The Key to Staffing with Jennifer Lee Wilson and Renee Moelders
On Episode 105 of The Unique CPA, Jennifer Lee Wilson returns and is joined by Renee Moelders to talk to Randy about the latest, encouraging results of ConvergenceCoaching’s biennial Anytime, Anywhere Work survey. The survey results are available for free, and they show big developments for firms in making work more flexible and more accessible. The trend indicates that these were the firms not having trouble attracting new talent or keeping existing talent: Perhaps an unsurprising consequence, but one that all accounting firms should take serious heed of.
Today our guests are—it’s not an “is” today, but “are”—our guests are Jen Wilson and Renee Moelders. Renee, I said that correct?
You did, Randy. Nice job.
Alright. Good. I meant to ask before we started recording, and I didn’t and so I’ll take that as a positive. Jen and Renee are both partners with Convergence Coaching. We have some really interesting topics—or topic, specifically—we’re going to talk about today. But before we do that, Jen, Renee, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Randy, thanks so much for having us. We’re really excited.
Happy to be here.
Oh, believe me. Oh, I’m excited too, because this is a—I haven’t divulged what we’re talking about yet. But it’s a really interesting topic. And I can’t wait to get into it. But before we do that, why don’t we set the stage a little bit. And I think a lot of people know already. But what Convergence Coaching is and what you stand for, what you do?
Yeah, Convergence Coaching, we’re a leadership and management consulting business working exclusively with accounting firms. And we do a lot of leadership development, we do a lot of transformation, you know, in the business, which we’re really pleased and excited about. We do a variety of types of consulting with accountants, and strategic planning, and we’ve been doing a lot of consulting with firms on “Anytime, Anywhere” work, on flexibility and remote work, which, sneak peak Randy, you haven’t said it—but I think that’s what we’re gonna dig into and talk about today.
And we’ve been in business for 23 years. Jennifer Wilson, founded the business, or co-founded the business 23 years ago, we’re a completely remote, completely flexible business, all of our assets in the cloud, a digital business. And we have been for 23 years. This topic is pretty near and dear to our hearts. So that’s a little bit about Convergence, Jen, anything you want to jump in and add on that?
Just that we know remote and flex works. And we’ve been saying it works and begging people to believe us for 23 years, and really studying flexible work practices in the profession, now, for somewhere around 10 years—and writing about it and teaching and just trying to drive open mental boundaries around flex inside the profession for a long time.
And I think that’s great. And Jen, you hadn’t mentioned but you’ve been on the podcast, I think twice before this, you’ve actually been part of The Unique CPA Conference as well, which I appreciate. And so you and I have talked about a few of these things in the past. But let me just set the stage because I am a big proponent. I’m positive proponent. There you go. I got that right. Not opponent—at all—proponent, of the Anytime, Anywhere work, which is what we’re really going to talk about today.
But Renee, you know, Jen and I have talked about this before. But Tri-Merit, we’ve been in business 16 years—we’ve really been remote from day one. I mean, at this point, we have I don’t even know how many people, let’s say it’s 60 plus around the country. We do have an office, nobody goes there for the most part. A couple people. Just depends on if we have something going on. But we have people from, you know, up in Sacramento down to Atlanta, in Boston, you know, down to San Diego, and all over the country. And just one thing I want to set the stage, and we can talk about this a little bit, and sorry, this is your topic, but I am passionate about this topic as well. We’ve been remote from day one. And I always know one of the concerns people talk about is “Well, how are we going to build a culture if we’re remote, and everybody’s working on their own” and all this? Believe me—we’ve been doing it. I think our culture is great. We do not lose people in 15 years or whatever. 60, 65 people in 15 years now, we’ve lost seven or eight people who voluntarily left. I think that means something—we’re doing something right culture-wise.
So that’s enough of me bragging. Renee, let’s get into your survey, the 2022 Anytime, Anywhere Work Survey or ATAWS, five letter acronym, came out recently, and why don’t we just dig into it? Why don’t you let us know what you found out? Whether surprises, all that kind of stuff, but let’s just go wherever you want to start with what the survey told you. Let’s get into it.
Well, and I’m going to give a little bit of background if that’s okay.
It’s our sixth annual survey. So we’ve been doing this officially since 2012. We, and Jen, said we’ve been doing it for 10 years, I think we did an unofficial version of it in 2007. So we are you know we’ve seen a lot of change and transformation in this topic inside of firms. The number of firms participating has expanded over time, the openness and willingness to participate in these types of programs and to offer this types of flexibility has progressed over time. And so I guess that’s, you know, like, overwhelmingly, as we studied the data, and we’re writing the report, Randy, we were excited. We were just excited to see the progression, and in some cases, like on mandatory Saturdays, or no mandatory Saturdays, it was exciting to go back to the very first year we did the survey, and to see how much progress firms have made.
