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Deloitte closes four of 50 UK offices as it shifts to WFH

The shift towards working from home as a permanent fixture was cemented last month when Deloitte announced that it will be closing four of its 50 offices. 

19th Nov 2020
Editor AccountingWEB
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Deloitte plans to keep the staff concerned on full time remote working contracts, as the impact of the pandemic forced the Big Four firm to reduce property lease costs. 

Offices in Gatwick, Liverpool, Nottingham and Southampton will close, switching 500 workers to permanent working from home contracts. 

The decision to close the offices was accelerated by the shift to remote working during the pandemic. Stephen Griggs, Deloitte’s UK managing partner, told the Financial Times, “Covid-19 has fast-tracked our future of work programme, leading us to review our real estate portfolio and how we use our offices across the UK, including London.” 

The firm’s decision to reduce overheads comes as distributable profits fell in the 12 months to the end of May by 16% to £518m and partners were asked to take a pay cut in April to mitigate the damage of the coronavirus. 

WFH trickles down the profession

Deloitte is one of the first big firms to embrace full time remote contracts. It’s a decision, however, that is trickling down the profession. Andy Sullivan, the owner of Complete HQ, told AccountingWEB’s No Accounting for Taste podcast earlier this year that everyone in his practice works fully remotely and they “have no intentions to have a fixed place of business”.

This year Sullivan advertised for a remote role and was inundated with applications. His team now comprises a UK accountant based outside Lisbon, someone else working in Scotland, while Sullivan is based in Scotland. 

The Deloitte model may become more attractive to practices looking for a hybrid model. “The concept of a hybrid workforce has always been in our plans to an extent, said Lucy Cohen, the co-founder of Mazuma. “The necessity for additional office space per head just doesn't make for an attractive bottom line in our model where margins are strict, so we've always envisaged having at least some of the teams working from home. Obviously C19 has accelerated these plans. 

“After a brief period of teething pain, it's working well. In fact, over the course of the pandemic we have recruited seven people entirely remotely, most of whom will be performing their roles WFH.”

WFH is not for everyone

The switch to remote working has its downsides, with accountants spending much longer than the traditional 9-5 working from their home office. AccountingWEB has heard stories of how these extended working days are affecting the wellbeing of accountants. 

Seasoned WFH worker, Ian McTernan advised: “If you are new to working from home, you need some self discipline, and to set some basic rules - unless working 24/7 is for you...”

While others criticised the workflow logjam caused by a remote workforce. “The moment you have a team and are WFH, you have to spend a lot of additional time and cost managing your team and work being done, the flow of client information and records between different parts of the team,” said AccountingWEB member JD. 

WFH loses culture

Alastair Barlow, the co-founder of flinder, agrees that “pure remote loses team connection, culture, engagement, collaboration and coaching”. 

“The pure financial saving is likely far outweighed by these intangible factors and less productivity. I would expect more firms to move to hotelling solutions but I would expect Deloitte has been doing that for years – PwC have been doing it since before I joined in 2001!”

Lucy Cohen also recognises that WFH isn’t for everyone and can create a difficulty in creating a company culture. But that's really only if your company culture is based upon people all being present in the same building at the same time. “Using WFH staff who are comfortable in that role creates a different culture. Alright, it might not be what you yourself imagined, but doesn;t culture come from the team anyway? This is just another area where the old style will no longer fit the new way - and as business leaders we need to let go of the old ideas and allow the new ones to flourish.”

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