right Employees for Virtual Work

There are a few tricks to finding the best fit for your virtual team:

  • Choose employees who consider remote working their career, not just a job
  • Look for attributes such as self-motivation, taking pride in their work, and making time to interact face-to-face, either by computer or by coming into the office, even when inconvenient.
  • For new hires, consider a short-term testing period before hiring them full-time.

If you or your firm are considering making the leap to become a virtual firm or expand your flexible work arrangements, these tips can give you a jump start. Whether you’ve supervised a remote workforce for years, or you want to learn how to start, you’ll find a wealth of resources – including a guide, tips and best practices – in the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section Flexibility Toolkit.

Communications Team, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants 

Remote workers courtesy of Shutterstock

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