In our latest video interview, Fiona Drummond explains how EY is managing COVID-19 and talks about the long-term impact of the virus on workplaces.
Monday July 6 was a notable day at EY’s Perth office. After nearly four months of strict limits on staff movements, a semblance of normality returned.
“Now the staff can come and go,” managing partner western region Fiona Drummond said.
“They can go and get a coffee or get their lunch and come back, whereas we had restricted that in the first few weeks of reopening.
“I expect to see a lot more people coming back.”
It was only on June 15 that EY opened its Perth office at all, mainly for people who had unproductive workplaces at home.
“We’ve taken things very carefully, very considered,” Ms Drummond said.
She said the switch to work-from-home back in March was relatively smooth for EY, as it had invested in technology such as Microsoft Teams.
About 30 per cent of the accounting and advisory firm’s staff were already on flexible arrangements and many were used to working remotely from client offices.
A staff survey conducted by EY in May showed that most people were happy to be working from home.
Ms Drummond said the results were consistent across the country.
Eleven per cent said they were happy to come back with the first wave while 20 per cent did not want to come back at all.
“That gave us some comfort that what we had done was the right thing and the majority of our staff were ok being at home working virtually.”
To help staff deal with the new reality, EY has established a digital platform with lots of health resources, yoga and meditation classes, tips and fun competitions.
The survey showed that one thing staff missed was the social interaction and face to face collaboration.
Ms Drummond’s own life has been affected as well, with one notable difference being the lack of events she would normally attend.
“The personal positive for me is getting all that time back to spend with family and decompressing mentally and not having as much stress and pressure,” she said.
“I got to focus on my health and wellbeing and doing more exercise, which is good.”
She strongly believes working arrangements will never go back to what we had before COVID.
“It’s definitely going to change,” she told Business News.
“We’ve been talking to clients who didn’t believe it (work from home) was doable and now they are putting in place flexible work arrangements where a big proportion of staff can work from home.”
Similarly, call centre operators thought they could never have staff at home but now recognise that is possible.
“I don’t think we will go back to what we did before, we will definitely have more flexible arrangements across all industries,” Ms Drummond said.
She also anticipates a big cutback in corporate travel, as recent experience has shown that everything from training to leadership meetings can be done remotely.
“One of the silver linings for the globe has been the environmental impact of COVID.
“As a business we will definitely significantly reduce the amount of travel we do.”
She said this would support EY’s goal of becoming carbon neutral.
The broader economic environment has been challenging for the big accounting firms, with Deloitte, KPMG and PwC all cutting large numbers of staff.
In contrast, EY has managed to avoid staff redundancies.
It made numerous changes to deal with the challenging economic environment, redeploying staff to areas of higher demand, cutting back on discretionary spending, and putting staff on reduced hours.
In addition, partners stopped taking ‘draws’ out of the business.
“The commitment of partners to staff was to make sure we had the highest hit to our earnings,” she said.
The firm is rewarding staff with extra leave and, in some cases, small bonuses and plans to revert to 100 per cent pay for all staff on August 3.
“We have performed a bit better than we expected but it is still very uncertain and there will be a tumultuous period going forward.”