29 September 2021
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Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA

Deloitte says its workers can work from home forever!

Peter Switzer
30 June 2021

Who said accountants are boring and stuffy? That old view could change, with many seeing Deloitte’s decision to allow its employees to choose where and when they work as a win for modern work practices.

But it’s going to be the start of a huge loss for CBD-based businesses, and as a consequence, the CBD itself could become more residentially-inclined as office buildings become apartment blocks.

And on an economically-worrying front, there could be a productivity problem that goes with this decision, if workers find it harder to deliver great results at home compared to the office workplace.

Until now it has been trendy tech-companies such as Atlassian, Google, Amazon and so on that were unbelievably flexible with how and where their staff worked. Now the conservative world of accounting is becoming uber modern.

The AFR’s Tess Bennett says big four accounting business, Deloitte, has told its staff that their working world is set to change, not just during the lockdown but also after these current restrictions on work have been lifted.

Once state-based restrictions are lifted, this will be the new working world at the accounting firm:

  • Start and finish times will be worker determined!
  • There will be no need to be in the office!
  • There’ll be no set number of days a week to come to the office
  • There’ll be one paid wellbeing day a year!
  • Plus public holidays can be swapped for religious or culturally significant days relevant to the employee.

“There will be a greater focus on outcomes, as opposed to inputs,” Deloitte CEO Adam Powick told the AFR. “So it is less about when and where you work but more about the value and outcomes that you deliver.”

Mr Powick said that “we think this is a fundamental shift in the way we work”. And he’s oh so right, but what will the implications be?

Let’s face it, this is an experiment expedited by the impact of the Coronavirus.

Here are the possible implications:

  • If you don’t work well from home, you could lose your job!
  • The loss of stimulation you get from interaction with fellow workers might be underestimated, and that could have real revenue and productivity effects.
  • Body language signs are less readable in Zoom conferences that could cause interpretation problems.
  • Overall dress and presentation standards could slip and it might have impacts on external meetings with clients.
  • When times are tough and cost-cutting becomes an option, bosses might say: “I don’t need to see these work-from-home staff, so why not hire people in India or the Philippines where hourly rates are lower and there are no unions!”.

Bennett says “in practice, employees will be able to negotiate with their managers when they will work in person or remotely, based on their personal situation and their client and team demands,” so it might not be as flexible as it sounds.

Either way, when a big CBD-based business such as Deloitte dangles these opportunities in front of their employees, to avoid losing staff to employers who are more flexible, rival operations will have to follow suit.

This means less workers in CBDs, which is bad news for businesses that have always serviced office workers and have profited from it. Their businesses will become less valuable and their workers will have to go elsewhere.

And this shift of workers from CBDs to the suburbs will make businesses there more profitable. And it will mean office blocks become less valuable. This will make developers look at these emptying worksites as possible apartment complexes.

CBDs will see an escalation of residents over time, which could save many of the retail outlets that will come under pressure as office workers start working from home.

This working from home trend was already happening but this damn virus has put this change on steroids. And you have to hope that the country’s productivity isn’t badly affected because of it. Only yesterday I looked at a story that came out of the Intergenerational Report that said if we don’t raise productivity, we could see budget deficits and higher unemployment levels for 40 years!

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