What We Have Learned Since Switching To Hybrid Work

Cassidy Jakovickas

May 15, 2024

In 2022, we decided to permanently let staff work remotely, from our office, or their preferred hybrid of the two. I realize that an article about switching to remote work isn’t newsworthy on its own. After all, many companies and even some accounting firms have been working remotely for years. My goal isn’t to focus on the transition to distributed work itself, but rather on the shifts made and lessons learned while we worked to get here. As American tennis player Arthur Ashe wisely noted, “The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

The transformations we’ve made over the past couple of years now form the bedrock of our firm’s culture and will guide us in future innovation and growth efforts. Our decision to adopt a hybrid work model was one example of an impactful shift for our firm. As I reflect on our firm’s transition to hybrid work, I find many valuable lessons that will continue to shape our firm vision and growth.

Switching to remote work instead of coming into the office

Before 2020, I and most business leaders regarded remote work as either a pie-in-the-sky dream or a privilege reserved for certain positions or industries. However, after switching to remote work to comply with COVID-19 precautions in 2020 and 2021, I realized that working from home let my team enjoy a better work-life balance while remaining productive. This epiphany moment turned into careful reflection throughout 2021 and part of 2022 about whether my firm could permanently switch to remote work.  

In May of 2022, I removed the minimum time-in-office limitations so my team and I could freely choose whether to work from home, the office, or anywhere else with internet access.

Lesson 1 – Make decisions based on values, not what’s popular

Prior to the shutdowns and social distancing measures of 2020, I had been thinking long and hard about how exactly my team and I could better balance our work and personal lives. Eighty-hour work weeks are an unfortunate reality for most people in the accounting industry and I had been brainstorming ways we could do things differently at MBS Accountancy.  

In the early days of my career, I had done 80-hour work weeks for many years and had found only burnout and fatigue at the end of each of them. I wanted something different for my team, especially for those accountants with no prior experience at other firms. I wanted our firm to be the best place my team had ever worked. Not because I gave my team pizza parties. Rather, I wanted to establish smart policies based on what my team truly wanted and needed most.

But I wanted to move carefully and avoid making a decision on a whim or because it was the trending thing to do. When you make a decision based on what’s popular instead of your values, you end up changing later, as Twitter’s new leadership did in early 2023. This is not to pick on Twitter, since many companies have gone back on their remote work policy since 2020. Twitter has also had a change in leadership. My point is that, as I considered a remote work policy for my firm, I didn’t want to make decisions on a whim and start working from home simply because it was popular or trending. I made my decision based on my vision for my firm’s growth and future.

Lesson 2 – Move slowly but surely when making a big change

Toward the end of 2021, as we were coming back into the office, I decided to give my team the option of working from home for a few days throughout the week. During this time, we compared the productivity of our in-office workdays to our at-home workdays. We also made adjustments to our communications so everyone could stay connected and collaborate closely with one another, whether they were in the office or not. I was fairly certain that remote work was the right direction for us, but moving at a measured, thoughtful pace let everyone on our team really learn how and where they preferred to work.

It wasn’t a matter of location, but about giving my team autonomy in where and how they worked. As Twitter’s former HR director, Jennifer Christie, noted in a 2020 Washington Post article, “The future of work is offering employees more optionality.” Optionality and opportunity are core ingredients of the culture I aim to have in my firm.  

Lesson 3 – Decreasing control shows trust better than words  

In 2020, as our firm followed shutdown and social distancing guidelines, I wondered whether we could work from home permanently. But with this thought came two questions: could we keep up productivity and how would our operations be impacted? I admit that I had some anxiety while we all worked from home. Although I trusted my team to continue doing their best, I was nervous about our ability as a firm to adapt to this new method of working.  

Still, I’m a firm believer that, when you show people you trust them, they’ll usually rise to the occasion. I realize it’s become a cliche for a business leader to say they trust employees, but that doesn’t make it any less important. What determines whether it’s a cliche is our actions. If we act in a way that undermines or contradicts what we claim to be true, we might as well save our breath because no one will ever believe us.

So, when I announced our flexible work policy in May 2022, I also made it clear to my team that I trusted them to continue doing their best and to use the new flexibility to improve their work-life balance. I could have simply told my team I trusted them – they might have even believed me. But supporting my claim with action gave my words credibility.

Lesson 4 – Communication has become more intentional

It’s easy to assume that we’re most connected when everybody’s in the office. “Communication and connection are not the same thing,” noted Ryan Jenkins, notable speaker and author of Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In. One of the biggest concerns I had about switching from an office-based work model is keeping our team connection strong. A 2021 study showed that remote workers are more susceptible to feelings of isolation, depression, and disconnection from a company’s mission and culture. If we were to work from home, I wanted to ensure that we stayed as connected and collaborative as before – if not more so.

