26 Jun 2019 04:49pm

The rise of flexible working in the tax world

The business environment has changed. With the onset of technology and the establishment of cloud-based working becoming more important for multinational enterprises (MNE), the approach to a more flexible style of working has inevitably been thrust into consideration

Caption: How are businesses managing their internal progression rates while still being open to flexible working?

Flexible working has become a point of heated discussion over the last decade as with many changes to the working environment that are challenging the status quo. The idea off flexible working was born out of a number of factors.

Firstly, cost - commercial real estate has been at an all time high over the last five years with centrally located businesses struggling to grow in square foot at the same rate as their own strategic expansion plans.

This has led to the establishment of shared service centres in lower cost locations creating a decentralised function causing a ‘brain drain’ across the discipline in centrally located business commercial functions with the tax functions suffering in the talent market. Allowing people to work remotely solved this issue while still maintaining a degree of responsibility and commitment to the central commercial function and attracting a wider pool of tax talent.

Secondly, the tax market hasn’t seen the same rate of increase in salaries over the last few years. With remuneration staying relatively stagnant and accelerated bonuses being a memory in the past, businesses have been forced to re-evaluate their softer benefits and in turn have re-evaluated their flexible working policies.

This has encouraged a wider and more diverse pool of tax candidates to be eligible for opportunities in the market and has encouraged inclusion across a wider group of people. This has been reflected in MNE’s and SME’s scrutinising their diversity and inclusion policies and establishing a more robust framework around being flexible.

Thirdly, promoting a flexible working environment has proven to promote a happier, loyal and more productive workforce with companies observing that employees were voluntarily working outside of normal office hours as they were saved their usual commute time. This led to the movement being increasingly endorsed by more traditional outfits who hadn’t really considered this style of working in the past.

The difficulty comes in achieving balance. Tax leadership teams may find it difficult to establish significant controls around the flexible working regimes and may open themselves up to discrimination claims if they only agree flexible working requests for parents and carers as opposed to personal reasons behind a request. This will mean that more leadership teams will have to use value judgement in their decision making process and look at the request on a case specific basis rather than one size fits all.

But how are businesses managing their internal progression rates while still being open to flexible working? Growing concerns about the lack of physical contact with office colleagues meaning a lack of internal progression opportunities has led to accountancy practices and in-house tax functions establishing a Flexible Talent Network Initiative under which existing and new recruits will be able to express their favoured work pattern more formally and therefore allows the business to cater to a higher degree and larger audience.

As more tax employees expect increased flexibility, the discussion of working patterns and preferred styles has started to become a more formalised discussion during the hiring process as oppose to an afterthought. Employers have made significant strides in achieving a more balanced workforce allowing for a more diverse range of employees which has only been received positively and continues to be the theme as we move into the latter part of 2019.

Ektaa Kumar is director-head of Tax Interim at Morgan McKinley