We will soon know how business leadership views its workers. We’re at an important inflection point of the pandemic. It feels that the frightening part of the outbreak is waning, and now heading into a new working paradigm. On a regular basis, companies from all types of sectors are sharing how they plan to manage the transition from everyone working from home to a new way of operating.
Wall Street has decided to order their bankers, brokers and traders to return to the office. Goldman Sachs CEO Davide Solomon referred to remote work as an “aberration” and James Gorman, Morgan Stanley’s CEO, said, “If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office.” JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon was the first investment banking head to push for people going back to the office. It initially backfired, as a trader caught Covid-19 and was sent home, along with some others.
The tech sector has been more open-minded. The prevailing wisdom is to institute a hybrid model. This calls for a person to be in the office two or three assigned days per week. Traditional corporations have emulated this plan. Some outliers, like social media platform Twitter, offer their people to work remotely from anywhere they want.
In an interview with Cathy Moy, chief people officer of major accounting firm BDO, she shared her revolutionary plan for the future of work. First, a little background on Moy would be helpful. She’s a working mother of three, and in addition to her executive responsibilities, Moy leads the firm’s Boston assurance practice and acts as lead partner on some of its largest public company audit clients. She was previously a partner at Arthur Anderson, which was once one of the top accounting firms in the world.
Working nearly two decades for a traditional, old-school accounting firm, then another 20 years at BDO, it would be understandable if you would be predisposed to think that she would have a conservative mindset, sticking with the traditional standards of work. If you were told about a job opening at BDO, without doing any research, you’d naturally think that the expectations would be to come into an office, wearing serious, dark-colored business attire and expecting to work in an office 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week.
This perception couldn’t be further from the truth. Moy isn’t your version of the traditional auditor or accountant. Although she comes across as a smart, polite professional executive, she espouses a radical business concept for her company and its 10,000-plus employees.
Moy’s heuristic concept is that business leaders should trust their employees. Building on this first principle, the company’s core purpose is helping people—employees, clients and business partners— thrive, every day.
The company’s past, present and future workstyle is “flexibility.” This translates into: management believes in and trusts its people. Employees are empowered to decide for themselves where they will work. Whereas the hybrid model is rigid, in that it makes staff return to an office on specific designated days—whether it’s rational or not to do so or any given day—BDO affords the freedom and autonomy for employees to decide for themselves.
The decision-making process is decentralized and locally made, along with input from team leaders. If a person wants to come into an office because they’re feeling the stress of isolation at home, tired of barking dogs, leaf blowers, loud construction on the house across the street, wonky internet connections and a cat that jumps on the keyboard and photobombs your video presentation, the person could work in peace at an office. If someone wants to stay for the week, it’s fine. If they want to work on the beach, that’s cool too.
Moy contends that people who work in a flexible environment are happier, leading to better performance for both themselves and clients. They are more motivated and committed to the company, due to the high level of trust and the resulting environment that encourages people to thrive personally and professionally.
Because everyone has unique needs, responsibilities and interests, flexibility is not a one-size-fits-all approach. A person’s time spent working at a BDO office, client site or in a remote location “can vary from week to week, team to team and engagement to engagement.” Moy encourages her people to find the right type of individual arrangements that benefit them, the firm’s clients and fellow colleagues.
Moy says that they hire people because they believe in them. She feels that dictating the terms of going into an office reflects distrust. This opens up a larger conversation. It seems that there will be a great divide over the future of work. There will be people and companies, like BDO, that value and trust their workers. They don’t subscribe to the old notion that face time in an office is more important than output and productivity. In a LinkedIn post, Moy wrote, “Our reimagined strategy embraces a shift in mindset, and prioritizes the outcomes of our work versus where and when work is accomplished.”
While some bosses are always suspicious of what their staff is up to, Moy takes a different approach. She subscribes to the theory of “positive intent.” This concept accepts that the actions taken by workers are based on trying to do the right thing. This doesn’t mean that the results will be positive. Sometimes things just don’t turn out as planned. “It’s okay,” Moy contends. In a “safe, trusting environment,” people are allowed to make mistakes and fail without fear of reprimand or repercussions.
Companies that force people to return to an office, compared to Moy’s practices, make it feel that deep down, managers don’t really trust or respect their workers. If they aren’t in the office, then they’re not working, many managers may think. The rapid deployment of “tattletale spyware” and technologies is proof that supervisors can’t resist the urge to monitor when a person logs onto a computer, what sites they are browsing and how long the person is sitting in their seats.
Moy also calls for managers to listen to their staff to gain an understanding of what they want and need to service their clients, succeed in their jobs and advance in their careers.
Although signs point toward hybrid models as the future of work, the reality is that what today’s employees are seeking is true flexibility. “New research shows that while nearly three in four U.S. employers plan to offer a hybrid work option for its workforce, only 37% will offer flexible scheduling.”
“Flexible scheduling” as referenced in the survey may not exactly align with Moy’s version, but it does show that some companies are open to more employee-centric work styles. Moy’s flexible policy, in addition to demonstrating trust and confidence in employees, is also a strong strategy for attracting, recruiting and retaining workers in a tight job market, where businesses are battling the war for talent and contending with the Great Resignation trend.
“In our people-first culture, flexibility is a business strategy,” said Moy. “As our people continue to return to in-person work, we are taking the lessons we’ve learned over the past year and incorporating them into our strategic direction for the firm. This model will allow more discretion in managing personal and professional obligations and aspirations, while still ensuring productivity, agility and connectivity.”