PwC LLP has introduced a work-anywhere policy for its 55,000 U.S. employees, allowing them to choose an all-virtual work option in a bid to keep and attract workers—a move that could push the profession to embrace remote work for the long term.
The firm will also require staff to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to visit any PwC office or client location as of Nov. 1.
The firm’s new policies, announced to staff on Thursday, will help to expand its reach to potential hires as well as retain top talent in a competitive market, PwC said.
The largest accounting firms have increasingly embraced flexible work arrangements that let staff decide where to work on any given day, with a focus on using the office to bring teams together for training or planning. But PwC is the first of the Big Four firms to announce a policy that envisions all-remote workers.
“We want our people to feel as safe as possible, and if that ultimately means they want to do their job 100% from home, we’re going to figure out how to make that work,” said Shannon Schuyler, the firm’s chief purpose and inclusion officer. “I do hope it opens the door for more people to come to the firm and for more people to feel like that fits where they want to be now.”
Clients too are working through similar questions about the future of work with their own teams, she said. Some are ready to have PwC staff work on site, and others aren’t. The firm will have to be agile to match staff with the right skills with the right clients based on those flexibility expectations, Schuyler said.
The firm began reopening batches of offices to staff earlier this year, with all locations set to reopen by November, offering staff the option of a hybrid work schedule, she said.
War for Talent
Broader acceptance of virtual work comes amid a hiring crunch in accounting.
Employers ranging from corporations to large CPA firms are increasingly having to offer higher wages and signing bonuses to turn candidates into new hires. The ability to work virtually full-time, or even part-time, are among the perks workers seek, said Jeramy Kaiman, who leads professional recruitment services for Adecco Group North America.
“This is the most candidate-friendly hiring market that I’ve ever seen,” Kaiman said.
Those recruiting strategies are trickling down to existing staff, becoming a tool to retain workers already on the payroll. And the repeated extensions of hybrid and remote work with the advent of the coronavirus’ delta variant have only bolstered its acceptance, he said.
“The longer that people work remotely, the more they get used to that, like it and want it, and the more companies get comfortable that they can be successful and productive while people are working remotely,” he said.
The 10 largest U.S. accounting firms generally offer some variation of flexible and remote work today, but those models are likely to become permanent fixtures as firm leaders realize they have no choice but to ease their grip on traditional office work, said Allan Koltin, a consultant to accounting and law firms on how to manage their businesses.
He compared it to ditching suits for business casual; the profession has never looked back. Firms that don’t build remote work into their culture and treat those workers equally to those based in offices “are going to have serious problems going forward trying to compete,” Koltin said.
PwC competitor Ernst & Young LLP offers staff the option to work at a client site, an EY office, or from home, and hasn’t yet required staff to be vaccinated to enter shared workplaces.
KPMG LLP will require vaccinations or negative Covid tests for staff to enter firm offices beginning Monday. The firm said it continues to embrace flexible work and is working out the details of a “hybrid model to bring people together with a focus on health, well-being and connection.”
Deloitte LLP told Bloomberg Tax in a statement that the firm plans to gradually ease out of a mostly remote way of working to a hybrid model with a customizable blend of remote, client and office work. “We will ultimately foster the best of both impactful in-person connections and mentorship along with ample ongoing flexibility,” the firm said.
The firm previously said it would require staff to be vaccinated.
BDO USA LLP announced in May a flexible work policy, allowing staff to decide where to work using a mix of remote, in-office or client site work that will vary from week to week, the firm said. The changes will offer staff a better work-life balance and ensure the firm is an attractive workplace, BDO said.
The change in where people work also alters how PwC uses its office space and the amount of air travel expected of staff, but just how much less isn’t clear yet, Schuyler said.
The firm expects offices to be used for team planning and brainstorming, as well as training. Some air travel will still be necessary, but the firm is starting to vet which airlines to use and the types of fuel those planes consume—all with an eye toward hitting carbon-neutral emissions targets by 2030.
Air travel represents a significant piece of the firm’s carbon emissions, according to a report detailing its diversity and environmental commitments and progress.
In 2019, pre-pandemic, air travel contributed 87% of the firm’s total greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, that figure plummeted to 9.5%, according to the report.
The U.S. firm also released updated data on the diversity of its work force and retention trends, showing that men and women are paid equally and pay equity is largely achieved across racial and ethnic groups.
The firm lost fewer women than men over the past year but had trouble finding experienced women interested in joining the firm when trying to fill open positions, Schuyler said.
PwC also revised its minority hiring targets to increase its Black and Hispanic workforce by half in the next four years. The firm also aims to increase the number of women and minority partner candidates both by 50% by 2026.