And so the survey includes comprehensive statistics and data. It includes interpretation of that by Convergence Coaching. And then it also includes quotes from people in the profession who are doing this in their firms. So you can kind of get like little mini case studies and really understand where the heads are of particular firm leaders, whether it’s in HR, or managing partners, and what they’re really trying to do in this area.
So we’re excited about the report. We’re really proud of it. And we hope firms are going out to our website and downloading it. It is available for anyone who wants to grab it and take a look at it, and we would encourage firms to do that. We had 216 firms participate this time around, and things have changed, you know, so I guess that’s, you know, we could dig into some statistics. Before we go there, Jen, any other setup that you feel like we need to talk about?
Well, I want to address something that came up after we issued the report, and this report is a service to the profession—we don’t charge for it, we don’t ask somebody to pay for us to sponsor it. You know, up to this point, we have been producing this thing, both out of our passion for the subject, and how critical we think it is to manage staffing issues, and really issues of, of sort of geographic constraints in general for client service too. You know, this isn’t like, we’re not stumping a product here. We’re really trying to change the way people think about the business model of how they staff and serve.
And the other thing is, is that we have we heard a little bit after the report was issued, 216 firms, but those are the zealots. So these big, you know, these big leaps forward that you guys are so excited about? Well, those were just with the zealots, you know, there’s a whole bunch of laggards, and, you know, yes, okay, maybe. These people, you know, we did have 80 firms that took this survey this time, and they took it two years ago. So let’s just say a third are, you know, repeat importers, and certainly they care about the subject if they are taking the time to put their data in, so they can have comparatives to that data. And so yes, maybe these are the leaders. I don’t know if they are or not, but I know this: These are the firms that are attracting talent and aren’t suffering tremendous capacity issues, and big turnover, and they’re not sitting in traditionalist old school mindsets. So they’re attractive destination firms, not firms that are repelling people presently. And so if you know anybody who wants to naysay, like, “Is this representative?” Well, maybe, maybe not. But these are the leaders. So you ought to read it and learn about what the leaders are doing and start trying to figure out how to be one too.
Yeah, I see that quite a bit with—and I might be generalizing. I don’t know if you have the data on this—but I’m seeing it from the modern firm standpoint, being the more leaders on this, and let’s say the legacy or the older firms may be lagging a little. Do you have data on that? Is that just my impression? Or is my impression wrong?
I mean, we don’t have data on that Randy, we don’t track the age of the firm. Is that what you’re saying? Like how long a firm is? This?
Yeah, I’m kind of looking because I—so historically, I’ve dealt with top 400 CPA firms. And the last three or four years, I really got to know a lot of these, I call modern firms, I can call them, you know, 30, 40-year-old-run firms started firms been in business five years, 10 years, maybe even 15 years at this point, that in my mind is the more modern startup firm. And then you’ve got the, you know—and there’s some top 400, that obviously have not been around forever, but I think at the top 400 of, hey, they’ve been around for 80 years, or whatever. And that’s where I don’t see, personally, change as easy to implement, as I do on the startup. And that’s just my impression. I just want someone to confirm that I’m right or I’m wrong. And if I’m wrong, great!
I think it’s mixed, Randy because I mean, if we were going to pull out the top 400 list, we could get a highlighter and start highlighting some firms that are way ahead on this.
Oh, yeah, I’m sure.
And are really making incredible progress and haven’t necessarily and maybe that’s not what you were saying but haven’t been in business, you know, or have been in business for a long time or have event. I think it’s a mixed bag. But we don’t really study that statistic.
Yeah, I’d be interested.
It’s also a mix of size. And so, you know, generally startup firms are going to be a little smaller. We have some very large firms here and very old firms that for whatever reason, they embrace this—and not just since the pandemic.
I mean, the biggest leaders in this, they were already way far before the pandemic, and they used the pandemic as accelerant on their business model shifts, I would call these firms—and they’re not all—like 216 firms believe me, there were some firms that answered questions and to the negative from our perspective that we were like, “Oh, how depressing. This is awful! How could anyone answer this answer?” But some did. So it’s not 216 progressive firms. There are some laggards in there. But I would call these firms next gen are progressive firms, but not based on age, based upon mindset and their detachment from tradition. You know, anybody who’s super attached to a tradition, they’re running a traditional or old school firm. And they’re not going to be as attractive and frankly, not as sustainable.
