Questions I’m wrestling with about the future of work.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed many organizations into large-scale remote work. At Sikich, we were well prepared to adjust to this reality. Long before COVID-19 shut down the country, Sikich was investing in technology to support a virtual workforce. Nearly 200 of our 1,000 employees were already working remotely prior to the pandemic. While COVID-19 accelerated our plans, we were able to shift to an almost entirely remote environment overnight. Since then, our organization has taken a strong stance in favor of long-term remote work and flexibility for our employees. I’m confident in the path we’ve taken so far. But, as vaccinations pick up and the world starts to transition to a “new normal,” there are open questions around the future of work that I’m wrestling with. I’ve said in past blogs that forcing employees back into the office is a backward approach. But, moving forward, we must figure out how to marry the many benefits of flexibility and remote work with a return to some traditional forms of business interactions. These are the questions I am pondering:

How much will geographic presence matter?

The pandemic has thrown the concept of geographic presence out the window. One of the biggest advantages of the shift to remote work is the ability to serve companies across the country, regardless of where our employees are based. That’s the reality today. But how much emphasis will clients place on geographic presence in the future? Our technology business has been serving clients worldwide remotely for years—I don’t see that changing. In the accounting space, many business owners traditionally want to work with someone local. Will that change now that they’ve spent a year working with their CPAs remotely?

In addition to competing with local businesses in each market, we’ll also be competing against companies that have taken the same approach as Sikich and have no geographic boundaries. Agility will be critical in the coming years. We must find ways to nurture relationships with clients both virtually and in person.

How do you build strong relationships in a virtual world?

With Sikich’s move to remote work, we now have employees working across the country, servicing clients located thousands of miles away. The pandemic has allowed us to explore how we can develop and nurture these relationships virtually. In fact, the virtual world has placed even more emphasis on building strong relationships with our clients and prospects.

Yet, as some companies bring staff back to offices and face-to-face business interactions become common again, we must find ways to compete in this hybrid environment. We’ve been forced to master virtual prospecting and relationship building over the past year. Will we be able to successfully pivot back to a mix of in-person activities this year? I believe we will, but it will require an agile approach.

How will we attract a remote workforce?

As we work to refine our prospecting strategies, we also need very talented team members to serve our clients. The shift to a flexible work culture allows Sikich to recruit nationally (and, in some cases, internationally) and attract top-tier talent who bring new insights and solutions to our business. This is an advantage over companies with a “back to the office” mindset who put geographic restrictions around their talent pools. But we must continue to innovate our talent strategy to be successful. Most importantly, we must sustain our strong culture and ensure employees who never set foot in our offices feel connected to our company’s values and mission.

Companies must proactively work to build strong cultures in a virtual environment. I also believe that while we give employees flexibility in how and where they do their work, we also must give them options. A one-size-fits-all insistence on in-office or remote work will damage culture and hurt employee productivity. That’s why we are planning to replace our existing office footprint with more microsites across the country. This approach gives employees easier access to offices if they need it for collaboration or client meetings. The companies that equip their employees with everything they need to succeed (from technology tools to collaboration spaces) will be sought-after destinations for talented professionals.

The pandemic has created challenges for business leaders, but the optimist in me sees many opportunities to continue to improve the way we work and serve clients, as well as how we support greater quality of life for our people. We must all be adaptable and ready to pivot in what I expect will be a fast-changing environment in 2021.

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