The Dutch appear to be way ahead of the US in regards to a flexible workweek according to this NYT article about part-time work in the Netherlands. They are struggling with it for sure, but I think we struggle with it a bit more here in the US.
We’ve all seen the concept of flex-time (I’ll work until midnight before my day off) and part-time (I only work three 13-hour days) degrade into something unproductive. This is especially noticeable in the world of accounting, finance, and controllership. By nature, flex-time is difficult for accounting and finance departments for a couple of big reasons:
- A certain amount of presence is required for recurring monthly/quarterly closing deadlines and the myriad of budgets, forecasts, and long-term planning presentations. I just heard of a large Chicago company who is eliminating laptops as they came off lease and replacing them with desktops, virtually guaranteeing that every accounting person will be shackled to their desk for the first 10 days of every month.
- Finance groups are organized into data and skill set silos that cause bottlenecks when the only person who can complete a certain technical function is not in the office. Cross-training and preparing documentation are activities that don’t get done in the face of staff cuts, meaning that a lot of process knowledge is locked up between the ears finance types.
So we (finance people) have natural and functional reasons that make a creative workweek difficult. The solution is not so simple and is more complicated than cross-training, increased attentiveness to documentation, and issuing laptops and smartphones.
I’ve seen organizations where flex-time works, and they have the following basic traits:
- Company norms and written guidelines for general items like data structures, file names, and spreadsheet templates. This is not process documentation. In fact, these basic guidelines have to be in place before process documentation like flow diagrams and audit checklists are complete. In some cases, if the guidelines are comprehensive and arrived at collaboratively, they will obviate need for process documentation anyhow.
- A knowledge management plan and collaborative way to share notes and information. Sales forces use CRM software and science and engineering departments have tried-and-true note taking methods understood by their colleagues. But finance departments, in general, make little effort at knowledge management. If they do, they usually end up using poorly formatted Microsoft Word documents that aren’t shared and don’t adhere to any sort of departmental policy (if there is even a policy).
- Constructive relationships with the Information Technology (IT) department. The local IT support is going to be a fount of knowledge for both of the above items. They should be included in policy decisions on guidelines and norms. Any stalemate with the IT department will directly impact the finance department’s ability to be flexible.
- A flex-time planning document. This is a document focused on just how your department is going to manage the flex-time. It stops right above the process level and focuses on the monitoring and management of the functions that are subject to flex.
If these items are in place, your finance and accounting department will have a much better chance of building a work environment where nobody feels shackled to their desks during certain parts of the month.
I’ll go into this stuff in more detail and use the tag flexible to denote all related posts.