No—sustainable—that’s what I was thinking when you said that. Because there you have to. I mean, I don’t see how you can not conform to this Anytime, Anywhere model. It just has to happen, especially with what we have in our profession in general, but a lot of professions where we’re just not me, Jenna, you and I talked about before, we’re not attracting people into the profession as much as we used to. I mean, I think Dan Hood and I were talking this week, and he said that there used to be 2% of people going into college, were in accounting majors, and now it’s down to 1%. That’s a huge change. And if we don’t make changes to attract people, we’re going to get problems.
Alright, I can go on my rants forever. Renee, let’s start digging into the statistics that you found and the big change, because it was a huge change in a lot of areas from the just two years from 2020 to 2022.
That’s right, yes. And let’s start with remote then, because I think that’s where you see the huge acceleration. And it makes sense, because of COVID. That was the accelerant for a lot of firms and we had to go home, you know, during that time. There were some firms who said, let’s just go figure this out. Now let’s make it a part of our kind of the fabric of our business. 81% of firms in the survey hired an employee in their remote geography. So that’s like an incredible statistic. If you look at in 2020, it was 38%.
And the interesting thing about that Randy is, you know, you asked about kind of where firms with this and how much adoption there is, but those firms are now starting to recruit all across the country. So some number of them have a remote recruiting strategy. And so that’s what we’re competing against now—firms in all corners of the United States have other firms kind of reaching in from other geographies where before they might have been protected, or felt like “Well, there are no other firms here in town.” That doesn’t work anymore. And so we thought that was incredible, and just kind of this incredible flip of what firms are doing with remote hiring.
We also thought it was interesting that 83% of firms are letting their admin and operations people work remotely. And the old story was that those folks didn’t have access to these types of programs. They had to be in the office. And there are all these kind of old school stories about printing and documents and meeting people to be “at your fingertips” in the office. Of course, none of that really matters when your team is all scattered, Randy. Why do we need our admin people to be in the office if we the leaders aren’t in the office? And so that’s looks like it’s really changing and shifting, which is pretty exciting.
Oh, for sure.
Yeah. Jen, what would you add on remote statistics or remote ideas that you were really excited about?
Well, you talked about hiring a stranger in a remote location, which is huge. And that just opens up in a borderless reach for talent and a time when talent is short. We also had a little over half in 2020 of firms said we kept somebody when they moved. And in this year’s survey, the 2022 survey, we had almost 80%—79% said somebody left our geography, and this time, we didn’t lose them, we kept them, and I thought that was huge.
We also had, you know, a conversation and we asked every year and we’ve asked it probably the entire life of the survey about leadership buy in, you know. And we asked, “Are they fully bought in? Do they see it as important? Are they paying lip service to it?” I mean, we we give a list of options. And this year, we had 20%, or a fifth, of the respondents say, our leaders are all in. And and that was up, you know. 20%, still not huge, but we’re on the right track. Another 59% said, they see it as important, it is strategic. So 79% either saw it as strategic, or we’re all in. And that’s a big jump from where we’ve been in the past. So, you know, and of course, nothing happens in a firm, if top down isn’t really committed.
I think that’s hugely important. I was just talking to someone recently, where leadership doesn’t seem to be on the same page as the message. And when you have that, it’s just you, I mean, everything’s gonna fall apart. You know, I was talking with somebody that they hired a new individual this last year, who was fully remote, they were local to the office, and you know, within whatever, 30, 45 minutes, don’t have a car, no way to get to the office, and was basically just told they had to come in for some special event. And that’s not how they were hired. And so leadership is putting out this message, “Okay, you’re required to come in for this,” and this person was hired with, “You’re gonna have no responsibility to come in the office, you’re fully remote.” And so that disconnect would just have this fall apart. And that just frustrates me because I started hearing about the message like that you need. So the point is, Jen, you are completely correct. leadership has to be all on board, and the message has to be accurate.
Well, and I’m gonna jump in here real quick, because we refer to that as like Mixed Message City, right? I work in Mixed Message City, you know, where I’m told one thing by one set of leaders and another by another, and maybe different messages at different times, when I got hired one message, you know, as we progress, slightly less affirmative messages about my completely remote status, or flexible status or, you know, whatever it may be, and, you know, I just want to I’m going to take us somewhere that maybe isn’t so survey-specific, but the minute that we begin to offshore, and the minute we use outsourcers domestically, who will be using people that are not in our office—the minute we do that, then we have remote work. You know, we have anywhere work. We have to support it, and we have to get good at it.
So why wouldn’t we get good at it for our employees that work for us, that have been here, or that we hired, that we spent a lot of money to hire to attract and hire and train—why wouldn’t we figure out how to get good at this? We are going because of labor shortage, we’re going to use a mixed medium of of talent, offshore, outsource, employed, and remote, and hybrid and why not get good at it? And so this idea that we would allow leaders inside our organizations to give anti-remote and hybrid messages—that it would be allowed that that would be acceptable, that they wouldn’t understand how that erodes our brand, how it erodes trust and respect of leadership, and it makes people feel like “Wait a minute, the deal is changing. Or you guys don’t get it. And I can’t stay here.” And I don’t understand why firm leaders don’t get how terrible that could be for them, if they don’t straighten it out.
