This is great stuff from LS re PwC

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-61393938

Didn't find your answer?

I'm no fan of his, but I see his point.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-61393938

Replies (37)

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
10th May 2022 14:58

I don't.

The idea that one must be in the office to work productively is imho nonsense, my personal history clearly demonstrates. From 1985 to 1987 apart from study leave etc I spent far more time working outwith the office than in it, that is how audit then worked, you visited the client. Given large parts of this, especially in year two, were not day to day supervised by partners or managers was I unproductive?

There are imho far better means of gauging productivity than merely checking punch cards. (Reviewing the work done being one)

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Justin Bryant
10th May 2022 15:29

But that's called selection bias or whatever and so your one personal experience cannot be validly/accurately/reliably applied over a large firm like PwC.

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Replying to Justin Bryant:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
10th May 2022 15:52

Well, it was a decent size firm, Hodgson Impey now being part of RSM via 1,000 mergers etc.

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By Justin Bryant
10th May 2022 15:57

I meant your own personal experience. In other words, I could almost certainly find someone (or possibly many dozens of people) from your old firm with opposite attributes to you and claim the exact opposite is true.

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By Mr_awol
10th May 2022 16:25

Indeed, i can recall many times as an audit Junior, Senior, and even (some would say especially) manager when i was completely unproductive. I once spent a morning asleep and regularly strung the on-site work out as 'fee justification'. There is also the fact that much of the old fashioned audit work had to be done on site, so the fact DJKL was working whilst 'unsupervised' doesnt mean that he would have worked as thoroughly at home long term, with all the associated distractions.

We have seen the inefficiencies from WFH and i don't agree that it is ever, on a like-for-like comparison, more productive in our industry. The only justification might be if someone had a very long/tiring/stressful commute which could be avoided by WFH some of the time, and the employee was experienced enough and diligent enough to chuck in an extra hour or so here and there when they could see the inefficiency and were prepared to give a bit back and still end up 'working' less in terms of their door to door working day.

Personally, what i believe actually happens in the accountancy practices fully embracing WFH is that the staff nick an hour or more each day, reduce standards to rush through the work and pull the wool over the eyes of the management who are too smug about their 'progressive' practice with it's subscription pricing and lack of timesheets to realised that they have no idea what their staff could (or should) be producing and that therefore their outcomes-based assessment of productivity is nonsense.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
10th May 2022 16:27

It is not personal attributes, it is how the office worked, large audits were teams (like say Comet Group) but smaller/medium audits, or those that involved travel, would see , especially after year one, apprentices fired wherever to just get on with it by themselves- I visited Stornoway for circa two blocks (May and September) of circa 2-3 weeks each time and the partner would fly in for just one day, rest of the time you just got on with work, the files that then got reviewed likely indicated whether you had actually been working.

Working remotely, often by yourself ,is how things operated, it was only small jobs where the books came to you.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Justin Bryant
10th May 2022 17:07

But that's not evidence re WFH one way or another, as everyone did audits out of the office like that in the old days. I'm talking about work generally that need not be done on site at the client. Also working externally at a client is not equivalent to WFH anyway as everyone now understands it. You're comparing apples with pears.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
10th May 2022 17:13

The essence is unsupervised work wherever that may arise, at clients, at your home, the essential is nobody watches you. I see little issue with WFH providing work is reviewed as it ought to be anyway.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Mr_awol
10th May 2022 17:53

The big difference is that on-site work was often carried out in front of the client. That might be in their boardroom/meeting space, or a corner of the office, or a spare office. However, it was rare that you were shut away and never saw anyone (in my experience at least) and you would be constantly going back to the client asking for files, invoices, explanations, etc - depending on the scope of work and/or level of experience.

My audit experience was that it was generally a push to get the substantive bits done in time - unless, as mentioned already, the fee had loads of surplus in it in which case we might be told to stay there all week regardless, making ourselves look busy. It became one of the unwritten rules of fee justification that the junior staff would carry on running around carrying out extra testing (why take a sample size of 30 when you can make them do 50) and the senior staff would take it easy.

