FLEXIBLE WORK ARRANGEMENTS: Another way to ensure client value

When it comes to job satisfaction, the importance of finding a healthy balance between the rigors of full-time employment and the increasingly hectic personal schedules of career professionals . . .  particularly those of professional women, cannot be overstated!  In fact, a recent study showed that when companies do what it takes to help facilitate that balance, the payoff with regard to job satisfaction, employee retention and career progression, is huge1!  Tidwell Group recognizes this challenge, and has made it a priority to provide flexible work arrangements (FWA) for the benefit of its valued team members.

While taking advantage of a flexible work arrangement is not for everyone, Tidwell Group is committed to achieving the type of work schedule flexibility for qualified employees that allows the firm to accomplish its mission of providing exceptional service to its clients in a timely and value-added manner, while retaining prized industry professionals.  By understanding and facilitating the difficult scheduling needs of its employees, Tidwell Group is able to foster a sense of loyalty and ownership in its employees, all of which allows them to serve its clients more effectively and efficiently. . .

A win-win situation for everyone!

So What Exactly is a Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA)?

Flexible work arrangements (FWAs) are programs provided by employers that allow varying degrees of flexibility, on a case by case basis, wherein employees are offered flexibility with regard to where and when they fulfill the obligations of their important positions.  This flexibility often comes in the form of alternative work hours, flex time, telecommuting and compressed work weeks.  While critics of flexible work arrangements contend that this type of flexibility can lead to a lack of accountability and productivity, Tidwell Group and its valued team members have experienced the incredible benefits of flexible work arrangements.

Let’s take a look at two examples of successful FWAs.

FWAs in action! Introducing Jeanne-Marie Smith and CaLandra James

Tidwell Group interviewed two of its valued managers to provide an important first-person window into their experience with FWAs and the career promoting benefits of work place flexibility.

Meet Jeanne-Marie Smith

With over eight years of public accounting experience, Jeanne-Marie Smith is a Senior Manager with Tidwell Group’s audit team. She specializes in the real estate industry with an emphasis on the Low-income Housing Tax Credit Program, RD, and HUD-assisted projects. Jeanne-Marie provides audit services to residential real estate funds and property-level projects.

Jeanne-Marie – A Valued Audit Professional
Jeanne-Marie’s responsibilities include planning, performing, and supervising audit engagements. She leads all aspects of audit and assurance engagements from planning and risk assessment to financial statement preparation and engagement wrap up. She has deep experience in Final Cost Certifications, 10% Tests, and a variety of Agreed-Upon-Procedure reports in the affordable housing industry.

Jeanne-Marie’s Perspective on FWAs
“My personal life requires that I have the ability to work remotely because my husband’s career compels us to be relocated frequently. I work remotely supporting clients for Tidwell Group’s Birmingham and Atlanta offices.

I’ve learned that if you work remotely, as long as you’re dedicated and committed to exceeding client expectations, you can continue to progress in your career, even with a flexible work arrangement in place. While working remotely from Hawaii, I made an intentional effort to make myself available for my clients and staff that were in a 5-hour time zone difference. I was online by 5 a.m. to accommodate the firm and at the same time, the firm accommodated me by allowing me to be flexible with my work hours. Tidwell Group’s commitment to me has been incredible! When it is time to move, I don’t have to worry about finding a new job and starting over with a new company, and I am able to continue working for a company I love, and in an industry that offers me the flexibility necessary to achieve my career goals.

Tidwell group is also supportive of new parents and families.  In December, I became a new mom! While on maternity leave and throughout my transition back to a full-time work schedule, Tidwell Group was willing to work with me to find a balance between my personal and professional life. They wanted me to feel comfortable now that I’m back at work and they’ve been flexible by allowing me to maintain an effective FWA.

Meet CaLandra James

CaLandra is a Tax Manager in the Columbus office with more than twelve years of experience. She focuses on not-for-profit and affordable housing clients and specializes in the taxation of entities organized as Partnerships, C Corporations and S Corporations. CaLandra increases professional services efficiency by coordinating efforts between the audit, tax, and administrative departments for clients including affordable housing developers, property owners, managers, and investors.

CaLandra – A Valued Tax Professional

CaLandra has extensive expertise in the affordable housing industry and is a valued member of the accounting industry at large. She works with clients to review correspondence, complex work-papers, and tax issues related to the low-income housing and historic tax credit programs. CaLandra is focused on exceptional client service and prides herself on exceeding client expectations. She is passionate about working with property developers, owners, and investors to structure and maximize the benefits of tax credit deals.

CaLandra’s Perspective on FWAs
“Although I lived there for over 10 years, I’m not originally from the Columbus area.  Ultimately, family obligations required that we leave Columbus and relocate elsewhere. Having worried about how I would make my personal situation work with my important commitments to a career that I love, I brought my concerns to a Tidwell Group partner to discuss my situation and the implications of relocating. I worried that these necessary changes in my personal life would force me to leave a company and team that I loved, and require me to find employment elsewhere.  I was overjoyed that Tidwell Group valued my contributions enough that they were willing to offer me a flexible work arrangement . . . one that allowed me to continue my growth in a career that I value, while affording me the flexibility to meet the needs of my family.”

 

Q&A: Jeanne-Marie and CaLandra share Insights on FWAs

Q: What are the consequences of not having a FWA for an employee who needs it?