Oh, yeah. Well, I don’t know if you know the statistic but I’m gonna quote something that may be off one and a half times someone annual salary is the cost to replace and employees. Am I accurate there?
Yes, mmm hmm.
So why would you want to have to deal with that?
Well, and brand new firms are investing in recruiters and they’re investing in this huge engine to drive this talent into the firm, those poor people. I mean, you talked about how you’re upset about it, you’re looking at it from the outside, what about those HR professionals and recruiting professionals who are, you know, pounding the pavement to bring these people in under some sort of premise, and then we’re really not living up to that.
And you know, one of the examples that’s happening is I’m I work with one partner on one type of engagement, and it’s allowed, and then all of a sudden, I’m working over here at another corner, and that person doesn’t allow it. We can’t have that. It’s our number one recommendation. So we have at the end of the report, our top ten recommendations for really using this survey and making some changes and figuring these things out in your firm. It’s the number one recommendation, is figure out your positioning, you know, really define what it is you want to offer and what are your values around this, and then figure out what you have to do to live up to that.
And I’m sure it’s not going to be a light switch. It doesn’t get figured out overnight. But we have to be in an open conversation with our people. So your example, Randy, of that person it all of a sudden the deal is changing, they need to be empowered to say, “Hang on just a second, you know, this wasn’t what I thought, what we discussed. And so who do I talk to you about that?” Ideally, firms would have an Anytime, Anywhere work champion, somebody who is the point person for all of this who’s really like studying what we promised. And then making sure we’re, you know, taking feedback on that and feeding it back into the leadership team. Because we, you know, we can’t have that we made these huge investments, and we hate to see firms going backwards. We want to see them moving forward.
As do I. In fact, we’re doing a conference this August, where that’s the whole theme is how do we be better as a profession, as professionals, both mentally, workwise, being smarter, be more efficient, work less, reduce your client base is, as Jen has taught me in the past, what is that point? Can I think of the name? Right size your firm!
Yeah, right size. Right size your firm and your capacity, sure.
Hang on one second, Randy, I just wanted to say I think something firm leaders could take out of this podcast is to go and ask their team members, when they’re having casual conversation or check ins over teams, or whatever they’re doing just to say, Hey, where are you getting mixed messages from us?
Yep. Perfect. I like that. We do anonymous surveys, asking those things. If people aren’t comfortable saying it, go ask them where you they don’t have to come to your face and say it. And I think that’s important. Alright. Believe me, I got on my soapbox here for a second. Hopefully, I’m not this is not a negative thing. This is a very positive thing that results on this. So, Renee, why don’t we go into some more of the positive percentages and what we’ve seen change just in the last two years?
Yeah. So we talked about remote a little bit. And so that’s anywhere—that’s THE “Anywhere” part of the equation. So there’s also “Anytime”—there’s flexible work, or asynchronous work is a term that’s being kicked around these days, and the conversation that we’ve been having about how are we working at different times and keeping projects moving forward. And so they call that asynchronous. and we think that’s the next frontier, Randy. So firms made little tiny bits of progress. And Anytime work, not a ton of progress over the last few years. But we feel like we’re gonna have to figure that out to, Jen’s point, because of outsourcing, offshoring, when we’re working with people who are in another continent, we’re not going to be working at the same time, it’s not realistic.
And so, but what we did see was statistics. And I mean, they’re still very strong on flexible work—is that 94% of firms are allowing their people to flex. And then there are all different ways that you can flex your time. you can have flexible start and end times—90% of firms allowed that. part time schedules. I’m always surprised it was only 80%. I can’t believe that firms wouldn’t say “We 100% allow part time schedules.” I mean, why not?
I talked to an HR person last week. And she said, pretty much everybody in the firm is like on a 95%. You know, people just don’t want to work the same 60, 70 hours, historically. And so we’re just, you know, saying, Look, we’ll craft the schedule that you want to have. So I feel like that number should come up, it should be higher than 80% in the future.
What was the change, then in the two year period? That if it’s 80? Was that a pretty consistent number then?
I think so. I don’t think we saw a huge change.
Okay. So we have work to do still there.
