Lyle Ball, co-founder and CEO, Avii
In presentations and webinars, I’ve been advocating strongly for the future of work. The world of work evolved rapidly in the past few years...but by anyone’s observation, the changes during 2020 have taken us at lightning speed to a new realm for which there is no going back.
What does the new and future workplace look like? Is it a central office, set of locations or remote? Does work from home become increasingly more accepted or in some cases will it instantly become the norm?
As we grapple with these questions, it highlights another jugular issue as well: What exactly is it that constitutes “work?” Particularly in accounting, the unfortunate but real world has been dominated by logging in and out of too many applications, correlating manually or via meetings with workflow processes that are yet to be automated by software, managing communications across too many paths, and completing administrative tasks that should be handled by AI.
Imagine a different world where effective automation makes magic things happen. “Work” is suddenly defined by the thought and time accounting practitioners spend confirming the results of automated processes, ideating new options and solutions for clients, and providing unique value add as trusted advisors. The magic and unreplaceable part of our offerings – and the part that prevents our clients from turning to anyone else – becomes the crux of the workload. The most vital accomplishments in our time spent – the pieces that produce our highest revenue, our differentiation and even our professional stature – is enabled and enhanced by the technology we use, not displaced by it.
This paradigm shift is one that is resonating suddenly and strongly in the customer discussions we have. It is underscored by the dramatic events of 2020.
As recently examined by the World Economic Forum in August, 2020, it also gives us the basis for a complete redesign for the ways we measure, report and evaluate the return on investment for this real and increasingly most important work by our employees.
A basis for work redesign
Our desire to emphasize and measure the value and execution of “real work” in the newest context is hindered in several ways, according to the WEF:
There is a lack of adequate metrics available to companies for measuring the value of talent and return on investment in employees;
Investments in the workforce are often misrepresented as detrimental to budgets with no recognition of the value they create.
But the creation of new frameworks that take into account the shape of work in a post-COVID-19 world can help change this, the WEF says. In a new report created with the help of risk management advisory firm Wilson Towers Watson, we can see what’s happening in taking action to redesign work.
Before the pandemic, the report notes, technology was already disrupting the world of work by redefining the parameters of how work is accomplished and where and by whom. Now the requirement to not be physically together,cost pressures and changing business models are accelerating the imperative need to re-look at the nature of work altogether.
According to a global survey of 514 employers:
63% have taken action on, are planning or considering redeploying (and potentially reskilling) workers to support another function.
57% have taken action on, are planning or considering shifting when and where work gets done.
Many organizations are re-imagining the process of work from the ground up. The innovation in accounting systems, as a big example, is no longer just important but is now imperative in order to build and support sustainable business models not only for our own firms but for the client organizations we support.
But the WEF also points to a new and important phenomenon that admonishes the world of work and accounting to include effective human capital accounting. In the future of work, we need to include measures for automating everything possible, leaving the rest to be solved and addressed by human talent, including contingent workers, as not only a cost center but as an asset. So how do we enumerate and measure these assets? The following is some food for thought.
Supporting employee well-being
Meaningful support for employee health and well-being has been tantamount for many companies in current years and has become even more imperative during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the employer surveys, this emphasis has fostered a sense of trust and goodwill even in the face of significant worry and stress. According to the WEF, data shows well-being support from employers is an important buffer against anxiety. This is one of the first elements in the support of “new work” that we can readily measure, as the ROI of well-being expenditures are directly manifested in fewer days of missed work due to illness, lower incidence of addiction and lower levels of conflict in an anxiety-ridden environment.
Company culture increases and turnover decreases, which make a dramatic difference to both the top and bottom line.
However, as we modulate to a higher awareness of value in our human assets, the WEB research admonishes we increase our focus on the following transitions as well:
From Profit to Purpose
From Corporate Policy to Social Responsibility
From Stand-alone to Ecosystem
From Employees and jobs to People, work and skills
From Workforce as an expense to Workforce as an asset
From Backward-looking financial metrics to Forward-looking value metrics
From Quarterly outcomes to Generational
Clearly a paradigm of this size will take time to truly accomplish. And for the foreseeable future (and perhaps forever) it will be necessary to accomplish traditional accounting well, as these are the metrics that govern compliance and provide the validation we need in the traditional financial ecosystem to achieve funding and investment of every kind.
But as automation increases our ability to refocus the things we value and accomplish as work, there is room for new means of measure and valuation within the equation as well. Imagine when we no longer do remedial things and call them “our work.” Imagine the ability to measure our accomplishments from both of these vantage points? Imagine the value add to our clients as we guide them in crossing these new horizons.
Lyle Ball is co-founder and CEO of Avii, the unified workspace portal for tax, auditing and advisory. For more information, visit Avii.com or call 801-365-2844.