Flexibility in flex time

I recently met a Cleveland-area CPA firm leader for lunch and our talk turned to issues of staff management and HR practices. The member’s firm has embraced flexible work arrangements for highly qualified staff it hoped to retain, but is facing a number of challenges.

CPA firms are often featured on lists of flex-time friendly employers or “Best Places to Work”, but options for flexibility are frequently extended to valuable more-experienced staff as the profession works out what “flexibility” should mean if applied more broadly. CPAs can be among the best candidates for flexible work arrangements, with the ability to meet client needs from remote locations and segregate project work to complete on a non-specific schedule. But as a client-service business, how much flexibility can a CPA employer afford?

The degree of perceived control that an employee has over their schedule is often cited as an essential element in job satisfaction, particularly for the newly entering workforce. With advancements in mobile computing, CPAs can increasingly work anywhere at any time, and the specifics of how and where are becoming less and less relevant. Flexibility that can take advantage of this capability helps meet this need for control – “I work hard, but on my terms.”

A difficulty in a client-service business arises from flexible work schedules that require “not-available” time. Whether the employee is juggling the schedule to go back to school or to participate in raising their children, how does the employer address the client emergency or critical question that arises during “not-available” time while respecting the boundaries of the “flexer”? At a larger employer, solutions such as client-sharing and redundancy can be explored, but my member friend was dealing with a lack of depth for such solutions due to firm size.

Attempts to accommodate multiple flexible schedules result in ridiculous business challenges such as “How do I schedule meetings if the only time everyone is available is 10:30 a.m.?” Some are pushing back on the cost/benefit of the practice for the employer and the career impact for the individual.

Flexible work schedules are an essential element of our success for the future. Achieving the right balance between employer and employee needs, however, is difficult. Has anyone discovered a better answer for the wanna-be benevolent, cutting-edge employer whose experience with flex-time presents challenges to excellence in client/customer service?

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