Yeah, for sure. I mean, all of these creeped up a little bit, but not, not that much—except for the exception to that is unlimited PTO, Randy, which is that it really jumped. I think it went from 12% to 19%. And so still, you know, a fifth, now. We’re at a fifth of the participating firms are offering unlimited PTO, which you know, probably when you get into this extreme flexibility with your people, they don’t want to be nickeled and dimed anymore about like, “Hey, I’m stepping out for a couple of hours to go to a doctor’s appointment.” “Well, hang on, you’ve got to enter PTO for that.” But people are like, “But hang on, yesterday, I was here for 12 hours, because we were pushing through that project.” So it’s frustrating for people, when we are in an environment of extreme flexibility. If we start saying, “Oh, but we’ve got to get exactly 40 hours in the system every week.”
Yep, we installed that. I don’t even know—it’s two or three years ago now. And I mean, you know, people are concerned, “Oh, everybody’s going to take too much time off and then we’re not going to know when…” It doesn’t happen. It’s people know what they have to do they get it done when they want to get it done is what we do too—it doesn’t have to be nine to five. And we’ve had I mean honestly in the three years since we put this in, we’ve grown by probably 50%. You know, it’s been a significant growth. So it hasn’t affected us at all. So I love seeing that statistic go up. People don’t take advantage of you. They still know, you gotta trust your people. And when you trust people, they get their work done.
Yeah. Well, Randy, and I wonder, and I mean, you could tell us, one of the things that we think is important in this unlimited PTO scenario is that you have pretty clear expectations of your people—of what they’re expected to produce and what the timelines are and what their success measures are. And so I’m guessing you have, you know, you’re running a pretty tight ship on all of that.
So I’ll tell you this: I don’t look at any of that. But that’s me. I decided about five years ago, I’m not paying attention to any of that anymore, because we have so many good people that put this in place. So yes, I would agree we do. I know as a firm we’re installing like the EOS system. We’ve been going through this now for a year and a half. So we have metrics, KPIs, we have things in place. We are not micromanagers by any means—we’re not looking over their shoulders. But everybody knows what their responsibilities are for sure.
And unlimited PTO, Randy, studies show that the real risk is that people won’t take enough time off.
So firms that are scared of it, the main thing to be afraid of is what Renee said that we’re not going to be clear on what expectations are. And so it’s hard to tell if people are producing at the level that they need to. But the other thing to be afraid of is burnout, you know. That people will not take the time off. And so like we don’t call our program “unlimited PTO,” we call it “open PTO,” but we do ask that every person take a week off five days in a row, if possible. At least one, you know, I mean, they can take Fridays off all summer or something, but just one five day period.
And we keep track of time off on a master calendar, not necessarily for approval, or nobody’s counting it per se. It’s more so we can go back and say “You didn’t take enough time off last year!”
Like, this year, let’s get it scheduled, you know, and so I think you, you have to be more mindful of making sure your people aren’t feeling like well, I took a couple hours off Friday and that sort of thing all the sudden you get nine months in and they haven’t had any break.
And that is such a—not pandemic. I’m not sure what the right word is. But that is an issue with the burnout in our profession. And Jen, you probably know this, I don’t know if Renee does. But I do a presentation on mental health in our profession. And that can throw statistics all over as a profession, we have a higher percentage of individuals that are going to go through depression at some point in their life. The burnout rate is higher than a lot of professions. And I think part of it is just, Jen, you mentioned this earlier—mindset. As a profession, our mindset, oh, now we’re going on tangents! But my impression is, as a profession, our mindset is, “We are the answer. We need to help everybody we have to be there, they have problems, we have the solutions, we are the ones,” and then we forget to take care of ourselves. And so that’s I think one of the issues. Alright, how did I get on that tangent? Where are we?
Well, and I don’t think that’s a tangent. I mean, I’m, you know, all of this is integrated. This is the culture of the ecosystem, and the way that we approach talent, and team, right, so remote and flexible work or anytime, anywhere work, it is part of an integrated cultural approach to taking care of our people, and building an environment where there is trust and respect, and hope, and optimism, and even excitement.
About how we could solve people’s problems, and not, you know, grind and distrust and get in the ditch and dig, and you’re not, you know, what have you done for me lately? You know, so I think your, you know, mental health and wellness, burnout and overwhelm—they’re completely integrated to this conversation of remote and flex. And there are some people that, like the commute was killing ‘em. We quit the commute and their quality of life goes through the roof.
You get an hour back a day, you get an hour and a half back a day, you get more family time, you get I mean, yes. It’s just the benefits are well up and above just the hey, I can work whenever I want, or wherever I want. And so this is awesome.
Alright. So I saw one statistic that came out of this was talking about Saturday work. Can you expand on that, Renee?
