Is it time to tweak your hybrid working strategy?

Article by Sanjay Swarup, SKS Business Services

As the move to work from home (WFH) enters its fifth year, has your accounting firm updated the policies it introduced during those panicked months of early 2020? 

As a business with a sizeable overseas workforce, we have been using remote working practices for over a decade—yes, we were making grainy Skype calls as far back as 2007! 

Despite this head start, we constantly evolve our post-pandemic hybrid working strategy. 

Here, we share wider research on what’s working and what’s not, as well as our experience across our 22 offices.

US accountants are remote-working world leaders

US accounting firms have enthusiastically embraced WFH. Only 18% of the country’s accounting are fully office-based, compared to a global average of 52%, according to a comprehensive 2023 study. 

Moreover, US accounting has the highest proportion of fully remote workers in the world—34%, compared to a global average of 7%. That is double the rate of Poland, the second-highest adopter. 

Hybrid working: three positives

1. Empowering women and parents

As the US faces an accounting skills shortage, hybrid working has widened and diversified the talent pool. Specifically, it enables parents and carers to work full-time. 

Our experience  

Hybrid working has made a life-changing difference to our female employees, who comprise 65% of our UK and 55% of our overseas workforce. SKS Marketing Director Natalie Jones sums up the stakes. “I can’t commute to the office and collect my son from daycare every day. I would not have been able to take the job without hybrid working,” she says. 

2. Attracting younger generations

With the number of US accounting graduates in decline, it is essential to make your firm attractive to Millennials and Generation Z. 

They are voting with their feet–three-quarters of Generation Z currently working in remote or hybrid roles would consider looking for a new job if their employer asked them to go on-site full-time. 

Our experience 

Though the offer of flexible working will attract a much-needed younger workforce, in-office time is critical for professional and personal development (see below).  

3. Increased productivity

Back in 2020, the biggest worry about hybrid working was that productivity would drop. Numerous studies have proven the opposite. This 2023 report shows that 76.5% of managers believe that flexible working generally increases productivity. 

Our experience 

At SKS, we ensure productivity through clearly defined employee KPIs. This benefits management and helps workers understand their goals and responsibilities. 

Hybrid working: three negatives

Despite the advantages of hybrid working, it would be disingenuous to claim there are no downsides. 

1. Impact on spontaneous collaboration 

Some 30% of hybrid workers feel that collaboration is a casualty of hybrid or remote working.  

Our experience 

Just last week, a coworker and I started chatting. Three hours later, we had hashed out a new sales strategy. We have found that ad hoc collaboration does not happen unless people are in the same room. 

It sounds bleak, but in the absence of spontaneity, collaboration must be engineered. Tools such as Slack and Teams can help on a daily basis, but we also ensure that teams share the same in-office days and that time is set aside for in-person brainstorming. 

2. Potential damage to employee mental health

One unexpected outcome of hybrid working is the potential for negative impact on employee wellbeing.  

According to the Harvard Business Review, hybrid and fully remote employees experience more stress and anger than employees working on-site. At the same time, they are more productive than their on-site (yet happier) counterparts.   

The challenge for accounting firms is to maintain the high engagement of remote staff while removing the stress.  

Our experience 

The role of managers has expanded to include responsibility for employee wellbeing. Training on managing remote and hybrid teams can be invaluable and shift the conversation from ‘How is work?’ to ‘How are you?’  

3. Assimilation of new joiners

Think back to your first job. Had a question? You turned to the person next to you. What about your social life as you entered the adult working world? I’ll bet you are still in contact with at least some of the cohort on your graduate scheme. 

WFH new joiners risk missing these organic learning opportunities, not to mention those post-work drinks that foster collaboration and engagement. 

Our experience 

Accounting firms must find an alternative to organic in-person learning opportunities. One option is to pair new hires with mentors while requiring them to work a specific ratio of in-office days. 

On the social side, we’ve seen that virtual drinks and online birthday celebrations will only go so far. A program of social activities is invaluable for team building and sparking collaboration. 

Is it time to evaluate your hybrid working policy?

Almost certainly. Unlike most major business changes, such as a move to new technology, hybrid working was not a carefully designed transition; the global pandemic forced it upon American businesses. 

With the pandemic firmly in our rearview mirror, it is time to pause and evaluate new working practices to ensure they benefit businesses and employees. 

Want to know more?

If you have any questions or would like some advice on your hybrid working strategy, please feel free to give us a call on +4420 7096 0662 or complete the form below and one of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.