In the case of actual 'office based' work being done from home, you arent just losing the oversight but are also brigning in extra distractions and temptations. Dogs, children, spouses/partners, hanging our the washing on the line, watching TV, painting the fence, going to the fridge, sleeping with the postman, etc. All of these things are more exciting than accountancy (maybe, maybe not, the daytime TV or the postman).

If the staff have a dedicated office room, laid out with all of the furniture and equipment they would have at the office, and if they shut the door to the world and have strict boundaries between home and work life, then they might be almost as productive as they will in the office*. Buggering off at lunchtime on Friday, or setting up at the kitchen table, miles less productive.

* Although isn't most or all of that against the very point of working from home anyway?

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Justin Bryant
10th May 2022 18:04

Not true. When I was out at a client on audit I was watched by the client and/or my senior fairly constantly. Also, people know instinctively if someone is slacking and not working hard, which encourages you to work properly when in a "traditional" work environment with fellow human workers.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
11th May 2022 09:14

There often was no senior with you, that is the point, the audits of say £5m upward turnover entities, or more complex beasts like pension schemes, might have two or more audit staff sent out, the smaller ones had just you there by yourself with usually a one day flying visit by a partner to review the files and press the flesh with the client.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Justin Bryant
11th May 2022 10:21

But onsite client audit work (by yourself only from your firm) is not analogous to WFH in any event is my point, even ignoring my other self selection point.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By mkowl
13th May 2022 09:35

My first contract was at Hodgson Impey in Hull, we got took over by PWc in 1990. I recall the good old days of being able to charge 15 minutes for each bit of proof checking we did. So 3 bits, 15 mins each = 45 mins chargeable that took perhaps 20 minutes to do. Sit and chat for 25 mins. Though my mate Gary never should have said "just using up our chargeable time" to the manager who sussed us .

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
16th May 2022 10:12

I was with the Glasgow office, were you there in 85 or86? Somewhere I have a tranche of photos from an end of course debauch (final night)- think it was the training course that had the Dogfish Limited' s pretend audit.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By carnmores
14th Jun 2022 15:05

Philip Migdale

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
10th May 2022 15:11

meh if its anything like KPMG in the 90's you had already worked approaching 50 odd hours before your alarm clock even went on a Friday morning.

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Danny Kent
By Viciuno
10th May 2022 15:32

I see his point for the most part and agree with him. Labour shortage for the most part is forcing employers hands I'd imagine.

I have friends that "work from home" freelance - not the same but the only people I can use as comparisons. I wouldn't pay any of them do anything by the hour.

My bugbear with all this is that if you can get the same amount of work done in the 8 hours from 9 to 5 as in the 4 hours from 9 to 1 then you were, by definition, less productive before hand than you could have been - not something that should be rewarded by half a day off every week.

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VAT
By Jason Croke
10th May 2022 16:32

If Sugar doesn't like people to work from home, perhaps he shouldn't have tried to market the infamous Amstrad Emailer back in 2000 which was a home based emailing system for when you were away from the office. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amstrad_E-mailer?msclkid=6d3e840dd07411ec8...

Suspect he is more worried about his property portfolio taking a hit if all his commercial tenants up sticks and work from home.

My take on WFH is this, most employers have a thorough recruitment process whereby they hire the best talent for the job, most employers will have a half decent HR process with regular reviews and annual appraisals to help develop that talent further/career path or to identify and remedy recruitment mistakes and ultimately, you trust your people.

If you can't trust them, then you're recruiting the wrong people. Presumably we're recruiting adults and not children, so if we trust them to do their (whatever it is) job, if we recruit (or train) the right people then why are we so worried that WFH will suddenly turn them into daytime TV addicts who'll be at the pub as soon as the Wetherspoons opens at 7am?

Modern, confident and trusting employers shouldn't be worried, those like Lord Sugar are just holding onto a past ideal of shop floors and bosses standing over your back.

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Replying to Jason Croke:
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By Hugo Fair
10th May 2022 17:12

"If you can't trust them, then you're recruiting the wrong people" ... or, of course, it's equally plausible (maybe even likely) that you* are the wrong person
[* = not you personally, Jason, just whoever the 'you' is who's doing the recruiting]!