Yeah, sure. So we’ve been tracking since the very beginning, Randy, whether or not firms are requiring Saturday hours, and it’s not a question of whether or not they’re requiring additional effort, but it’s a question of whether or not they dictate when that effort has to happen. You know, we pick Saturdays because most firms have this Saturday morning thing, and serve breakfast and people come in and they’re expected to work for a few hours, and it’s “collaboration time”—I’m doing air quotes, our audience can’t see us, but probably not a whole lot of that happening, a little bit of hobnobbing and eating breakfast. And some number of people might enjoy doing Saturdays and they stick around and do it in the office. And there’s a number of people then who hate it, and are frustrated that they have to be there. And they’re missing out on some pretty important things in their life, whether that’s with their kids or with their family, or personal commitments, or choir practice, or whatever it is.
And so we’ve been really passionate saying to our clients, “You cannot do this anymore. You have to stop scheduling the technical meeting on Saturday mornings.” And they’ll say, “Well, we allow people to do it remotely.” No, you can’t do that. Not on Saturday. Do it on Wednesday afternoon, and that would be fine during working hours—during common working hours. But to ask people, it’s a little bit like saying, “I’m going to have the technical meeting on Thursday nights at you know, eight o’clock at night,” like, hang on, I’m winding down, get ready for bed, folks, you know, I get up at four or five o’clock in the morning.
So you can tell we feel really strongly about Saturdays.
And it’s really exciting to see. I mean, Saturdays are optional in the survey for 73% of participants. Now Jen Wilson and Renee think that that should be 100%.
Yeah, I agree.
And so we’re, you know, we’re sad about the number, Randy, but if you look at the progression over time, 41% in 2014 [to] 73%, so we are making so much progress. And it’s fun, Randy, to talk to our clients because I’m working with a firm right now, they changed the Saturday morning technical meeting. When I told the guy in charge of it. He was like, really, is that a deal? He said, alright, we’ll do it on Wednesday afternoon. It’s like no big deal. So it’s happening, that change is happening. And we have to keep raising it and bringing it up. And we want that number to be 100%.
Yeah. So when you’re talking Saturday. My first impression was we’re talking tax season Saturday. Were we talking all year round Saturday, or was this tax season?
No, we’re talking busy season.
And audit season?
Yeah, maybe the audit teams are doing it too. I’m not sure. But it’s it’s pretty much a tax thing.
That’s what I figured.
I would say it’s busy season, it’s spring and fall.
And you know, what’s weird about it is, first of all, like, we have to change the business model and staff with different kinds of people and automate, so we don’t have to work so much overtime. Okay? I mean, that’s number one. But if we can’t get there yet, we certainly cannot dictate where and when people work their extra hours. Because the minute we do, we stop being an equitable and an inclusive environment. Because we start having it be “I’m going to dictate where and when you work these hours,” based upon the way it worked in the past or the way it works for me.
And so like you’re you live far away, so, but I want you to come in on Saturdays, you know, or you have young children or like I’m runner, Randy, you know, race runners, you know, Saturday morning’s long run day, man, some people Saturday is their Sabbath. Hello! I’m not coming in. You know, I start making you conform to my work style, which is the epitome of not honoring our differences.
So you know, and parents of young children with like, Saturday morning soccer, or gymnastics, or whatever, well, too bad, come in work Saturday morning when we’re all working and miss your kids’ activities. That’s not a retention strategy. It’s not a destination workplace strategy, and it’s going to wreck our profession. Honestly, that kind of stuff gets talked about on Reddit, and on Fishbowl, you know, young people spit when they talk about our ridiculous dictates related to overtime.
Yes. I agree completely. I love what you said before, because I’m in the same mindset, I want this profession—I want people excited about going into accounting. I want “Yes, this is the place I want to be because it’s so fun. And it’s so, there’s so much flexibility with how we’re doing the work and the clients we work with are amazing, and the people we work for are amazing.” And whatever. We were excited to talk to this client. We’re not one some of the clients you just have to get rid of for that.
But still, and so this is I’m hoping that somehow I see a change. And I think the survey is already telling me I’m seeing a change. But before I retire, I want to see a significant change, at least with my own eyes to see something’s happening. I keep going on my—getting me and my passions here. This is a big passion.
We love it. Randy. It’s a shared passion. We love how passionate you are about it.
So I want to talk about another cool thing while we’re doing it. So because like the Saturday thing, it’s not like it’s hard to say we don’t mandate Saturdays and have people go cool. You’re awesome. I mean, they would Be like, geez, I hope not.
That’s not actually like a cool benefit. Okay, but unlimited PTO, we talked about that that’s kind of a cool benefit, it won’t be for long because everybody’s gonna do it. But another pretty cool one that we loved seeing some movement on in the survey is closing during what we would call “shared time off periods,” where firms are recognizing the benefit of putting the business to sleep, together, all at once, shutting the thing down, and allowing everybody to have a collective break.
