PwC encourages workers back to office for 'human contact'

10 June 2021 3 min. read
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Weeks after announcing a new hybrid working model, PwC is looking to encourage workers back to its physical locations by drawing on the social aspects of life in the office. According to Senior Partner Kevin Ellis, a brewing war for talent and the need for in-person innovation mean at least a partial return to the workplace is essential for professional services firms.

In May, PwC became the latest in a succession of corporate giants to announce long-term changes to its working week, with the launch of its new flexibility scheme. The plan includes the firm offering staff “a reduced working day” at the end of the week during July and August, with many employees expected to clock off around lunchtime.

While PwC’s 22,000 UK staff will now work from home between 40% and 60% of the time, however, it is important to note that the rest of the time, PwC will expect staff to spend the rest of their time with their colleagues, either in offices or at client sites. Enticing workers back to the office after more than a year of working from home is easier said than done, though, especially with health fears regarding public spaces looking set to linger long after lockdown ends.

PwC encourages workers back to office for 'human contact'

In a recent interview with Financial News, PwC’s UK Senior Partner Kevin Ellis has extolled the social aspects of office life in order to encourage staff back to shared work spaces. As hope grows that a vaccination campaign is seeing the Covid-19 pandemic draw to a close in Britain, he noted that the firm will now begin to emphasise the benefits of collaboration between staff and the use of communal spaces.

Ellis stated PwC is keen to “create a buzz around returning to the office,” as he believed people were not simply going to brave the commute just to sit at their desk, “they can do that from home.” Instead, he asserted that more people would likely return to work as cities opened up and staff had greater opportunity to combine their trips to the office with leisure activities.

“People haven’t had human contact,” Ellis told Financial News. “So you need to give them the opportunity to safely chat to people. Helping people reconnect and network in a safe environment is important.”

The company’s appeal to see its workers return seem to be working. According to the report, PwC’s offices are operating at half capacity and on a social-distancing basis, while about 3,000 staff are currently using them – however that number is increasing by about 20% a week. By no means does this mean the return to the office will be an easy one though.

According to Ellis, the new hybrid working model is still in its nascent stages, and is “going to be clunky” as staff learn to navigate meetings with some participants in the office and others at home dialling in via Zoom. At the same time, he added that younger workers returning to face-to-face interaction would struggle with the coming back to shared spaces, as some of them are “not natural communicators,” but that being in the office would allow PwC to support them on this front.

Meanwhile, Ellis also suggested that including office time in a hybrid model would be key for the firm amid a growing “war for talent” in the professional services sector. While offering flexible home working was important to allow staff space, working in the office could help boost creativity and loyalty to the firm.

“You don’t feel as loyal to a face on a screen, face-to-face connectivity is key,” Ellis added. “We benefit from serendipitous innovation… You can’t get that on a Zoom call.”