Big news today! PwC just announced that effective November 1, its people will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to access PwC facilities and client sites. Deloitte announced a similar vaccination policy toward the end of August, as did KPMG, just a handful of days before President Biden announced the country’s own vaccine mandate. Unlike Deloitte and KPMG, however, PwC is taking the completely unaccounting-like step to offer full, permanent work-from-home for those who would prefer to do so. Making that the even bigger news here than a vaccine mandate.
From the Reuters exclusive published yesterday:
Accounting and consulting firm PwC told Reuters on Thursday it will allow all its 40,000 U.S. client services employees to work virtually and live anywhere they want in perpetuity, making it one of the biggest employers to embrace permanent remote work.
Support staff at PwC had already been given the option to work remotely as long as they wish to, so this announcement just extends that privilege to the client-facing side.
When we last checked in on PwC’s plans to return to the office post-COVID, they’d delayed their planned mid-September reopening to November 1 due to variants, surges, and other such messy cootie concerns. It seems I will be having roast crow for dinner tonight, as I expressed skepticism at that time toward the idea that firms would let their people work from home for even minute longer than they actually had to. It was my belief that any discussion about permanent hybrid work models was based solely on the firm not wanting to make the ongoing Big 4 exodus any worse than it already has been by chasing off the people who would rather get a fire ant enema than set foot in a firm-leased office building ever again.
A Bloomberg Tax article about the big PwC announcement confirms that the talent crunch is likely behind this move:
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.
Not only that but PwC literally said that. In its memo to employees, PwC did not dance around the subject. “[I]t is offering the new policy to attract and retain talent and become more diverse,” wrote Reuters.
“We have learned a ton through the pandemic, and working virtually, as we think about the evolution of flexibility, is a natural next step,” said PwC deputy people leader Yolanda Seals-Coffield to Reuters. “If you are an employee in good standing, are in client services, and want to work virtually, you can, full stop.”
Before you donate what’s left of your business casual attire — which, let’s be real, probably doesn’t fit you anymore anyway — and move to Barbados, it’s important to acknowledge that there will be some expectation that you’ll show up at the office at least a little bit. According to Reuters, PwCers working virtually will still have to come into the office a maximum of three days a month “for in-person appointments such as critical team meetings, client visits and learning sessions.” It also goes without saying that just like drug testing, whether you are actually allowed to work from home permanently will likely be heavily dependent on your clients and how badly they want to see your smiling face to know they’re getting the most out of those billed hours.
And of course this wouldn’t be a thorough discussion about an accounting firm’s policies if we didn’t mention that remote workers who choose a lower COL area now that they aren’t tethered to the office can expect a salary adjustment. You know, down. So keep that in mind before you start eyeing a farm in the middle of Nowhere, Nebraska to make your new home base.
Also of note: should the majority of a particular team at PwC choose to return to the office, their partners are expected to do the same. “Partners at PwC whose team members choose to be in the office regularly will not be allowed to work completely remotely,” said Reuters.
PwC expects 30-35% of its 40,000 client services employees to choose remote work going forward. “We’re confident we can manage hybrid teams,” Seals-Coffield said.
I believe a hearty “thank you” is in order to the brave men and women who have left their posts at Big 4 firms in the last year and a half in such significant numbers that firms are starting to take extreme measures to retain the staff they have left. Do salaries next!