I'm not sure how many people would pick Rees-Mogg for his recruitment skills, but I doubt Lord Sugar would get many more votes.

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Replying to Jason Croke:
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By Bobbo
12th May 2022 10:57

Jason Croke wrote:

Suspect he is more worried about his property portfolio taking a hit if all his commercial tenants up sticks and work from home.

I thought this too. Are we cynical? Or merely professionally sceptical?

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By meadowsaw227
13th May 2022 10:44

That all sounds very nice for medium to large firms but is a bit "arty crafty airy fairy" for small firms who have to live in the REAL world.
All WFH has done for me is give me loads of small jobs that if staff had been in the office I could have passed on to them and now it takes too long/or not worth it to pass on to them to do.

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Ivor Windybottom
By Ivor Windybottom
10th May 2022 17:44

I don't like HMRC staff working from home. I accept it can work well, but the Revenue staff seem unable to organise it properly.

We've experienced needless problems from this including.......
Poor call quality due to "home wifi issues"
Not being able to pass calls on to someone else
Childcare being undertaken while working
Background noise
Not being able to speak to a manager or escalate a call
Casual attitudes, possibly through a lack of peer supervision

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Replying to Ivor Windybottom:
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By Mr_awol
10th May 2022 17:56

Exactly. Yet they probably have a study that suggests they are more productive than ever - despite the fact that they have had to reduce service hours due to homeworking.

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Melchett
By thestudyman
12th May 2022 09:56

There have been many studies going back several years pre-pandemic and across several countries - proving that employees can be as productive (if not more) than being based in the office. It won't work for every business but there is definitely research which has supported this.

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Replying to thestudyman:
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By Mr_awol
12th May 2022 11:46

You need to look at some of those studies.

Many tend to be based on employEE perception (i.e. "40% of workers reported that they were more productive when working from home" or "six out of ten workers reported being more efficient than they expected to be" etc. It doesn't mean they were more productive than they would have been in the office).

Another study suggested that call centre staff for a Chinese travel agency were 13% more productive from home. I would expect that kind of role not to suffer from WFT inefficiency because the calls keep coming as/when they are logged in, and therefore there is less opportunity to go off and put the washing out, etc.

I tend to focus my opinions on WFH inefficiency on the accountancy sector (for obvious reasons) and this is where it can cause real damage to genuine productivity, albeit as i said above, often masked by a reduction in standards.

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By creamdelacream
11th May 2022 08:55

I think the biggest issue with working from home is not necessarily the productivity but the isolation. Yes you can use tools like Teams and Zoom but it's not the same as working in the same environment. Many subtleties are lost and the social and intellectual bonds with colleagues are lessened. All the small moments during the day are lost too because they don't warrant a Zoom call.
It shouldn't be underestimated how powerful a culture and strength of team are for any company and I don't think staff working apart, each in their own little room, is a good idea long term.

However I think it can work some of the time for some of the people and so should be thought of as a tool for an employer and/or employee. But, I do disagree with this polarising all or nothing approach that one is better than the other.

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Replying to creamdelacream:
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By dmmarler
16th Jun 2022 10:59

I could not agree more. On another note, this is just where people lose out when they are stuck at home on sick leave, or similar. The rules say they may not work, but the one thing they need is to keep up to date with everyone and everything even if they do not do "work". If nothing else it aids recovery and gets the little grey cellls moving again.

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By Duggimon
12th May 2022 10:50

Absolute rank idiocy from Lord Sugar.

The offer from PwC to staff was if they can finish all their work by lunchtime they can take the afternoon off.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but there is in fact no scope for this to affect productivity as only those who have done all their producing are going home.

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By adam.arca
12th May 2022 13:08

I think Sugar has picked the wrong target in PwC (when was the last time any accountancy employer didn't squeeze the last drop of blood and more out of their staff?) but I agree in general with his rant.

