Could COVID-19 open the doors to flexible working in the finance sector?

The ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic has hit the world hard and is impacting businesses here in the UK and across the globe. Here in the UK all non-essential businesses have been asked to close, and workers told to work from home if it is at all possible. This is undoubtedly having a massive impact, and I am witnessing first hand what this is doing to the Finance & Accountancy sector and the talent pool.

But amongst all the negative headlines, worry and uncertainly I do believe we will be able to gleam some positives long-term – the biggest being an openness to flexible working. I believe the increased number of people working from home could open the door to more flexibility across the finance & accountancy sector – something that is much needed if businesses are going to compete in the current war for talent.

Traditionally a ‘work from the office’ sector

Traditionally, the Finance & Accountancy sector has had a ‘work from the office’ culture. As a result, the majority of staff tend to work on-site, with few options to work from home. For a long time, this has been a result of the technical nature of the role, and many accountancy firms have required staff to be in the office. Times however are changing, and the sector is beginning to wake up to the benefits of flexible working – which is having a real impact on the talent pool across the country.

Clients that are not able to offer flexible approaches to working lose out on the best talent on the market. As a recruiter in the sector I see this day in day out. Increasingly, more-and-more candidates of varying ages tell me that they are looking for a role that offers some degree of flexibility, something not everyone is currently offering. Some businesses have however realised this quickly and are adapting their benefits packages to suit – and those businesses are continuously winning the very best candidates.

I have been recruiting finance professionals for 11 years now, and the developments surrounding flexible working have changed rapidly in such a short space of time. In recent years we have seen several large clients lose out on great talent simply because they are unable to offer flexible working as a benefit. This trend will continue, and unless businesses wake up to the needs of the current talent pool they will be left disappointed, and candidates will move elsewhere and seek out roles that offer the benefits they want and need.


Flexible working – an essential benefit

We recently ran a survey that uncovered some interesting results. Of our finance & accountancy respondents, only 24 percent stated that they currently receive flexible working benefits (the ability to work from home, work flexible hours or work a 4-day week for example), but 79 percent stated that they would seek out flexible working in a future role. It is also interesting to note that these results barely change when looking at different age groups, proving that all demographics are now actively seeking some degree of flexible working within the finance & accountancy sector. We are now in a situation where each demographic is looking for flexible working in one way or another, so businesses need to take steps to offer it where they can.

A more trusted workforce

But how does this all relate to the current Coronavirus pandemic?

The answer lies in the number of finance professionals that are going to be working from home, and how this could improve the availability of remote working across the sector. Businesses that may not have previously considered offering remote working to employees are in a unique situation and should use it to their advantage. All they have to do is put some trust in their workforce and ensure they manage the situation successfully. I am not saying that all businesses should go 100% remote anytime soon, but if businesses can successfully manage with a remote workforce during this time, then they should be able to offer employees more flexibility when they return to work, something that will be a huge benefit when recruiting talent in the future.

For flexible working to be a success however, businesses need to set clear boundaries, and put some trust in employees to ensure that productivity and morale remains high during this time. If they can do this, there is no reason why businesses in this sector can’t operate as normal with very little impact, and if this happens, I hope an increased number of organisations in the sector will consider flexible working in the future.

The benefits of a more flexible approach

There are hugely successful businesses in this sector that are currently operating with a remote workforce and reaping the benefits as a result. Lower rents, smaller office space and less overheads are just some of the benefits that remote working can bring. Reducing these costs gives businesses more scope to spend elsewhere, making them very attractive options to ambitious candidates looking to go far in the sector.

Of course, moving teams to remote working will be a challenge to begin with, but if organisations put the work in now to get it right I think they will really reap the benefits. It is important however to manage this move sympathetically – especially during the current situation. We are in unprecedented times, and heightened stress will always bring with it a wealth of challenges – but I do firmly believe that if finance & accountancy firms work with their employees during this time, trust that they can get on with work at home and offer support where needed, we could open the door to flexible working, and make it more standard practice across the finance & accountancy sector.

Martin Parr, senior manager

Sellick Partnership Limited

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