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Spotlight on Flex CPA firms

“Flexibility has become a modern day value that everyone wants.” - Maynard Webb

As 2015 rolls around, more and more individuals are looking to enhance flexibility in their work/life balance. Workplace flexibility is not only possible, it is already been implemented in a variety of CPA firms across the accounting industry.

To help give you an insight into how a Flex CPA firm operates, below is an interview conducted by Flex CPAs on CPA firms who are currently implementing or have improved their workplace flexibility options.

Check it out, critique and feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions for the CPA firm being interviewed.

Firm Interview: Patke & Associates

Firm Name: Patke & Associates

Interviewee: Ron Niemaszyk, Firm Owner & Principal

Year Originated: 1985

Year Flex Options Were Implemented: 2005

Firm Size: 15 PT & FT Employees

Firm Home Office: Lincolnshire, IL 60069

Firm Website: www.Patke.net

Background Of The Flex Firm

When was remote options implemented at Patke?

We hired our first 100% remote worker about 10 years ago.  

What are the flex options available at Patke & Associates?

While the options are presently  permanent FT and PT. We do not utilize contract or temporary employees.  While every team member has the ability to work remotely - there are a handful of employees that choose to work in the office or have responsibilities that require the office for variable amounts of time depending on the time of year.  

How many people work full-time from the office?

We currently have 4 employees that work primarily from the office, but all of them take advantage of flexible hours and remote work capabilities at different times.  

Flexibility Is The Secret Sauce

How does Patke & Associates define Flexibility?

We have found that Flexibility is an all encompassing term, and our definition has evolved based on the specific needs of the firm, team members and our clients.  We currently welcome and make arrangements for Flexibility along two dimensions - Flextime and FlexSpace.   All of our team members take advantage of both of those options to varying degrees.

Who came up with the idea of being a Flex Firm? If it was Ron, how did you get everyone else onboard with this idea?

The economic benefits of utilizing flexible staff make the first steps fairly easy.  It is not a “hard sell” to say I can get a high quality person and only pay them when I have work for them.    The harder part is executing and expanding the idea.  Maximizing the benefits of the Flex Firm Model requires changes in every aspect of operations and management.  Difficult choices need to be made at all levels and the investment of time and resources is required.

Breakdown Of Our 100% Flex Firm

In deciding which Flex option, or options might work best for your CPA firm culture, it is best to know the different types of steps needed to be analyzed before jumping in, face first. Therefore, I have broken down our CPA firm to display how exactly a Flex Firm operates.

Employee Communication 

What chat system will be implemented? How have you been communicating now?

We are in the process of Implementing Skype for Business for much of our internal team communication. We currently use phone and email and Webex as our primary communication tools.  While these are mostly effective, it is clear that we need to utilize some of the more recently developed tools to maximize the efficiency of our staff.

How Patke & Associates Set Expectations

How are expectations set for each employee?

While I could imagine that this would be a problem in a number for firm due to the nature of engagements and existing reporting relationships - we seem to have avoided these problems due to a number of factors.  First off - the majority of our engagements take place over several months, so...

Our Flex Culture

How would you describe the culture at Patke? What are the highlights from the culture?

We are the kind of firm that is committed to producing high-quality work. We are also focused on keeping our prices low through our commitment to efficiency, as well as keeping our customers happy through great customer service.

We treat our employees very well. Unlike firms that push their employees to get everything they possibly can out of them, We are a firm that works hard and values people that take care of one another. While we put extra hours and effort in during our busy season, all of our employees seem to be able to maintain a relatively normal lifestyle year-round. And summer months? most of us get to take it easy…

As the firm has grown over the past several years - we have realized that there are ideas and terms within the paragraphs above that seem almost “self contradictory”.  It is a challenge to maintain that culture as we grow, and forces us to be very selective in both the team members that we hire and the clients that we serve.   While some firms are committed to growth - we are only committed to the type of growth that allows us to continue to maintain our culture.  Respect for all stakeholders - Team Members, Clients and the Users of the work that we produce is paramount.

Defined Work Hours

What are the defined work hours for Patke? It was mentioned that some people work all hours throughout the day, is there required logon hours?

Our core accessible hours vary throughout the year depending on the team members workload.  In general we expect all team members to be accessible from 8:30-5:00 CST on all business days.  Accessibility is defined by the ability to respond to emails or calls with 30 minutes to an hour.  

Our Firm Flex Policies

What are the firm policies that are in place? Do you have any internal company docs that I can share on the site?

Team Meetings

How are team meetings structures? Weekly, monthly, quarterly? What happens with the full-time vs. part-time people on the meetings?

We have found that a structured communication plan is one of the key elements of effectively managing a remote and/or flexible work group.  We have weekly full team online meetings to go over all production every Tuesday morning.  We also full team “state of the firm” online meetings on a quarterly where we review the quarterly goals for the firm.  In addition to these online meetings we work arrange full team in person gatherings twice per year.  These full team meetings are supplemented by regularly scheduled meetings of smaller groups to work on functional areas like technology, quality control, marketing, etc.

Recruiting For A Flex Position

What are the benefits/costs of recruiting someone for a flex position without meeting in person? Have there been any difficulties to overcome? Describe the onboarding process Patke uses once a candidate has been chosen.

Recruiting, interviewing and team member selection is a work in process for our firm, and I think we will always be adjusting this process based on what we learn from the efforts that we make and the experiences we encounter.

I have grown comfortable with the fact that recruiting is, at best, a “very soft science”.  And I believe that recruiting and onboarding/development of a flex/remote employee is especially challenging.  Given the nature of our work, we currently require a face to face interview before we hire anyone - we made an exception to this rule one time, and the price of an airline ticket would have been far less than the costs that we incurred in making a bad hiring decision.

The onboarding process is more and more structured as time goes by and our firm expands.  We always try to do the initial part of the onboarding in person with the full leadership team of the firm present.  Additionally, as a small firm we have designed a process where the new hire gets to interact with each member of the team during the onboarding an initial training process.  While this will not be possible or necessary in a larger firm, we find that it helps build the necessary bonds that are required for our firm like ours to operate efficiently.

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