End of remote working as Zoom orders employees backby
When Alanis Morissette sang Ironic, she failed to include a lyric about video conferencing firm Zoom ordering its remote employees back to the office.
Life has mostly returned back to normal since the lockdown rules were lifted. For the most part, we’ve stopped Greco-Roman wrestling in the toilet roll aisle over the last four-pack of Andrex Supreme Quilts and now we have to come up with a new excuse for not visiting that relative.
And these days we look with a bemused smile at tax tribunals involving taxpayers not understanding the self-employed income support scheme rules and the insolvency service coming down on the scoundrels that bilked the Bounce Back Loan scheme with the full might and ask, did that really happen?
But while most of life has returned to normal, the one part of lockdown life that has remained a constant is remote working – until now.
Zoom in on the irony
This week, Zoom – the video conferencing platform that became synonymous with remote working, family quizzes and grim Christmas parties during Covid – has told its employees that their 40 minutes have maxed and it’s time to get dressed before 9am and return to the office.
Instead, the company is moving towards a “structured hybrid approach”. So rather than have their employees on meetings through Zoom all day, the company is asking those that live near the office to be onsite two days a week.
The irony of this decision is enough for Alanis Morisette to grab her guitar. In other news, Netflix will be giving its employees Blockbuster membership cards…
For a while it seemed as if the accountancy profession had reassessed its relationship with the office. But like the rest of society, accountancy practices are slowly reverting back to the post-pandemic normal.
The accountancy profession took to remote working during the pandemic as quick as the fights broke out in the loo roll aisle. Prior to the first lockdown, data from our Accounting Excellence Award entrants found that 36% of entrants already allowed a form of flexible working.
The enforced working-from-home mandate, in tandem with the adoption of cloud tools, accelerated many firms’ remote working plans.
Aside from the weekly competition to bang the nelly out of saucepans and clap slightly longer than your neighbour, the world was effectively put on pause. When we emerged from our Covid hibernations, and the masks were thrown in the bin, the one difference seemed to be remote working.
Remote working changes everything
While the pandemic and lockdowns created a lot of collective trauma that we would rather be forgotten, and claimed so many lives, remote working was one of the changes that seemed like a positive one. It also seemed like the Victorian art of the nine-to-five was over.
By removing the hour-long commute, accountants were able to enjoy the small luxury of seeing their families. Suddenly child care was also a little easier to balance with the demands of the day job.
Then, as soon as people were allowed to muscle into your personal space again, the Big Four boasted about their new post-Covid flexible work patterns. “Start when you like!” read one news headline. In the next breath, PwC told staff they could knock off early on Friday too. They were one step away from giving their employees a high five as they left the office for a long weekend.
Gripped by a recruitment crisis, firms also started to see remote working as a solution to their problems. North East England firm Blu Sky told me earlier this year that Covid enabled them to look outside their region and recruit talent across the UK.
Everything seemed hunky dory… or did it? Concern spread from PwC and Deloitte that newer Covid graduates struggled with communication and teamwork tasks. Seeing as these graduates were holed up in their rooms, where they engaged with lectures in the same way Tom Hanks spoke to Wilson the basketball in Castaway, this was hardly a surprising development.
Then phrases like “learning through osmosis” became as commonly used as “unprecedented” and “Covid fraud”.
Every training and HR partner couldn’t stop yakking about junior team members missing out on those on-off conversations with other parts of the organisation as they pass in the kitchen, or how they can learn so much by sitting within earshot of the managing partner (in between listening to them brag about their brand-new sports car).
The remote working experiment is slowly fading
Anecdotally, I’ve seen a number of social media posts about firms showing off their new office space or teams coming together to film highly choreographed dance numbers in the office social room.
The joy of collaborating with the rest of the firm again and creating that sense of belonging or advising clients one-to-one reminded firms that accountancy is a human-to-human business and not just a strictly numbers business.
However, the prospect of better coffee than your six-month old jar of instant and performing a TikTok dance number on your lunch break is a tough sell for those already braced for the morning whiff of body odour circulating around the tube, train or bus.
It may seem like the world is going back to normal but it has undoubtedly changed. How can it go back to normal? As much as we’ve come to expect and appreciate the new flexibility, we have equally come to cherish even more those human relationships we dearly missed over those years.
There’s a case to be made that life should return to normal, but it should be one that balances the trust of autonomy and flexibility alongside those human bonds.