Organisations must exert trust as employees increasingly seek remote working opportunities.

Steve Jobs once said, “Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people.”

Arguably, the Apple co-founder’s words are more relevant to today’s business leaders than they were when he made them a quarter of a century ago. Back then, in 1994, remote workers made up near-zero of the global workforce. Today, it is extended to about 40 per cent of all roles, says Strategy Analytics, with half of the world’s workforce likely to become mobile by 2028.

While technology has played an important part in facilitating mobile working, the desire for more flexible work arrangements is driving today’s agenda. A recent study by Mercer says that 51 per cent of workers want more flexible employment terms, and that 71 per cent of high performers attribute their achievements to flexible working.

“Having a job that’s continuously on the move, working from home, or logging in while overseas — mobile working is a broad discipline that’s becoming critical to the successes of companies,” says Max Loh FCPA (Aust.), Asean and Singapore Managing Partner at EY. “Employers, large and small, must acknowledge the preferences of today’s workforce, and provide flexible arrangements that are win-win for both parties.”

The millennial opportunity

By embracing mobile working, organisations are able to significantly broaden their talent pool. Not only will they attract talent that favours more flexible terms within their locality, they can extend their reach to workers located overseas, bolstering diversity and inclusivity.

Research by Cloverpop shows that inclusive teams make decisions twice as fast with 50 per cent fewer meetings, and that decisions made and executed by diverse teams deliver 60 per cent better results.

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Mobile working is particularly favoured by millennials, who by 2025 will represent 75 per cent of the global workforce, according to EY. For accountants currently entering the profession, expectations are vastly different from those preceding them. For Gen X and Baby Boomers, flexible working, if allowed, extends to flexible working hours and working from home, at most. Millennials, however, crave much more. According to Mercer, they desire short-term assignments over those more than a year in duration; they prefer to travel rather than stay in one place; and they also favour experiences over rewards.

An added benefit is that the technologies needed to enable mobile working are inexpensive and easy to operate. Many of the tools used today, such as text, voice or video chat, and other business collaboration technologies, are either free of charge or are packaged with additional software.

Combined with ubiquitous interconnectivity 24/7, accountancy has moved from a profession requiring office attendance during standard working hours, Monday to Friday, to one that can be performed anywhere in the world, and at any time. To help make this transition as smooth as possible, individuals can capitalise on the growing number of continuing professional development (CPD) programs that support remote working.

Barriers to adoption

Trust is the number one impediment to mobile working, Loh says. Executives are commonly concerned that mobile workers are not engaged in company activities — or worse, they are working for rival entities. Research by Mercer highlights that only half of senior leaders currently support flexible working.

Such angst, explains Loh, stems from the fact that most organisations focus on inputs, such as hours worked or status updates, rather than targeting measurable outcomes such as key performance indicators, qualitative and quantitative results, deadlines, client satisfaction and meeting stakeholder expectations. By focusing on outcomes, organisations will not only have a clearer idea of how individuals are performing, they will also be able to set goals and objectives that meet the needs of both organisations and mobile workers, and encourage greater buy-in from management.

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Max Loh FCPA (Aust.), Asean and Singapore Managing Partner at EY

A further concern is the negative impact remote working might have on teamwork and collaboration. “Working remotely doesn’t mean working alone,” Loh clarifies. “Through technology and a commitment to collaboration, remote teams are able to co-create new ideas, which can rival those developed under one roof.”

Embracing change

Flexible working presents the opportunity to rethink how organisations are structured. Traditionally, organisations have been divided by function, such as finance, HR, sales and marketing, and so forth. For some organisations, however, structuring around competencies, tasks or projects might be more productive.

Organisations must also ensure they are forward-looking. “Millennials want to work for an entity that is progressive and has a sense of purpose, supports their personal development, and invests in the best technologies,” Loh says.

In keeping its members at the forefront of the accounting profession, CPA Australia presents thought-leadership on a range of topics, including workplace best practices. The association provides an international designation and a wide variety of learning programs that prepare members to work remotely and globally.

“Mobile working will continue to accelerate in the future,” says Loh. “Organisations that openly welcome it will reap its many rewards.”

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