I personally choose to work out of an office purely from personal preference but I have no doubt that responsible and fully-trained individuals can be as productive working from home as they are in work. That, however, definitely doesn't apply across the board and, for larger employers, I completely fail to see how home working can be beneficial when averaged over all staff.

I also feel the whole debate is being miscast. Fundamentally, employers pay staff to work and the inference is that they should work in the way and in the place which works best for the employer. Obviously, over time, the free market will determine whether employers have to offer home working in order to attract staff but that's not where we are just yet. So, instead, we have the home working zealots (AKA civil servants and other slackers) banging on about their "right" to work from home and sod what's good for their employer. Apparently, there's a conference going on this week for the civil servants' union where it has been suggested that working from home also includes working from a cafe: that is so obviously wrong on so many fronts, not least data protection, but these selfish individuals can't see anything beyond what is good for them.

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By euanjohn
13th May 2022 09:39

I think it all depends on the specifics of the work. If you are producing a set of unaudited accounts from bank statements, invoices etc you are probably more productive working from home as there are fewer interruptions. If you are auditing then I think it is essential to work at the client's premises. You can look someone in the eyes when asking a question and with a bit of experience you can tell if they are trying to pull the wool over your eyes. If you are a nosey blighter like me, who can read papers on someone's desk upside down and back to front, you can also pick up things that the client might not want you to see or hear. I shudder to think how many PI claims are in the pipeline from firms trying to audit a client's accounts remotely.

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By Ammie
13th May 2022 11:33

If staff are delivering their work and meeting their obligations then I cannot see an issue, other than missing out on after work drinks!

Some employers like to impose control and to bear down on staff, an act of self importance!

The attraction of lowering overheads and even slowing down pay rises or even imposing pay cuts may well be too strong to resist, that's why I believe a hybrid form of working will be the ultimate stance for many.

Depending on the business, staff being together does have some benefits but it's not for everyone.

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By geoffmw1
13th May 2022 11:37

It really is only possible to work reasonably efficiently from home with the use of communications and IT facilities that are now available. The pandemic fortunately occurred in the 21st century and not some 40 0r 50 yea
rs earlier.

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By Tomazaan
17th May 2022 14:42

There have been numerous pandemics in the past. What is unusual about Covid is that the world stopped rather than let the disease run its course. Had Covid appeared 40 or 50 years ago, we would have just got on with life as best we could - as happened, for eg, in the flu pandemic in 1968 when around 80,000 people in the UK died as a result. Please note: I am not commenting on whether or not the response to Covid was correct.

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By dmmarler
13th May 2022 14:19

People in the office can be totally unproductive as well. I shared an office with a couple of senior managers at a big four practice - both seemingly working. When one left I was asked to go through his uncharged work by reference to the dates/times/file notes, etc., and see if there was anything which could be translated into an invoice. I had to tell the Managing Partner that there was not a file note of a client conversation or other scrap of evidence any work had been done (whether chargeable or otherwise) so the last few months time sheets had been a complete fiction. This is why people have to be managed whether in the office or otherwise.

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By Justin Bryant
13th May 2022 15:56

Yes; and such people would obviously not be any more productive WFH.

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By Hugo Fair
13th May 2022 16:40

... or, indeed, 'working' in the office.

Doesn't sound like the productivity when based in the office set any targets that would be hard to equal if WFH?

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By eppingaccountant
13th May 2022 19:49

I totally agree with Lord Sugar and I totally agree with Rees-Mogg. Too many firms and bosses dream up these new-spangled working ideas because they think they have to come up with something in order to appear innovative and putting forward new, up to date ideas. It's simply not true. Keep to existing tried and tested techniques. And I agree with what others have said about HMRC working from home. I called HMRC yesterday. After a 40 minute wait (yes, things are improving) I could hear all manner of background noise including a noisy baby and the guy from HMRC's computer kept crashing and he was making a joke about it. Yes, very funny indeed and even more amusing that you couldn't tell me why my client hadn't received his 2020/21 tax refund when the 2021 Return had been lodged in October 2021. So frustrating. Even more frustrating that HMRC are allowed to get away with this nonsense.

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