This July, my wife and I are packing our bags and living for a month in Copenhagen, Denmark. This will not be a vacation, although there will be some time for sightseeing, but it will be a chance to truly experience living and working in another culture.
This will be the first time anyone from my firm’s management will be away from the office for more than a few weeks. The firm has a few remote employees, but most of the team works at the office. There is a “work from anywhere, anytime” policy in place, which means that as long as the work gets done and the employee can be reached, where the work is done is not important. This has been very helpful, especially during tax season, when team members might want to spend time with their families and then work from home after dinner. But no one has done a sustained remote working trip.
Why now? Despite the policy, over the last few years I’ve felt like I still needed to physically be in the office. I think this feeling stems from my time at KPMG, when we were required to be physically present and work a certain number of hours. This experience ingrained in my brain that if I’m not at the office, I’m not doing my job properly. This trip is to prove to myself, and to the team, that it’s okay to practice what you preach. It’s okay to work remotely.
Increasingly, CPA firms are trying to become progressive and attract younger workers to the profession, but one of the biggest turnoffs to a young person entering the field is the brutal workload and strain partners put on themselves to prove their worth. Millennials and Generation Z don’t want to be 50 years old and working 80 hours a week at a desk during tax season. They want to work hard, but they also want to enjoy spending time on their families and social lives.
“Balance” means different things to different people, but to me it means the freedom to do the activities one wants while still working and performing at a top level. This might mean traveling, picking the kids up from school every day, or going to every road college football game of one’s alma mater. Regardless, accounting is a profession that allows these dreams to happen. CPAs have the technology and capability to truly work from anywhere (with an Internet connection), something that was unheard of even 10 years ago. Technology has come so far, so fast that it’s outpaced the traditional firm mindset of face time at the office. CPA firms need to embrace a work from anywhere, anytime attitude that gives workers flexibility to have balanced lives.
Even more importantly, partners at firms not only need to adopt these practices into their firm handbooks, they need to practice the lifestyle so that it truly has an impact on the firm’s culture. Even if the firm has a progressive work from anywhere, anytime policy, it might not be “politically” or “socially” acceptable to actually follow the policy if the partners never work from home or away from the office. If the partners don’t buy into a plan and put it into action themselves, no one else on the team will; this goes for everything, from adopting a new piece of software to working remotely.
I’m going to Copenhagen not only for myself, but to prove to my team that it’s okay for them to take a month-long (or longer) trip and not feel bad about it. I want our team to enjoy their lives, and it starts with me giving myself permission to enjoy mine.