Lesson 5 – Work flexibility makes life easier

“I appreciate how much easier it is to book a doctor’s appointment and run errands,” said Edie as she reflected on her experience working from home. Nawal echoed her positive words, noting that, with less commute time, she can finish her work faster and help her kids with their homework. Without a commute, Fabiola has found it much easier to plan and prepare dinners for herself and her family, and also spend more time with loved ones. Erin doesn’t feel guilty anymore when she needs to stay home because of daycare issues. In fact, Erin is now able to switch between the office and her home as needed, even within the same workday.  

For me, having the flexibility to decide where I want to work has allowed me to be present in a way that I’ve never been before. For example, I was able to better support my family while my wife worked on her master’s degree.

Adolfo decided to move his family out of California to be closer to family and friends in the Midwest. Because he doesn’t need to come into the office to be considered productive, Adolfo can choose where he wants to live and work and make the best choice for himself and his family.

Maggie has used her new work flexibility to regularly travel to Canada on extended workcations. She appreciates being able to spend time with her Canadian friends and grandchildren and has stayed just as connected to our team as before.

Lesson 6 – Boundaries are vital for work-life balance

It’s common to talk about the need for more personal time in the work-life balance. This is because we tend to err on the side of getting more work done at the expense of our personal life and family. But, as we’ve started working from home, several of us have noticed that there is a flip side. If we’re not careful, we can get so wrapped up in our personal lives that our productivity suffers.  

For example, Victor Godinez has noticed that, while working from home lets him get more done, it also makes him more likely to pick up his phone and get distracted. Even if there are no notification alerts, he can up his phone simply out of habit. To remove this distraction, Victor now puts his phone in another room while he works.  

Erin’s kids have appreciated having her around, especially because she was usually too busy with work and commutes between work and school to enjoy much time with her kids. Still, Erin has had to explain to her kids – who range from 3 to 17 – that while she is at her desk working, she is not to be disturbed.

Lesson 7 – Aim for flexible integration, not permanent balance

One of the misconceptions about remote work for both workers and leaders is that work-life balance is a destination or one-time goal. But since we’ve started working from home, my team and I have found that balancing work and life is a constant juggling act that requires personal time management, integrity, candid communication between staff and leadership, and reasonable trust from managers.

As part of our flexible work policy, we let our staff decide how and where they will complete their workday, but ensure that they are considering the needs of their colleagues and clients. For example, many on my team will start their workday working from home, then travel to the office after lunch to finish their workday. Similarly, some staff begin their workday at the office until they have to pick up their kids from school, and then they finish their workday at home. This is completely fine with me and other managers as long as our team continues to complete work accurately and within our project deadlines, as well as remaining responsive in client communications.

Our transition to remote work was worth it

Early on, I decided that MBS Accountancy would succeed only if it equipped smart and capable people with the right tools, clear workflows, and reasonable workloads. This commitment combined with our investment in secure, efficient technology during our firm’s early years paid off when we switched to remote work, first in 2020 then again in 2022. As we’ve become a remote accounting firm, it’s been enlightening to see how some of our team still work mainly from the office, some alternate between office and home, and others are fully remote. This is the perfect illustration of the optionality I mentioned earlier. This “hybrid” option gives us the best of remote work and in-office work.

To be clear, we’re not completely removing in-person meetings or events from MBS Accountancy. Rather, we’re being smarter about how and where we work. Just as any accomplished painter, sculptor, or carpenter will refuse to work with unsuitable tools or in certain, unfavorable conditions, we’ve made the decision to give staff the power to choose their work environment so they can do their best work for our clients.

Moving to distributed work is one aspect of our commitment to the spirit of kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese word that denotes continuous improvement. Moving from an office-based environment to a “work from anywhere” model is the end result of many mental shifts in how we view our work and its relation to the rest of our lives. Already, our transition to distributed work is opening up opportunities for us to better balance our personal and work lives. We’re not done either… In the years to come, we have many plans for both expansion and internal optimization. But I don’t want to overlook the lessons my team and I have learned while getting to this point. After all, the journey is more important than the destination.

How remote work is one way we ensure better client service

Giving staff the power to choose where their work location is one way we enable them to work their best for our clients. Everybody works at different speeds, in different ways, and is best suited to different environments. Because we do our best to nurture a workplace culture that encourages self-motivated diligence and timely work, our clients can rest easy knowing our team is happily working hard from wherever they work best.

By the way, we help $500K-$10M companies and nonprofits in the United States gain clarity and control over their financial performance. If you need help with bookkeeping and accounting, business tax advisory, or controller services, contact us.