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Should More Accounting Firms Implement ‘Work Anywhere’ Policies?

Last week, we learned that Crowe Horwath would be implementing two new policies: "What to Wear," a perma-jeans dress code for anyone working in the office and not meeting with clients and "Where to Work," which would allow people to work from "wherever it's convenient and they're most productive." 

Although the idea of rocking a Canadian tuxedo daily is enticing, I think the option to work anywhere you want has more appeal. You see, before there was FaceTime, there was face time: a practice in accounting firms that required people to show their faces in a particular location for each day of work, often far longer than necessary.

Putting in face time is one of those symptoms of a profession that doesn't quite trust its people to produce results. On the one hand, I suppose it's necessary to help young staff get used to the idea that a job in accounting is a thing that requires a consistent effort. However, face time is flawed since time (i.e. how accounting firms bill for their services) is a key variable in the equation. If you have an individual that finishes her work in X amount of time, but a firm needs X*2 billings, then the only way to ensure that profitability is to have her continue working, regardless of whether the time is well spent or not. This leads to horrendous ideas like mandatory Saturdays or 50/60/70-hour weeks.

So it's quite a surprise to hear an accounting firm say this:

We expect the best from our people and understand they can deliver quality work no matter the location. Open and continuous communication between team members and managers is key to the success of this strategy. 

Prior to this admission, most firms did not understand or believe that their people can deliver quality work in any location. Maybe there were some exceptions for certain teams or individuals, but to allow anyone the opportunity to forgo face time altogether is pretty significant progress for an accounting firm of Crowe's size.

And now it's made its way into the Big 4 (in Australia):

Top accounting firm EY has made coming into the office optional as it makes flexible work the default the position in its fight against presenteeism.

As part of EY's Workplace's of the Future program, the company now offers all staff flexible working arrangements so they tell their manager when they will be in the office.

Gone are the days of presenting a business case to your manager as to why you should be able to work from home, EY Oceania talent leader McGregor Dixon said.

"There is nothing that holds you coming into the office," he said.

"We are outcomes-focused as opposed to presenteeism-focused. There has been some need to have older managers change their mindset, but we have made it clear senior management needs to lead by example."

Okay, so "presenteeism" is not a good word, but no matter what you call it, EY Down Under, with over 6,000 employees and $1 billion in revenue, is at least trying to rid itself of face time. 

There's no telling how successful these initiatives will be (but you should email us with any insight) but since we've been covering the plight of face time for a while, we're impressed that a few firms are actually trying to move away from it. But we're also realistic. I can't imagine a Big 4 firm in the US putting a firmwide policy in place like Crowe's. Mid-market firms can pull this off, though, especially those outside the top 10 that have a hard time competiting with the Big 4 for all that accounting talent. They aren't going to be paying anyone's tuition back so a WORK WHEREVER policy might be the sort of perk that attracts a certain caliber of talent. 

Hey, like other ideas we've kicked around, at least it's something.

What say you, denizens of GC? Is face time on its way out? Or still going strong? Discuss.