Welcome to the latest post in Robert Half’s Thought Leader Q&A series, which features insights from those who have made our company a great place to work and a premier provider of talent solutions.
This post features Steve Saah, executive director of the finance and accounting permanent placement practice at Robert Half. We talked to him about trends in the financial fields, including remote and hybrid work, the Great Resignation and lessons we’ve learned through the pandemic.
A graduate of Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business, Steve joined Robert Half in 1998 as a recruiting manager, following a career as an internal auditor and assistant controller. He is a noted expert, author and presenter on career, management and hiring trends, particularly those affecting the accounting and finance fields. He is based in Washington, D.C.
Here’s what Steve shared with us in our recent Q&A session:
Given that we’ve seen how effective remote and hybrid work and flexible schedules can be — and that employees are increasingly seeking these types of arrangements — do you see them becoming a fixture in how people work?
I think the trend with workers wanting flexible schedules, hybrid work arrangements and/or remote work, is without question continuing today, and will beyond the pandemic. I anticipate more people will gradually go back into the office, at least some of the time, but I don't know that most people will want to go back to the office full time.
In today's job market, professionals have a lot of options, and candidates are likely to favor employers that remain flexible in their thinking about remote and hybrid work. Businesses that give their employees the opportunity to choose what works best for them will also be more attractive in terms of hiring and retaining talent.
Specifically, in accounting and finance, companies are going to have to really think through what that looks like. And it's not going to be one size fits all. You have to think about key times when it might be important to have someone in the office, like year-end close, going through an audit and tax season, for example.
What are your thoughts on the Great Resignation, and what can employers do to help prevent top performers from leaving for new opportunities?
Employees always have options. And right now, they have more options than ever. The important thing in terms of retaining people is not just offering them more money or giving them the ability to work from home — it's to really sit down with individuals and discuss what's important to them. Different people have different priorities, and the companies that are the most successful at attracting talent and keeping that talent are the ones that take the time to ask questions and listen to their employees about what matters.
I don’t think there’s a blanket solution. It's about each individual, their personal career aspirations, their financial aspirations, what works best for them and their families. It can be a delicate balance, but the employers who listen and are willing to make reasonable accommodations are going to be the ones that have the most success retaining talent.
How important do you think company culture is when it comes to recruiting and retention?
Very. Though that can change from team to team, even within the same company. The reality is that company culture trickles down from the top, and most companies have managers who are great about it and others who aren’t quite as good. You could have a big company with a great corporate culture, but if an individual manager doesn't follow that mantra, their department might not do as well with hiring and retention as the rest of the company.
What do you think are the most important lessons businesses have learned during the pandemic?
I think the biggest thing we've all learned is that we can adapt to change much quicker than we ever probably thought. Pre-pandemic, most organizations would have balked at the idea of giving every employee the option to work from home. But we were all forced into this, and we've realized that we can adjust very quickly. And that's probably one of the biggest lessons that I personally took out of it, as well.
I think flexibility and tolerance are two other important things. At the beginning of this new reality, every individual had different personal situations and faced challenges — but that didn't mean one couldn't do their job just as effectively as another could. That, to me, is also one of the biggest lessons regarding company culture: realizing that people work differently. We all have our own personalities and our own personal situations that we're dealing with. And the ability to appreciate and respect that means being flexible. Trust employees to be productive. And that isn’t just in finance and accounting — that's true across the board.
What do you see as the pros and cons of companies hiring outside of their geographical region? Does the wider talent pool it creates for them outweigh the potential drawbacks?
There’s no question that if you widen the geographical area you’re open to hiring from, you have a bigger pool of candidates to choose from. But I think what companies need to think about is how that impacts their ability to onboard, hire and retain that person. And what are the implications to their current staff? How do you accommodate everyone's schedules — especially where you're working across multiple time zones?
Consider how often somebody needs to come into the office, and are they okay with the implications of that? For example, if you need somebody to only come in one day a week, is a two-hour commute feasible? It probably is for many candidates, at least for the right job. If that’s every day, it probably becomes borderline for a lot of people. And if a remote candidate lives 2,000 miles away, how often can you fly them in to spend time in the office? These types of things are what employers need to take into consideration.
I think the biggest con centers around the potential implications for internal working relationships. People who work remotely are just not going to form deep relationships as quickly as people who work together in the office every day. And more so if people are working across different time zones.
Are there any best practices you’ve seen that are effective for making teams spread out across geographical regions feel and interact more like cohesive, in-office teams?
First is recognizing the burden of accommodating everyone's schedules across different time zones. If there are meetings that occur at 9 a.m. Eastern time, which is 6 a.m. for remote employees on the West Coast, who has to give in? That expectation needs to be set upfront. The employer could push that meeting to 11 a.m. Eastern and 8 a.m. Pacific. And maybe sometimes employees on the West Coast will need to get up extra early for a meeting, but other times the people on the East Coast can meet a little later. The acknowledgment and accommodation help make sure no one feels off-put.
The second thing I would advise is to conduct as many meetings as possible via video. When you’re sitting across the conference table from one another, it’s different from meeting via video. And when you can’t meet in person, it’s different when you have cameras off — which is also very different from chatting via messaging apps or email. Seeing people’s faces helps build camaraderie, so those are the types of things employers can take into consideration.
And managers can’t forget that building personal relationships with colleagues is just as important as building professional ones. So if there are times when everyone is physically getting together, make sure remote workers are included. And try to integrate business meetings with some personal meetings and activities that bring the group together on a social level. Those things can really go a long way.
On a more personal note: Coming into 2022, what’s been the most positive takeaway for you from the difficult times we’ve all been going through the past two years?
There's a silver lining to everything. And for me, it’s been being able to spend more time with my family. Pre-pandemic, I traveled nearly every single week, and the kids had full social lives. Nobody wanted a pandemic, but during it, we’ve had dinner as a family every night, we’ve watched TV shows together, we’ve played games and spent a lot more quality time with each other than we ever would have. One thing I learned is that there are more important things in life than what we always used to focus on. We'll get through this, and I think we'll come out of it better on the other side.
Follow Steve Saah on LinkedIn.
Meet other Thought Leaders at Robert Half, such as Michael Steinitz and Ash Athawale. Subscribe to the Robert Half newsletter for future installments of our Q&A series and to discover more unique stories, experiences and perspectives on the latest hiring trends.