Recruiting and retention are again on our minds as we run head long into the busiest time of the year. Some firms are thrilled they have managed to retain most staff members and are prepared for the season with an experienced crew, while others are anxious due to a few drop-offs in experience. They are preparing to "go to war” with an inexperienced group of professionals.
No doubt all of us would rather be in the shoes of those firms that have retained experienced, trained staff members and are ready to go. So, what is the secret to joining these ranks?
There is no single "silver bullet” that will insure staff members stay with you during the years to come; however there is a strategy that has certainly helped many firms retain staff— augment existing work arrangements and opt for flexible work schedules (better known as ‘flextime’).
The concept of flextime emerged in the mid 1990s, and its popularity has grown steadily throughout our industry with each passing year. Accounting firms may not have been the first to offer it, but flextime is becoming increasingly popular and is now a common benefit in most.
So, what else is there to talk about? Plenty! Here are some key tips to make your firm’s flextime benefit a genuine success in retaining staff.
1. Document and communicate strategic goals and expectations
Strategic goals and tasks must be specific and action-oriented, so they can be measured at the end of a specified period. Each employee—partner, manager and staff member—must also understand the firm’s expectations as well as his or her responsibilities when telecommuting. Remember, flextime does not imply "no rules”—just a different time and place to work.
It’s also critical, especially when telecommuting, that the preferred mode of transmitting end results be unambiguous. For example, does client work need to be communicated by phone, the Internet or in person? Are rough drafts and a phone call sufficient, or does the firm require a final report?
2. Define and document each staff member’s exact role
The firm and each employee need to agree on the precise nature of his or her job. Each employee must know exactly who does what and with whom, and who is responsible to whom. This is especially significant when staff members work outside the office and communicate only via phone or e-mail. When roles are not successfully defined, confusion, blame, dissension, antagonism and a drop in productivity will often result.
3. Determine the frequency and preferred modes of communication
Do this before offering the flextime benefit. Partners and managers vary on the amount of control and contact they require of staff members. Some want a written summary of the previous week’s efforts first thing Monday morning; others are satisfied with a phone call. Still others believe that a face-to-face meeting is essential. Figure out what is required to feel comfortable with the work your staff is doing and set those guidelines.
4. Mandate regular working hours
It seems the less often a staff member is present in the office, the more that people need to get in touch with that person. A telecommuter needs to set a usual time that he or she will be available by phone or e-mail—and also set a regular time for coming into the office. Many firms with flextime staff have discovered the concept of "core hours”. This is a time all staff must be physically present at the physical location of the firm for a set amount of time on a specific day. Knowing, for example, that all staff will be available for a meeting every Tuesday from noon to 2 p.m. can go a long way to decreasing the anxiety of flextime.
5. Utilize technology to ensure connectivity
Most firms realize they must invest in technology to remain competitive, and allocating appropriate tools for flextime staff members should not be overlooked. These should include laptop computers, remote access, smart phones and VOIP capabilities—just a few of the solutions to make the experience of flextime a positive one for partners, managers, staff members and clients.
While there’s no "one solution” to ensure staff retention, flextime is certainly a tool your firm can use to be competitive in today’s seller’s market for talent. Ponder these keys and determine how your firm can implement each to ensure greater success at keeping its most valued commodity—its staff.