And firms are doing this over the Fourth of July week, or over Thanksgiving week, or between the December and New Year’s holidays—they are stopping and shutting the thing down, or even just taking a random day, you know, a Friday in August as a thank you or something to their entire team and saying, “No one works.” And basically, they shut down email. You shut down email and teams traffic for all of us, we really get time off.
When we take a vacation, we have to put our own work to sleep. But the whole world keeps sending emails, and they keep sending teams messages, and they keep sending stuff for us to review. And when we come back, there’s this massive backlog. But this shared time off thing has this wonderful peaceful, real rest. And we’ve been doing it at Convergence for our whole time. And we close, I got the idea—I’m a former partner at BDO, and they have closed between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. And so when I came and started this business, I thought they can do what we can do.
But we’ve let ours creep a little bit. And we are taking solidly two weeks, sometimes two weeks and three days, we’re coming back on the 8th of January in ‘24. And that’s how it works in our clients. You know, some of them cocked an eyebrow a little bit like “Wow, ladies, you really are taking a big break. But, you know, once you put the business to sleep, it’ll sleep for a little while.”
And it’s, you know, why wake it up early? And we’ve trained our clients and we tell all our prospects and all of our referral sources and friends, everybody knows we do it. We have a whole communications campaign that we use. Yes, if there’s some major exception, we can make it but we hardly ever do. You know, we do one of us will check the mailbox and our email box or corporate email box or our voicemail box, the business days that others might be open, once a day just for emergencies. But hardly anybody ever leaves a message. It’s really incredible. And boy, do we get a rest.
Yeah. Especially if you’re letting them know. And they understand. And I knew this. And that’s because I think maybe you put it on LinkedIn or, or there’s somewhere that I see, “Hey, we are going to be closed for the next two weeks. And you need to get a hold of us, we’ll get back to you on January 8th,” or whatever the date was. And I think that’s—my wife’s office actually does that which I think is great. The Christmas to New Year’s break. It’s not something we’ve installed yet. I think I was thinking I think when I saw you guys were doing this, I thought you know what, we really should look at that, especially right before tax season. So this way people have this free time, family time, when maybe we’re going to be spending a little more hours than we had hoped. But hopefully we minimize that. So I think that’s great. How about how about anything else sticking out with the survey?
Well, Randy, I had one more thought to tag on to where Jen was is, you know, she says we take this time off. And we rarely make exceptions, Jen polices that. So she watches for that I over a break that just happened. You know, this past December, we had a prospect show up and wanted to hold a call during our break. And I said, I’m going to do it. And she immediately sent me an email and said, “Are you sure you want to do that?” So you do have to have somebody and you know, Jen’s our top dog, our managing partner, and we all watch for it. We all talk about it. It’s a part of our culture, but she, all the way at the top. And so I think that’s an important message for those listeners here is managing partner, HR leader, they need to be sort of watching for this and just pointing—gently, kindly, pointing it out—when we’re getting off message or when we’re doing things that don’t really adhere to this, you know, not being attached to FaceTime or not, you know, Saturdays, like watching for it and just gently saying, “Hey, hang on a second. Not sure we should do that.”
And somebody has to be appointed that position. You have to do that with intentionality, Randy, because otherwise it won’t happen and you’ll get off message.
Yep, and then that could be because I mean, the survey is Anytime, Anywhere. It’s not all the time everywhere. Message to say, because we and our profession is not the only one. But we are so guilty of being on 24/7, and I think it’s important to talk about this a lot, and I learned this from somebody else, actually—I steal everything. I steal Jen’s ideas, Renee, I’m gonna steal your ideas now too, but I stole—stole—I borrow, they let me share it, from someone else, is just having the end of the day ritual that you shut down. So your mind is clear, you know where you’re going to be when you get into the office, whether that’s at your bedroom desk, or that’s in an office or wherever it is, you know where you’re going to be when you start the next day. So you don’t have to be thinking about work all night long. And you’re not going to wake up at three in the morning. Because now you’ve trained your brain that you are shut down for the day, or the week, or the two weeks, taking the five days off all this stuff, I think is extremely important. And I think that’s a message that just people have to hear, too. It’s not everywhere all the time. It’s where you are when you can.
Yeah, totally agree, Randy. So if I were going to pick something for us to be sure we talked just for a minute about before we go, it would be remote service. Because we do talk about remote client service in the survey. We report statistics on that we deliver services in a remote paradigm, or blended if we do sometimes we go out on site with our clients, we delivered learning programs on site, but a lot of what we do is delivered remotely, and sold remotely, and planned remotely. And as we look at our clients, we see there’s so much that they can do remotely and probably more.
