Are accountancy employers ready for hybrid working?

The degree to which accountants adjust to hybrid employment could determine their future level of success. How prepared are you?

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced accountants to rethink their working environments. A move to hybrid and flexible models is proving a preferred solution, but does the profession have the skills to support this new way?

Two-fifths of companies are expected to adopt a hybrid working model as businesses put strategies in place following the Covid-19 pandemic.

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A survey of 1,451 HR professionals published by Aon in June, reveals a strong preference for employees working two or three days from home with the rest spent at the office.

The survey also found 13% of companies will give employees a choice in terms of how much time they spend in the office.

Change is underway

Some of the largest accountancy firms have already made clear their intentions to follow the hybrid working model.

In June, Deloitte revealed an ultra-flexible working model, allowing its 20,000 UK employees to choose whether to come into the office or work from home.

In May, EY confirmed it will move to a hybrid working model in the UK. The firm plans to allow most people to spend at least two days a week working remotely with the remainder spent working at a client site or EY office.

This compares with PwC which expects employees to spend between 40 and 60% of their time in the office as part of a blended home/office working model.

Meanwhile, KMPG has been forced to delay its plans to introduce a flexible working plan after the government suspended plans to lift lockdown restrictions initially scheduled for 21 June. Eventually KPMG’s employees will be expected to work from the company offices for four days every fortnight.

Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner at PwC, said: “The [move to a hybrid model is] in direct response to soundings from our people, who’ve said they value a mix of working from home and in the office.”

The challenges of hybrid work life

While all this flexibility in the accountancy reflects an understanding of Covid-19‘s impact on how and where employees want to work, hybrid models introduce complexity and challenges for employers, not least in how they approach recruitment.

Deborah Gray, director at recruitment consultancy Totum Partners, says firms are ramping up the search for suitable employees to support their move to new ways of working post-pandemic.

“Some roles that were put on hold are now being recruited and there lots of new positions being created with a focus on transformation and innovation. There will be major shifts in strategy, and we are seeing demand for people right from very senior chief roles down to lower managerial ones,” she says.  

A race for talent

Azets UK is just one of the UK’s accountancy firms already participating in the race for talent. The company is creating 650 new roles over the next year, all of which will complement its a multimillion-pound investment in a ‘fully digitised, mobile-enabled hybrid working environment’.

The firm says its ‘work from anywhere’ approach will drive increases in revenue by 50% over the next five years.

Anna Murphy, head of group resourcing at Azets, says the firm is looking at a large range of new roles.

She says: “We are actively looking to recruit into our team at all levels, with our investment in hybrid working creating more opportunities for existing staff and removing old geographical barriers.”

It is hard to ignore that Azets’ made a multi-million-pound investment in digitisation which has enabled it to embark on such a significant recruitment drive. Other accountancy firms may find they are some way behind when it comes to tech.

Skills gap

Nearly a third (30%) of accountants responding to the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ (CIMA) 2020 Mind the Skills Gap survey say they do not feel prepared for working in a digital workspace.

The research also found that more than two-fifths (42%) of employers still report deficits in digital skills such as e-commerce, coding, data analytics, cybersecurity, and cloud computing (see chart one).

Andrew Harding, chief executive of management accounting at CIMA, says: “What is a greater cause for concern is that nearly all this group reported these skills gaps are “significant enough to hamper their organisation’s future growth and success.”

To avoid this unwelcome outcome,  Gray recommends businesses focus on hiring senior people in tech, such as a chief technology officer, preferably one with experience in cyber security.

Hiring digital leaders

“Accountants need to look at hiring people who understand digital, tech and innovation that cover all areas of firm. They will likely need a specialist in [cyber security] who can help manage the additional protection needed with hybrid working,” she says.

However, accountancies will not be the only businesses racing to upskill. Most companies moving to a hybrid working model will be fighting to find the best people.

Fortunately, Gray says accountants have the right credentials to attract talented individuals.

“Accountancy looks attractive because firms are ready for change which is really interesting to inspirational people. They have these specialist skills, and they do not want to simply oversee running a company’s status quo. They want to come in and make a real change,”  Gray says.

With so much focus on when providing flexibility in the workplace, it is important firms do not lose sight of the need to reinforce their company values.

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Gray says that disparate workforces make it harder for employees to feel part of a company’s fabric and that employers will need to build a strategy for keeping everyone ‘on brand’.

“Focusing on brand, values and purpose is hard to do with a remote workforce, especially with new recruits who may have never been to the company’s offices. This is an important issue that needs to be considered and planned for,” she says.

There are relatively few positives to take from the Covid-19 pandemic, but forward-thinking firms have used the lockdowns to better understand how they can offer employees more flexibility while making cost savings. The challenge now is finding the right strategy to make hybrid working effective with the best people overseeing them.

Chart one: Areas in which accountancies have a skills deficit

Source: Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ (CIMA) 2020 Mind the Skills Gap survey, December 2020.

Gill Wadsworth is AAT Comment’s news writer.

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