Professional services firms aim to implement a hybrid office space as restrictions ease this spring but adopting this new working space will require a combination of client and employee needs, according to market participants.
“There’s a real desire for hybrid,” says John Taylor, chief operating officer at RSM. “I don’t think most people want to go back travelling daily into offices on a five day a week basis. That’s what we’re working towards. We’ve got new leases that we will be designing in that way. We will be re-engineering our existing property.”
Maureen Penfold, managing partner at Moore Kingston Smith, says employees have “had enough,” of the lack of face-to-face contact, and are now starting to book in-office working days.
Whilst the remote working experience has proven to be effective, firms are now looking to implement a mixture of home and office working environments – a necessary move for those struggling with their mental wellbeing.
“We don’t believe that a fully remote workforce is either desirable or sustainable in the longer term. Many people value the office environment and the social interaction available there, as well as the ability to work collaboratively with colleagues and clients,” said a spokesperson at BDO.
At KPMG, the vast majority of employees said they were comfortable with home working due to reduced hours of commute, greater flexibility of working hours and an improved work-life balance, according to chief people officer Kevin Hogarth.
Clients have also benefited from the remote working through the additional time accorded to them virtually and the lack of time constraint and physical distance.
“It isn’t just about the return to our office, it’s about the return to the client’s premises too. We’ve got to listen to and be guided by our client’s preferences and policies,” says Chris Knowles, chief digital officer at RSM.
Some clients will yet favour face-to-face contact with their auditor or accounting professional, meaning firms’ decision will also be about balancing preferences.
Taylor says it is imperative that clients’ expectations fit within a firm’s strategy.
Whilst remote working benefits have been encountered by a large group of employees, KPMG believes it is crucial to ensure the remaining professionals’ needs are fulfilled.
“While the pros outweigh the cons in our case, there remains a vital need to ensure that downsides are carefully managed. The wellbeing of our colleagues for instance, remains a key focus and we’ve continued to bolster the resources we offer our colleagues,” said Hogarth, via email.
“Our people have always worked across offices, client sites and from home as part of their usual working week, so the shift to hybrid working is a natural step for us.”
Steve Saville, HR director at Mazars, says there remains a number of employees feeling isolated – emphasizing the need for a flexible office space. A hybrid model will also help professionals with care responsibilities, particularly in times of pandemic.
Providing a physical working environment is also key for recent graduates and new entrants within the profession as previous forms of training are replaced with online workshops. Firms such as RSM have opted for digital for newcomers to familiarise themselves with the workplace and staff.
“The major multi-day assessment centres to prepare people for major steps up in their careers, which historically would have been in hotels, an awful lot of work has gone into that to repurpose those to be online events. We’ve successfully run some of those,” explains Knowles.
The firm is yet looking at implementing classroom-based training through local offices as the feeling of networking and team building cannot be replicated.
Penfold says trainees have been “missing out” on building relationships and learning by osmosis within an office. A hybrid model could offer significant ways for young professionals to exchange information and learn from one another.
“We’ll be using one of our big assets, which is our local offices, more for training going forward rather than trekking around to a national training centre, combining that with the increased use of technology,” says Knowles.