So we gathered some really interesting statistics from firms who are trying to turn that volume dial and do more remotely and some of the things that they’re trying to chuck their clients into it or to tuck their team members into it, or to improve the experience for all involved. So that’s, you know, something that firms might want to go check out and look into, because we made all this progress with clients during COVID, that they were like, “Wow, I don’t need to come sit in your office or I don’t need you to come sit in my office to do this work.” And boy, let’s not go backwards on that. Why would we? And really, the, you know, next gen values, they don’t necessarily want us to come on site, they don’t want to come into our office. So we’re, you know, we don’t want to be traditionalist in that thinking either, of feeling like we have to go back to something.
Yeah. There’s a lot of great information in the survey. And so before we wrap up, why don’t you let people know—and I’ll give you a chance to put a bow on this too. But while I’m thinking about it, why don’t you give them an idea where they can go to get this? Because as you said at the beginning, this is not a charge, you don’t have to pay for this. It’s available to anybody who wants it, where can they get all this information?
Yeah, so they would go to our website, ConvergenceCoaching.com. And there’s a vision and strategy section of our website. And Anytime, Anywhere work is listed under there, and they can find a whole page on our philosophies and a link to get to the survey. We’ve been putting it out like crazy and social media, it’s probably been hard to miss it so far. So I think they could go back and find one of those links, or go find it on our website or email me, Renee@ConvergenceCcoaching.com, I’m sure you could email Jen@ConvergenceCoaching.com. We would love to help people get a copy of the survey and check it out.
And I did notice, to plug my friend, Dan Hood, you were on his podcast, Accounting Today podcast recently. So I would suggest people go, I’m sure Dan asked much better questions than me. So you can go hear what Dan had to say. When you guys talked about the survey with him go to Accounting Today and listen to the podcast there as well.
This has been such a fun conversation, Randy, and you took it into some different directions than we did with Dan or on our own podcast. So we really just appreciate the opportunity to be with you and learn from you. And talk about this subject we’re just super passionate about.
Well, thank you. And I’d love to keep going. But I know you all have meetings. And we’re going to wrap up today. I guess that was a final thought. Any final thoughts, Jen, or Renee too if you want to add to that before we finish up hereL
Just that I you know, I’m so grateful to you, Randy for all your sponsorship of change ideas. And, you know, this profession needs to change, we need to update we need to, you know, really appeal to next generation talent and have those folks come in here and take this over and run it and and take it in new directions. And you are without a doubt with this podcast, one of the guys that’s exploring all those new ideas. And I’m just super grateful that you sponsor all of the change ideas that you’ve been sponsoring. And if there’s ever anything we can do to help you and your continued efforts, we will do it, so thanks.
Well, thank you. You’re gonna make me cry, but I appreciate it. Alright. Well, Jen, Renee. Thanks again for being here. I loved the discussion, and I’m sure we will do it again.
Thank you so much, Randy. Have a good day.
Thank you for joining us today on The Unique CPA. You can find the show notes for today’s episode, and learn more about Tri-Merit at TheUniqueCPA.com. Remember to subscribe and leave a five star rating on your favorite podcasting app. And join us next time as Randy talks to Jody Grunden of Anders CPAs and Advisors on The Unique CPA.
About the Guest
Jennifer Wilson is the co-founder and partner with ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a national consulting firm for CPAs. Jennifer has been named to Accounting Today’s list of the Top 10 and Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting, IPA’s Top 10 Most Recommended Consultants and CPA Practice Advisor’s Top 25 Thought Leaders and the Most Powerful Women in Accounting lists.
A frequent speaker, teacher, facilitator, and writer within the CPA profession, Jennifer is also a member of the AICPA, the Association for Accounting Marketing, the CPA Firm Management Association, the American Marketing Association, the International Coach Federation, the New Horizon Group and CPA Consultants’ Alliance. Through ConvergenceCoaching, she specializes in leadership development, driving change, Next Gen, succession planning, strategic planning, leadership, management consulting, talent development, training and development, coaching, consulting, distance learning, marketing, social media, business development, and organizational development for CPA and IT firms and the channel-based organizations who support CPA and IT firms.
Renee Moelders is a partner with ConvergenceCoaching, a position she has held for over four years of her nearly ten year tenure there. A speaker, writer and facilitator for the CPA profession, she works with leaders to improve their ability to grow, develop and inspire teams. Her topics include flexible work programs, innovative recruiting strategies, mentoring and career manager techniques, and firm economics.
Prior to joining ConvergenceCoaching, Renee served as the Firm Administrator for four firms around the United States during which time she modernized and innovated their HR, financial, operational and IT functions to meet the needs of their team members and clients.
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.