25/11/2020 - 11:30

Flexible work here to stay

25/11/2020 - 11:30


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Perth’s major accounting firms have about 70 per cent of their staff back in the office after COVID, but lots of variation sits behind that number.

Mike McNulty says Deloitte’s clients and staff have adapted well. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Accountants are experts at measuring things, but asking them to pin down where their firm’s employees are working is no easy feat.

That’s partly because working habits remain fluid after COVID-19.

Deloitte provides more clarity on work patterns than most other firms.

Managing partner Mike McNulty estimates about 70 per cent of his staff are in the office at some point every week.

But only 10-15 per cent are in the office five days a week, while a further 30 per cent attend the office three days a week.

(click to view a PDF version of this special report)

That leaves a lot of people working from client offices – as auditors have always done – or working from home.

Deloitte actually needs a lot of people working outside the office because only two of every three desks can be used.

That’s based on a strict interpretation of the WorkSafe requirements for social distancing.

Mr McNulty sees this as a big shift, after acknowledging the take-up of Deloitte’s agile working policies had been modest prior to COVID-19.

“To have half our people working at home two or three days a week is a pretty big shift,” Mr McNulty said.

“I think we’ve adapted to it well and so have our clients.”

Other firms quote different numbers to express a similar trend.

“We’re sitting around 50 per cent of our total workforce in the office,” KPMG’s WA chair of partners, Matthew Woods, said.

“But we only had 75 to 80 per cent in the office on any given day pre-COVID.

“That’s getting pretty consistent and we’re comfortable with that.

“I used to be concerned about how we make the office experience a rich experience

“I’m more relaxed about that now; we’re getting into a more normal rhythm where people have settled and worked out their routine in terms of how they transition through the three hubs, and the business has worked out when they need people in the office.

“I think we’re approaching a happy medium.”  

EY managing partner western region Fiona Drummond said the number of people coming into the office for work had continued to increase.

“Compared to pre-COVID levels, use in Perth is approximately 80 per cent and this has been steadily growing since July,” she said.

“It’s great to see so many of our people coming back in and enjoying the city, but we are continuing our people-centred approach.” 

Ms Drummond said the group’s strong results during the past few months showed it could be very productive when working remotely.  

There has also been an increase in the number of staff coming into the office at PwC.

“It fluctuates but we have between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of people back in the office on different days,” managing partner Michelle Tremain said.

“You can see the difference it makes; the social part is really important, just interacting with each other or having a break.”

She said the lasting impact of COVID was the shift in attitude.

“We always had the policies around flexible work roles; the best thing about COVID is they’ve become real,” Ms Tremain said.

PKF Perth managing partner Darren Shillington has seen a similar change.

“Since we’ve come back, we’ve adopted a lot more flexibility,” Mr Shillington said.

“It has changed our mindset.

“People still like the social side of being in the office.”

RSM managing partner Con Paoliello said his firm had about 70 per cent of its full workforce in the office on a typical day.

“Given staff who are out with clients, on leave, part time and other flexible work arrangements, this is a fairly normal percentage,” Mr Paoliello told Business News.

To illustrate its flexible work arrangements, he said RSM already had one of its Perth staff permanently based in Cowaramup and another currently based in Hong Kong for personal reasons.

Like other firms, RSM is reviewing its national guidelines to ensure they are reflective of the current environment.

BDO managing partner Peter Toll said the new normal at his firm was a very flexible approach.

“We’re definitely seeing more people work from home but on a flexible basis, not on a fixed or permanent basis,” he said.

Mr Toll said only 3 per cent of BDO’s workforce had applied to formalise their work-from-home setup, for instance by having regular days at home.

The more common approach was staff taking a day here or there to suit their family or personal circumstances.

With audit staff often working from client offices anyway, he estimated about 70 per cent of staff would typically be in the office.

Mr Toll said younger staff still wanted and needed interaction with experienced colleagues in the office and many were not set up adequately at home for work.


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