Flexible working can take many forms, such as working reduced hours, working from home, starting and finishing work earlier/later than normal, and job sharing.
Even though the technology is available to make flexible working successful, from Skype to cloud-based accounting software and tax filing solutions, flexible working has yet to really take off in accounting firms.
However, as the below highlights, there are a lot of benefits that flexible working can bring to a firm.
From an employer’s perspective, flexible working can provide cost-saving benefits when it comes to saving on office space. By having more employees that work flexibly, you could change your office layout to incorporate more hot desks and move away from permanent seating plans.
Equally, if flexible working results in having fewer people in the office at a given time, you could even look to downsize on office space, saving on leasing costs and utilities along the way.
Attract and retain talent
There are lots of reasons why job seekers might want flexible working arrangements. Perhaps they would like part-time work to spend more time at home with the kids, or they would like later starts and earlier finishes in order to have a better work-life balance.
Whatever the reason, if you’re an employer that offers flexible working arrangements, you can appeal to top talent that is specifically looking for a less rigid or office-based working schedule. It can also help your firm stay ahead of the curve and carve an image as a forward-thinking organisation.
As an added bonus, flexible workers tend to feel happier in their position, due to factors such as having a higher level of control over when or where they work. And having happier staff means having employees that are less likely to leave.
By working from home or working non-peak hours, flexible workers can save a lot of time commuting, as they’re no longer competing with traffic jams and crowded trains to get into work. Some flexible workers choose to use this extra time to work, thereby boosting their productivity.
Aside from saving hours travelling to and from the office, reports also suggest that flexible workers in general are more productive.
In 2018, a survey from the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) compared the productivity of two different groups. One set their own working hours or work location, while the other did not. The results of the survey were very positive when it came to flexible working and productivity:
“A quarter [of flexible workers] said they work longer hours in their new flexi routine than they did when they were shackled to normal office hours, putting in an extra 6.7 hours more each week on average than they did when they were at their desks in the office.”
Additionally, the study found that 21% of flexible workers felt “much more productive” after moving to a flexible schedule.
Another benefit of having a flexible workforce is less chance of staff taking unscheduled time off from work. Say, for example, a 9-5 office worker’s boiler broke. That employee would likely have to take some time off work to let a professional into their home to carry out the repairs.
In contrast, if a flexible worker had the same issue, they should be able to build the repairman’s visit around their working day, meaning no hours of lost work and no additional delays when meeting client deadlines.
It’s not all perfect
Although there are plenty of benefits to flexible working, it’s not without its drawbacks.
Returning to the AAT’s study, 10% of respondents were worried they were thought of as work-shy by their colleagues as they weren’t on hand in the office regularly, and 13% were worried they may be passed over for promotions as they were out of sight, and so may be out of mind.
While these are areas of concern, the positive impact that flexible working can bring to a firm far outweigh the negatives, and accounting firms thinking about expanding their flexible workforce could take steps to mitigate these worries.
For example, actively encouraging flexible working arrangements, with senior members of teams also taking advantage of flexible working when it suits, can help foster a culture that supports a non-traditional approach to working, and make flexible workers feel more at ease.
Making the most of technology
Having adequate technology in place to ensure flexible working is successful can also help.
Taxfiler, for example, offers award-winning software that accounting firms can use when preparing and filing clients’ accounts and tax returns. As it is cloud-based, it’s easy for flexible workers to access and complete client work when they’re out of the office.
What’s more, Taxfiler’s practice management software makes it easy to keep track of which staff member has been allocated specific client tasks, meaning that employees can keep on top of their clients’ deliverables wherever they are.