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Offices re-open as PwC boss declares ‘presenteeism is over’

PwC’s chair is encouraging staff members to return to the office but has also recognised that Covid-19 has destroyed the fear of leaving your desk.  

3rd Aug 2020
Editor AccountingWEB
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Kevin Ellis, chairman of PwC, told the Sunday Times that the age of the long hours, weekend and evening work has been “bashed away” forever by the coronavirus. Ellis declared the end of presenteeism as he begins to encourage staff to return to the office on a voluntary basis.

The PwC boss has earmarked next month as the date when he hopes half of the 22,000 employees in the UK return to the office.

PwC’s decision to re-open its office doors to staff comes after the Prime Minister said it is for employers to decide if their employees return to the office.

Although accountancy firms have adjusted to remote working since lockdown was enforced, Ellis has recognised that “Just because you can work from home, doesn’t mean you should,” citing how the shift to working from home has had an effect on mental health, stress and the local communities.

Ellis is keen for staff to voluntary return but he also noted that he doesn’t expect office life to resemble the traditional desk mentality that wasn’t present before the virus. The Big Four firm has had a reputation of long hours but has since adopted more flexible working.

End of presenteeism

As the firm looks to life post-coronavirus, Ellis is prepared to further explore more flexible working arrangements. One plan the PwC boss told the Sunday Times would be “to slash office attendance from five days a week to three or four days a week as a result of the pandemic”.

The end of presenteeism has been a long time coming for Big Four firms. When Maggie Brereton left KPMG after allegations of bullying, she set up EOS Deal Advisory with the intent of stamping out all-nighters and long hours.  

“We all understand the need for extra input at crunch times. However, the culture of presenteeism and the expectation of long hours are not constructive or sustainable,” she wrote on AccountingWEB. “In fact, people outside our “deal bubble life” often question me on how effective I can be doing over 80 hours a week.”

Office re-opening

As PwC prepares to transition out of enforced remote working, many other accountancy firms are wrestling with the decision over whether they should go back to what office. Despite pockets of local spikes, businesses are free to re-open and socially distanced face-to-face meetings are slowly replacing the virtual meeting. But, of course, this decision is causing distress.

Back in May, one AccountingWEB user expressed their concerns that the partners at their accountancy firm were itching to return to the office. “Whilst I'm sure that they will do their best to get things as safe as possible, going back to the office will still represent an unnecessary risk,” wrote the reader.

Meanwhile, some offices haven’t closed throughout lockdown. Kevin Ringer said his office has been open for 25% of the workforce, with the rest working from home. “Clients leave records in the front porch: the inner door is locked. It's been working well until the phone system went down last week,” he said.

And with the proliferation of remote working tools like Skype, Zoom and MS Teams, other readers aren’t planning on returning anytime soon. “All we have arranged is for one person who lives near the office to arrange to go in if a client needs to drop something off. In and out in as few minutes as possible,” said mbee1. “Who needs an office!”

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