Firms see important office role but no presenteeism

As PwC expects 50% office capacity by end of September and a more even split between office and home working, other Big Four firms are joining the return-to-office move

Kevin Ellis, PwC’s senior partner, has revealed he expects half of the 22,000-strong staff to be working in the firm’s UK offices by the end of September, but in the medium to long term believes the majority will be working flexibly, and spending time working remotely.

Currently, the firm has more than 7,000 people working in its offices, a number that is increasing by around 1,000 a week. The firm reopened its offices on 6 July after staff requested the option of using offices rather than working from home.

Ellis said: ‘While we expect to see numbers increase, we definitely see a more even split between office and home working in the medium to long term.’

Highlighting the successful move to a more flexible working culture, Ellis added: ‘There’s no question that lockdown has done away with presenteeism - it’s shown many business leaders that their people can be productive, engaged and happy working from home. But it’s also important to acknowledge that every employee faces their own set of personal circumstances, meaning working from home for long periods of time is not beneficial for everyone.’

But the senior partner also recognised the important role offices play, not only for staff and also for the local businesses, many of whom will have been dependent on business from office workers. Ellis said: ‘A blend of office and home working is the future - but there’s still very much a place for the office. We’re a business that thrives on the creativity and relationships of our people, so getting together in person to learn and share ideas is an important part of what we do and who we are.

‘We also have a responsibility to consider the impact we have on our local communities - by returning to the office or city centres, our people are helping the local shops, restaurants and transport systems get back on their feet.’

Ellis’ comments come as a number of other organisations admit many of their staff would not be returning to the office full-time any time soon. A recent PwC survey of UK chief executives showed 86% expected to see a permanent shift to remote working. But such plans among large companies to make working from home a more permanent feature are at odds with the government’s drive to encourage more staff to return to work.

EY said it will be reopening its offices from 7 September on a reduced capacity, which would mean many of its staff would continue to work from home.

EY’s UK chairman Hywel Ball said: ‘We’ve listened really carefully to our people to help shape how we return to office working, taking into account their needs as well as those of our business. It’s important that we provide a safe environment for those who want or need to get back to the office, while still offering flexibility for those with caring responsibilities or a preference to continue working from home during the pandemic.

‘We will be starting slowly, increasing capacity over time, and will continue to follow government guidelines closely.’

KPMG had begun to open up its offices in July for business-critical purposes, with a subsequent widening at the beginning of August to allow for those who prefered to work in the office because of personal circumstances or wellbeing reasons. The firm said that the social distancing rules mean it currently has capacity for up to 30% of its workforce to return to a KPMG UK office, for up to three days a week per person, and that this will rise to 60% capacity by end of October.

The firm added that has developed a ‘Return App’, which can be used on a mobile phone or a laptop. Before going into the office or to a client site, staff undertake a risk assessment on the app, in line with the government guidance, to check they are in a safe position to return and are comfortable to do so. It is also providing a support pack to all staff returning to offices and client sites that includes face masks, hand sanitiser and a thermometer to help support their return.

Anna Purchas, Head of People, KPMG UK, said: ‘We will continue to follow government guidance and adapt our approach as required, but we anticipate that the majority of our people will work from home for the majority of 2020. Above all, we are clear that no one should feel pressured to travel into work or be physically present in an office before they feel it is appropriate for them to do so.’

Deloitte confirmed it had opened ‘a small number’ of offices in early July and that it was considering further office openings. A spokesperson said: ‘Deloitte has long been a proponent of agile working and we have had 20,000 people working from home safely and securely since mid-March.’

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