Professional service firm leaders debate the future office culture!

Our latest leaders forum in partnership with Foulger Underwood, saw the following topics raised for consideration by the group:

  • Return to work protocols
  • Vaccination protocols
  • Office reorganisation
  • Recruitment
  • Business development

Following the governments roadmap to lifting lockdown, a number of further challenges/ideas have been raised, including mandatory masks, client visits only for those who have been vaccinated, introduction of new HR policies and no mixing at lunchtime

The poll showed that there was little uptake for only allowing people back into the office who have had a jab, although this does raise issues, if clients are only prepared to have people on site who have been vaccinated and it could become, for some, part of new HR policies.

People have considered masks in the office which was popular and preventing any mixing at lunchtime, which was less popular although some are considering protocols to prevent undue mixing at lunchtime. It’s a difficult challenge because the reason for returning to work is to collaborate and not to just sit at your desk working.

The balance for any firm is about how to create a safe workspace and understanding that those who will be first back are those who are keen to be working in the office. The question then arises; how to encourage those less keen to return to work for safety reasons and assure them that protocols are in place to ensure they will be protected?

General mood 

Most felt that there is a more positive mood following the reveal of the roadmap out of lockdown, as for many this means that they can start to plan with more confidence and certainty – but with caution.

What does the office look like? 

A lot of people see the concept of hot desking as being essential. With the workforce on a 3:2 (WFH:WFO) working week, spending so long remotely it would be pointless having almost 50% of your desks unoccupied, which raises a problem as hot desking is not advisable when you were trying to reduce the incidence of a pandemic!

So almost everyone in the room is advocating a hot desk policy but this will need to be done with care so that everybody coming in to the office feels safe.

Equipment 

Many had said to employees that they could come in and collect their double screens and boxes from the office and take them home, along with desks in certain circumstances. In the future, they will need to be further investment in the IT infrastructure as people may have boxes at home and work on the laptop in the office, or vice versa.

The premium that office presence conveys

An interesting debate arose as some people are considering the impact on culture and the social environment when you have certain employees who are working five days a week in the office, while others have chosen to work with a balance of time spent in the office and at home or remotely.

What impact will this have on those who are in the office only two or three days a week? How do you avoid them feeling that they are less part of the team than those who are there full time WFO? How do we avoid the people who are there full time, assuming they have greater rights to fixed working space when we have converted 100% to hot desking?

Role modelling will be key. The route that the partners choose to go down will play a key role in how people perceive the organisation. If partners are working remotely and balancing time in the office and at home and also hot desking, that is likely to become the acceptable norm. If partners retain fixed desks and offices, then employees will see a perceived benefit in being in the office five days a week with a fixed desk. That would make you part of the “in crowd” and perhaps some will feel entitled to take the “moral high ground”. There seem to be no “easy fixes” for this problem as it’s inevitable that anyone in the office five days a week will pick up more conversations, hear more gossip, feel a greater part of a whole and so it’s important to ensure the communications to the entire team whether in the office or not is given top priority.

Contribution to homeworking costs

Apart from the ability to collect your office equipment and take it home and specific payments to purchase equipment for home use, no one is looking at contributing to homeworking costs. There is a perceived balance as working from home means employees do not incur costs for commuting, the Starbucks latte, lunches at Pret and other day-to-day costs. Nobody has considered making any salary differentiation for whether somebody is employed to work remotely, or from the office, as they would not want to create a penalty for what is seen by everyone as a huge benefit. It may be that some people will consider supporting homeworkers in future with Wi-Fi, cost of creating a home office etc. and the mood is one of wait and see.

Recruitment

Likely to be non-local, or certainly less local than previously, as firms are able to approach anyone as part of their talent pool. So far there seems to be more applications that ever before for graduate roles.

There was also discussion around outsourcing as some were considering outsourcing certain services, not so much as a way of reducing costs but more to improve their ability to respond to client needs. With so much demand on services recently, it is difficult to be able to accommodate those clients who want very rapid response time. Outsourcing would enable you to do this and many on the call already had arrangements with firms in India or overseas to provide the basic accounting services at low cost.

Gig work

There was a recent report that LinkedIn is soon to advertise individual services on a special platform as they purchased a legal services business two years ago. It will enable those on LinkedIn to tender and respond to work being offered. They have been working for the last 18 months to broaden this from legal to other services.

Graduate recruitment continues unabated and it was likely this year with fees expected to grow by 5% or so that new staff would be required at most levels as the survey shows

Retention

The comment was made that qualified accountants are staying longer than they ‘traditionally’ would which could create an issue as the traditional model requires some fallout.

Business development

It is likely that there will be some client failures in 2021 and some believe the current BD approach will suffice, while others are going to be ramping up the emphasis and focusing on business development. Clearly it’s better to focus on business development before a fall in fee income, so that you can manage that transition across your client base and build the prospect pipeline.

Our recent blog highlights the waste of investment that spending money on training programs can be, as the business development process requires a number of key features in order to be successful:

  • Sponsor
  • Process
  • Clarity of services provided
  • CRM (not the software – the approach)
  • KAM
  • Client surveys

Next meeting

Our forums with leaders from accounting, law and other professional service firms take place monthly and are hosted in partnership with Foulger Underwood – our next meeting will be at 1 pm on Thursday 25th March, please email paul@thegrogroup.com to join.