Accounting Career Flexibility: Four Inescapable Truths about the “New Normal”

Flexibility is a hallmark of work and business today. Here are some facts about your accounting job and career that you’ll need to get used to in order to succeed.

In many ways, it’s old news: flexibility in the workplace has swiftly become the “new normal” for most people today. That includes accountants and other finance professionals. The days of working nine-to-five every day for the same company, out of the same office building and in the same position or field, until you finally retire, are long since behind us.

Whether you’re already reconciled to this new – but irreversible – reality of work fluidity and flexibility, or still adjusting to it, there are four truths you’ll inevitably have to accept, if you intend to stay afloat in this brave new world.

1. You’ll have to manage across time zones and cultures

If you’re an accounting or finance manager, you know that the nature of management is rapidly changing. In an increasingly competitive marketplace – one whose horizons are global – companies are gathering resources and expertise wherever they can find them, taking full advantage of the ability to recruit the most optimal skill sets and services from all over the world.

Chances are, then, that you’re going to find yourself directing staff across different time zones and multiple cultural lines. Aside from overcoming the logistical challenges inherent in coordinating widely dispersed people and projects, you’ll need to develop a unique set of communication skills to ensure your needs and demands are clearly articulated over mobile devices and networks. At the same time, you’ll need to ensure that accepted norms and codes around professionalism and respect are still being observed, in spite of cultural differences.

At the same time, seeking work opportunities abroad can be incredibly rewarding, not just personally, but professionally. Brian Trnkus, Vice-President of Finance for IAMGOLD, points to his experience of working abroad as an critical ingredient in his success. “For me, being mobile was a big step towards career success. Taking an international assignment with Nortel was an eye opener.”

Chances are, then, that you’re going to find yourself directing staff across different time zones and multiple cultural lines.

Working abroad can expose you to a variety of perspectives. “You might have a situation where people from England, France and Germany are all in the same meeting,” he says, “and you have to figure out how to make all those different cultures and viewpoints work.” These are all valuable leadership skills for managers to learn and have in their back pockets.

2. Work is becoming more fragmented

With outsourcing, remote working, and similar trends becoming ever more widespread, your projects and assignments may start to resemble less the integrated tasks of a single functional position or job, and more like a series of completely isolated initiatives – potentially led by different staff in different places.

Quite often, large tasks get divvied up into small projects of finite length, and it’s up to the manager to ensure that all the deliverables are not only produced on time, but also in accordance with the company’s core objectives and quality standards. As an individual accounting or finance professional, you may at times be pulled into a co-worker’s project on a moment’s notice – the expectation being that you’re flexible enough to just go with it.

3. Work-life balance is harder to attain

With technology pervading literally every corner of your life, the boundaries between work and life are increasingly muddied. The constant flood of work-related e-mails pouring into your phone at all hours of the day – and the tacit understanding that you will respond to them in a timely manner – can be pretty draining.

As such, you’d do well to establish some limits, lest you burn out completely. According to global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, “Today’s more virtual workplace…makes all of us less able to compartmentalize and separate the different elements of our lives as we used to. It’s less linear – much more of a jumble – because we’re always multitasking, we’re always on. The technology enables that by taking away the limitations of time and space.” In such conditions, it’s not unusual to see “people who stay up all night working with Europe, Australia, and India and then work the whole day in the United States.”

The constant flood of work-related e-mails pouring into your phone at all hours of the day – and the tacit understanding that you will respond to them in a timely manner – can be pretty draining.

4. The communal experience is disappearing

One apparent casualty of the newly flexible workforce is that the kind of camaraderie people naturally develop when they’re working together in an office, day in and day out. As McKinsey & Company further put it, today’s work world “creates a very different ethos. Those twenty people in your phone meeting aren’t sitting around a table together seeing the same presentation in front of them. The communal-experience piece of it – the camaraderie – is lost. These are concerns for us. How do we ensure that people have the same kind of experience they used to get sitting in a room when they’re no longer even in the same hemisphere?”

So while, in some ways, the flexible workforce allows for an unprecedented sense of connectedness – by bridging distances of geography and culture – it can also yield a sense of isolation. A good manager will strive to quell that, initiating in-person networking opportunities, and working to build a cohesive staff environment, even if many are working remotely.

These are all unevadable facts about the new and innovative ways in which work is being done today. As the maxim goes, the only thing constant is change. But by getting a handle on these new developments, you can be better positioned to manage and cope with them.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!