Jeanne-Marie: If I didn’t have the flexibility, I’d have to start a new career every time we move and rebuild loyalty with a new firm and new clients. Not having a FWA can also add unneeded stress on a working mother.  Being a new mom while continuing to pursue a demanding career can seem intimidating.  Having an effective FWA relieves unnecessary burdens and allows me to move forward comfortably with my professional and personal priorities.

Q: How does the firm and its clients benefit from FWAs?

CaLandra: In order to more effectively serve Tidwell Group clients, we work in teams so that we can leverage accessibility and availability. There’s always someone on deck if a colleague is off for the day. Another professional on the team can always jump in and assist the client. We don’t miss a beat when it comes to client service. The flexibility we have at Tidwell Group builds employee longevity on client engagements.

Being on a FWA builds and demands a certain skill set – you have to be a self-motivated, intentional communicator and very organized. I feel that I have to be more on top of my game with regard to communicating because I’m not always on site.  Being on a FWA has forced me to optimize my communication and organizational skills. I communicate in a variety of ways (IM, email, phone, and calendars) to make staff aware of my availability. I strive to give others the sense of security they would feel if I were in the office and present even though I’m not there physically.

My standard working hours are from 7:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. However, I can accommodate employees who work very early at 5:00 a.m. by working earlier than 7:00 a.m. Alternatively, I am able to stay plugged-in later into the evening if necessary.

Q: Can you provide an example of the benefits of a FWA for the firm and its clients?

Jeanne-Marie: FWAs allow the firm to retain loyal employees while maintaining effective relationships with clients because of less employee turnover.  It’s important that my FWA is a mutually beneficial arrangement so that I can continue my career professionally while balancing my personal life. In fact, Tidwell Group’s seamless FWAs are such that some of my clients have no idea I work remotely.

CaLandra: We were in Alabama on our way back from a meeting at the airport. On that occasion, one of our clients (a syndicator) was on his way back home to Columbus. He inquired about why I wasn’t getting on the plane to go back to Columbus, not having realized that I’m not based in Columbus anymore. This situation reinforced the importance of one of our goals with FWAs – that we make FWAs as seamless as possible with all those we interact with so that they receive the service they expect, regardless of our work schedule.

Q: As an employee on a FWA, how do you create your “presence” in the office?

CaLandra: The firm encourages employees’ involvement in a variety of volunteer organizations and activities, which have been great opportunities for me to come to Columbus to maintain a presence in the office and serve with the rest of the team. We have an ‘Impact Committee’ in each office that’s responsible for giving back to the community. During the winter season, we wrapped gifts for residents of a senior housing project and handed out the presents at their holiday party.

One of our upcoming events will be helping the homeless. A temporary store is set up, and our volunteers help the homeless “shop” for products throughout the store that they may need. We also just had a very successful clothing drive to provide business attire for emerging professionals applying for jobs and attending interviews.

Jeanne-Marie: Becoming a leader was the best way for me to make and keep a presence in the office.  It’s challenging, but possible to be seen as a leader even though you work remotely.  Excellent communication internally and externally is the key.  I keep the communication open and transparent with my colleagues so that they feel confident that I’m accessible and have an open door.  Likewise, I reciprocate that for my clients.

Q: How has Tidwell Group enabled you as a female in the accounting industry?

Jeanne-Marie: The firm’s leaders and management are supportive of women. Because of Tidwell Group’s support, I have the opportunity to grow my career with minimal limitations.  The feedback I have received reinforces the message that we have to be flexible in order to make things work.

CaLandra: I’m armed with the confidence that my busy personal life will have no impact on my career growth at Tidwell Group. I can put forth as much effort as I can and advance as far as my efforts take me. It’s my choice. I have the ability to choose when and how I go about growing my career and I value that a great deal.

Effective FWAs Benefit Clients and the Firm’s Professionals:

Working remotely is not necessary or appropriate for everyone, and the decision to enter into a FWA is made intentionally and thoughtfully.  CaLandra reinforces that:

“if you want a FWA, you have to make it work. Just because an employee can be on a FWA, doesn’t mean they should be on one. FWAs require that employees are self-motivated, organized, and excellent communicators.”

Tidwell Group is guided by a few key parameters in the firm’s decision to implement a particular employee’s FWA. The following may help you with FWA implementation at your place of employment and throughout your career:

  • The firm is open to hiring remote employees that work full time from home as long as the schedule allows Tidwell Group to provide for the needs of its valued team members while meeting its objective to exceed its clients’ expectations.
  • The firm champions flexibility by allowing experienced employees to work remotely as needed to accommodate difficult schedules that occur outside of the busy tax season.
  • When emergencies or family illnesses occur, the firm is flexible with employees, allowing them the flexibility of taking paid-time-off or working part of the day from home.

Summary of Key Considerations:

Tidwell Group believes in professionals earning the right to a FWA by maintaining productivity, personal responsibility, and the capacity to perform with limited supervision.

FWAs must be managed with professional judgement by both the employer and the employee. If you are considering a FWA or are concerned about the implications of maternity leave, military leave, or a change to your work arrangement, there are some issues to consider. It is imperative to champion the business goals of your employer when requesting a FWA. Employees who are able to prove their abilities and worth first and then apply the same high-quality standards to their performance while on a FWA are more consistently successful.

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