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How Covid-19 proves that the future is flexible

Mike Lattimer, Regional Director for SF Recruitment, highlights how the world of accountancy and finance has changed post-pandemic, and how businesses must adapt their approach towards flexible working policies.

With the end of lockdown restrictions finally on the horizon, it’s important to take stock of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the world of accountancy and finance, for better and for worse. For many, the advent of working from home has proven that office-bound, nine-to-five lifestyles are a thing of the past.

As we look towards the future, it’s unlikely that we will ever fully return to such a regimented way of life. So how can firms adapt their policies and working environments to inspire a productive workforce? And what are candidates looking for in their future employer? Let’s explore more.

Benefits to flexible working

For many finance professionals, remote working has been a welcome respite from the stark divide between office life and home life. The time saved on a long commute into the office has allowed workers more time for recreation, exercise and spending time with the family.

In research conducted by Huawei in 2020, 75% of 2,000 office-based employees said they were happier working from home. Among the findings, 53% said choosing where they work was having a positive impact on their mental health.

The economic benefit is similarly measurable. In 2019, the average Brit spent £1,738 on commuting a year, or around £7.46 each working day – a cost that can be entirely negated by remote working. Simultaneously, this has opened up new opportunities for accountancy firms to broaden candidate searches beyond traditional local vicinities. For employers, the wider geographical field on recruitment means they can offer more flexible salary brackets and simply reach out to a larger pool of talent.

Challenges to flexible working

While there are a number of benefits of flexible working, it is also important to address the challenges. The value of having a professional, collaborative environment for employees to congregate in cannot be understated. A study conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) undertaken before the pandemic noted a markable decrease in established relationships between co-workers from those working from home. It is fair to say that these feelings have also risen during lockdown, with many workers simply craving a return of face-to-face environments.

For those starting a job during the pandemic, it has often proved difficult to “settle in” due to the limitations of the virtual medium; it’s far less daunting to ask for help via a quick chat in the office rather than undertake a long and arduous phone call for each individual query. When inducting staff, there must be an element of face-to-face contact to embed them within the unique culture of a given firm.

It’s also important to remember that workers are individuals, and though many feel the advantages of remote working, many do not. Not everybody has the room to set up an office in their home, while many suffer from the distractions brought about by having family or housemates present. Having a dedicated, professional space can help put employees into a productive headspace and is especially important for those who benefit from routine.

Having a completely remote set-up could be unsustainable for some accountancy firms, as it is more difficult to engage and explain processes. Additionally, working from home removes the passing of knowledge between the experienced workers and those new to the industry. The pandemic has shone a light on the importance of this, so retaining some aspect of in-person contact is imperative to nurturing the development of future finance professionals.

Finding the balance

As an employer, the primary focus should be to maximise output from employees, while maintaining the crucial balance between work and home life. So, which is better: working from home, or in the office? Thankfully, that’s not a choice that firms necessarily have to make. By moving towards a hybrid working week, organisations can avoid the constraints placed on working solely remotely but also retain the flexibility many have become accustomed to during the pandemic. Having some form of office space allows staff to share knowledge and can help build team morale, all of which are set to grow in importance as we exit lockdown.

Flexible working can play an important role in achieving higher staff retention, attracting new talent, building loyalty in the workplace and most importantly, levelling the playing field for all. Indeed, SF Recruitment has found that many more accountancy candidates are looking for prospective firms to have flexible workplace policies, emphasising its growing importance across the UK.

Government studies also indicate that the gender pay gap can be combatted by adopting flexible working policies around childcare and maternity leave, two key issues that prevent the career advancement of women in the world of finance, and contribute to the disparity between the number of male and female chartered accountants and partners.

Moreover, the value that personal contact brings to group problem solving often goes unrecognised by organisations and employees alike. Creative and collaborative thinking is a vital element to high performance, while celebrating group successes virtually just doesn’t have the same effect on team morale as it does in person.

Finding the balance can be difficult, but one alternative that many organisations are starting to consider is co-working spaces. Let’s explore more.

Are co-working facilities the future?

Embracing co-working facilities could hold the key to achieving true flexibility for employees in the near future. Co-working spaces largely resemble offices in appearance and function, but aren’t subject to strict multi-year leases, instead offering memberships or pay-as-you-go usage.

Such versatile work environments as The Moseley Exchange in Birmingham are popular with both freelance accountants and those employed by firms, and are more in line with the working world that we could come to expect post-COVID. Adoption of co-working facilities helps retain the ability to go into the office when required, and allows finance professionals to network with others from backgrounds they would not usually encounter. Most importantly, it offers employees the opportunity to shape their working patterns, ensuring they remain productive and motivated.

Summary

Flexible working policies are here to stay. Accountancy firms must now take the time to identify what is important for the future, and start to put plans together. The solution for many organisations could be the move to co-working, shared common-area facilities to save cost and maintain a sense of home. Adopting hot-desking in a permanent office could also be the best solution, introducing areas for collaborative communication and working. What is clear is that the set-up that firms once had – bulky desks and decades’-old chairs – may no longer be fit for purpose.

For many, the pandemic thrust working from home onto employees out of necessity rather than choice. However, it has undoubtably allowed employers to realise the benefits of unlocking a truly flexible workplace. As we look toward a post-lockdown workplace, and are no longer restricted solely to remote working, leading finance companies have big decisions to make. Leaders have been able to understand both the qualities and shortcomings of remote working, and can choose to apply it as a helpful tool rather than a restriction. Employees’ attitudes to the work-home balance have drastically changed. All businesses – whether they require employees on site or not – have to accommodate flexible working following this paradigm shift. Working from home is just one piece of a larger puzzle, and is an important step towards a brighter, more flexible future.

 

SF Recruitment is one of the Midlands’ top recruitment agencies, with offices in Birmingham, Nottingham and Leicester. Flexible, people-based recruitment is at the heart of SF Recruitment’s philosophy, with the intention of pairing exemplary candidates with the top finance and technology jobs on the market, in order to create a natural fit for all. If you would like to discuss the challenges covered in this article, get in touch with the team here: https://www.sfrecruitment.com/contact-us/

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