Over the course of the last 3 months, companies have been forced to change the way they think, operate and manage expectations, especially when it comes to office culture, leadership and communication with staff. Gone, for now, are the days of being able to walk over to a colleague’s desk to sit side by side, interact, motivate, or check-in. As a result of this, the key questions that I am being asked by job seekers, employers and colleagues across the Sydney accounting market are:
“Will working from home be the norm moving forward and how will that affect the office culture?”
“How will leadership styles change in the future assuming that more employees will be working from home?”
Working from home in the future
I have had mixed feedback from candidates, clients, friends, family and peers on the pros and cons of working from home through this COVID-19 period. Some people have loved every minute of it, some have not, and some are indifferent to it.
One thing that has become apparent through my conversations with finance leaders is that moving forward, whether you love it or not, split days across the office and home will likely become more commonplace.
This is not just particular to the accounting industry of course. In the recruitment industry, the outcomes of a survey of over 700 recruitment business owners were recently published by Jobadder. The results have shown that 66% of owners and leaders plan to implement flexible working from home options after restrictions are eased. Of the 700 that were surveyed 40% plan to implement a policy of 1-2 days a week WFH and 17% are preparing for 2-3 days.
This will have a significant impact (good and bad) on office cultures across all industries, especially for those businesses that haven’t embraced this way of working previously. Recent conversations that I have had with CFO’s and Finance Directors leading accounting teams are highlighting the need for creativity to implement new ways to keep the team as dynamic as they were before COVID-19. Communication and realistic expectations are the two key components that keep coming up in the conversations.
Working from home is not a brand-new concept of course, as some companies have been doing this for years and doing it well. Many have even seen an improvement in staff engagement and productivity. One article I found very interesting on the pros and cons of a hybrid work week can be read here.
Leadership and managing remotely
In this highly dynamic, technology-charged time of email, text messages, video and telephone conferences, one common truth remains: face-to-face is still the most preferred, valuable, and potent communication medium. Studies have found that non-verbal signs and body language when communicating with employees and colleagues have over four times the effect on the impression you make than anything you say.
What does this mean for leaders managing remotely?
From conversations I have had with senior finance leaders, it means they have been thrown a real curveball when it comes to leading and supporting their staff remotely and not in person. Many have had to adapt in order to maintain a collaborative and inclusive culture via technology. Being able to lead, influence and create trust with your staff over digital formats moving forward is becoming an essential skillset to have in your leadership toolkit. An article from Zapier highlights the importance of trust, communication, and working processes since they started managing remotely in 2012. Conversely, it will be absolutely essential for employers to ensure they are hiring the right team members with the right attitude and competencies to be managed this way moving into the future.
As we all know, COVID-19 and lockdown have changed how we all interact and posed some particularly difficult challenges to address particularly on the work front. This extended period at home and away from our colleagues will have a lasting effect and employers who have tried to balance employee and business needs will likely see the best outcomes going forward. I doubt things will revert to the way they were before, too much has changed. But those that will succeed coming out of this are those that embrace these changes.