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TKF Flexible Schedules V 1.0:

It is typically assumed that most permanent office jobs will consist of a 40 hour Monday – Friday, work schedule.   However, since inception, The Kane Firm never accepted this premise as a ‘given’.  Our primary emphasis has been to bring on knowledgeable and dedicated public accountants.  Many of whom, as it turns out, benefit personally and professionally from a unique work schedule.

While, the schedule ultimately needs to work in concert with our business needs, The Kane Firm has accommodated almost every kind of schedule – from the standard full time schedule, to part time evening schedule, to semi-remote.

We were very proud of our flexible schedule options, but a problem began to emerge.

 

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Employees hired with a flexible schedule had well outlined scheduled commitments that gave management clear guidelines to abide by when assigning work.  However, those hired with a full time ‘standard’ schedule did not have the same clearly outlined schedule.   Sometimes full time employees had to work more hours in order to meet deadlines. Now, the feature of flexible schedule that we lauded became a source of strife among our team.

So we took a step back and made some changes.

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TKF Flexible Schedules V 2.0:

  1. All new employees, full time and part time, regular and flexible schedules, have committed hours documented in their offer letters.
  2. On an annual basis, we review committed hours with each employee.  We do not assume what worked last year will work this year.
  3. Flexibility within agreed upon schedules – Kids off from school this week and you need to work alternate hours? Doctor’s appointment? Worked all your hours by noon on Friday?  No problem! Kick off early! As long as you are meeting your hours and deliverables; when and where you get it done is up to you.
  4. Change from a primarily push work assignment system to a pull system.  We will detail this in a separate blog. Among other benefits, the pull system allows employees to ensure they are not assigned more work than their schedule can accommodate.

Okay, problem solved, right?  Maybe everyone doesn’t work the same hours at the same times but everyone has the same option to define their hours and schedule. No one is being expected to work more than they signed up for. Everyone has the same flexibility within those agreements.

Except… by its very nature, public accounting is very much like a relay race.  At minimum, almost all deliverables undergo a peer or senior review process. At maximum, we combine expertise – financial accounting, tax preparation, industry specific knowledge, etc. – to complete a deliverable.  Of course, the client is often involved in providing information and final sign off. With all of this newly implemented flexibility, we started to drop batons because we did not time the hand offs well. The right people were not in the office at the same time and this caused confusion.  For instance, a client is going out of town and needs their tax return by tomorrow.  A question arises during review but the preparer left early for a doctor’s appointment. Now we are all scrambling to meet the deadline.

No one likes confusion. Particularly in their work lives. Particularly under time constraints to make a deliverable.

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Sure that we were on to something and not willing to give up, we took another step back and made some more changes.

 

TKF Flexible Schedules V 2.1:

  1. Shared Calendar of Schedules – All special schedules are documented on a public outlook calendar so we all know when each other are in or out of the office.
  2. Employees are responsible for communicating changes in their schedules to the practice manager as well as to stakeholders in any time-projects.
  3. Employees are responsible for managing time sensitive work within their schedules. This includes coordinating with stakeholders to ensure smooth baton passes.
  4. We take care to ensure that full time work schedules or availability generally overlap several hours each day.
  5. Formal weekly team meetings are held among the accounting staff to review the work ‘on tap’.  This meeting has proven useful on several fronts, including ‘work balancing’ as well as coordinating work pass-offs.

 

In summary, Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!!!

 

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There are still two main hurdles we regularly need to overcome.  First, many accountants trained in a traditional firm have a fundamental struggle with the idea of a CPA firm supporting a flexible structure. They often equate long structured hours with high performance.  Secondly, we find that communication is not always a natural skill for public accountants.

 

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We first try to head these issues off in the interview process. The ideal Kane Firm employee not only has a strong public accounting background, but also places a high value on responsibility, communication and accountability.  These attributes are not only necessary to support our firm’s culture, but also our business model of building business owner wealth. It may be hard to believe, but a flexible firm sustained by self-accountability, it not a good fit for just anyone.

Secondly, we made communication skills a firm focus for professional development.   In the case of flexible schedules, we provide formal (weekly meetings, shared calendars) and informal channels (open door policy and regular open discussion of deliverables) to encourage communication.  With a broader purpose, we sponsor leadership training classes as well as group and individual executive coaching.

Despite these hurdles, so far version 2.1 has been humming along pretty well.  Employees enjoy equal opportunity for flexibility and our hand-offs are going much more smoothly.

 

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Special Note: This post does not specifically discuss tax season hours.  While similar rules apply, we still have a necessity to expand our capacity to meet March 15th and April 15th deadlines. We will be discussing our tax season structure soon!

 


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