With today’s technology, most professional services firms are not the flexible workplaces they could be. In this post, we’ve outlined guiding principles to consider when transitioning your firm to a flexible firm where your employees want to work.
We’ve previously discussed risks/rewards of running a flexible practice and examined case studies of firms who have gone entirely virtual. To make the most of the clear benefits of flexible workplaces while avoiding their potential pitfalls, keep the following principles in mind.
Hourly rates are generally a bad idea. They’re worse if you’re working remotely. Billables can be used to track employee productivity, but they’re also a big driver of pointless, badge-of-honour, face-time culture in the legal profession. They undermine the concept of flexibility and don’t bear a clear relationship to client outcomes.
Besides, we’ve proven clients prefer fixed fees. So, scrap hourly rates, take on the fee risk and compensate yourself for that risk by charging a premium. Not only will it make your clients happier, but you’ll also be able to judge your employees entirely on their actual output. It will also incentivise them to work efficiently, whereas hourly rates do the complete opposite! If it means they spend less time working, but you make more money anyway and everyone has more time, who cares?
Video conferencing is now fast, reliable and effective. Tools like join.me, Skype and Zoom allow you to hold effective meetings and share screens and documents without anyone having to go to a place. This is beneficial for both internal and external meetings, allowing you to save you, your clients and your employees time and money.
To be as effective as you can, map out the ways that your firm wins new business (i.e. that isn’t just from word-of-mouth). Automate this client journey to give them a personalised, valuable experience. Widely available, cost-effective software such as Hubspot, MailChimp, Zoho Social, Infusionsoft, Typeform and FirmChecker are just some of the tools that help you manage your inbound sales more effectively. All reduce the need for you and your staff to be physically at the office if used well.
Most people are timid about asking to work virtually, particularly lawyers and accountants. People drawn to these careers are often introverted, diligent, conformist, sceptical and deferential. This is not used pejoratively – the pyramid-structure of firms in these professions simply lends itself to these traits. If you lead by example and don’t always work from the office, your team will be more comfortable in asking for/acting on virtual working opportunities.
Co-working spaces don’t just save you money on rent. Increasingly, different skill-sets and educational backgrounds will be vital to the competitiveness of your practice. Professional services business models are now scalable – it’s not just the other practice down the street that you’re competing with. Co-working spaces are an excellent way to save on overheads and network with other entrepreneurial people from different backgrounds.
If you can afford it, preparedness to fund co-working spaces for high performing employees is also worthwhile. While it may seem like an unreasonable cost to bear, consider the downside of losing that employee and the search costs and risks of a new hire. That will increasingly become the reality as employees opt for more flexible workplaces.
This goes for both internal and external meetings, which are often self-justifying. They can be extremely wasteful both in terms of time and cost for you, your employees or your clients. If they are necessary, see if they can be done through video-conference instead (see point 2). If not, try to batch them on specific days so that you can free up your time and reduce the need to have permanent office space for your business.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Subscribe and follow our social media accounts for further reasons, tips, tricks and case studies for designing your work around your life, not your life around your work.
Ben Farrow is the Managing Director of FirmChecker and consults with Beaton Research + Consulting, the leading management consultants to professional services firms in Asia-Pacific. He holds commerce and law degrees from the University of Melbourne and digital marketing certifications from Northwestern University. Ben provides frank and actionable tips to professionals looking to work to live, not live to work.