KPMG vs Deloitte | Opposing hybrid work plans spark disagreement between rival bosses

Bosses of two of the UK’s biggest accounting firms have expressed opposing views on the importance of having staff back in the office more frequently.

The Financial Times has reported on comments made by a Deloitte boss who claims that having auditors in the office more regularly would not necessarily improve the quality of their work.

The comments came after rival firm KPMG told its UK workforce they would be expected back in offices up to four days a week in the near future.

As reported by the FT, KPMG’s UK Head of Audits, Cath Burnet, told the 6,000 staff last month that working in the office was “vital to ensure we collaborate more efficiently, deliver high-quality audits, and continue to develop our technical and personal skills”.

However, rival chiefs have disagreed with Burnet’s views. Paul Stephenson, UK Managing Partner for Audit and Assurance at Deloitte, said: “While there are elements of an audit that will happen in person, we don’t believe quality is impacted by auditors working flexibly and we have been operating in a remote environment very effectively for well over a year now.”

Stephenson went on: “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and that’s why we want individual teams, in discussion with the companies they are auditing, to work out the arrangements that will work best for each personal and professional circumstance,” he said.

Increased flexibility

Earlier this year, Deloitte UK announced that its 20,000-strong workforce would be able to choose when, where and how they work in the future.

In a statement at the time, Chief Executive, Richard Houston, reportedly said: “The impact of the pandemic has profoundly changed our way of life, not least in the way we work.

“The last year has really shown that one size does not fit all when it comes to balancing work and personal lives.

“It has also shown that we can trust our people to make the right choice in when, how and where they work.

“Once the Government has lifted all of the COVID-19 restrictions and we’re back up to full office capacity, we will let our people choose where they need to be to do their best work, in balance with their professional and personal responsibilities.”

‘You are nuts for not being in the office’

The contrasting opinions over hybrid working come just days after a boss at Morgan Stanley admonished young bankers who aren't returning to their offices full time, calling them “nuts” and warning them their career progress is at stake.

The New York Post reported the comments made by Chris O’Dea, Managing Director at the investment banking giant, during an internal conference call last week.

According to the American news outlet, O’Dea said to young bankers: “If you’re 21 to 35, you are nuts not to be in the office all the time.

His comments are in line with those made by the firm’s CEO James Gorman, who earlier this year said: “I fundamentally believe the way you and I develop our career is by being mentored and by watching and experiencing the professional skills of those who came before us.

“You can’t do that sitting at home by yourself — there’s a limit to Zoom technology.”

The sentiments of Morgan Stanley and KPMG have been echoed by several high profile figures in recent months.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who once worked for Goldman Sachs before embarking on a career in politics, told LinkedIn News he doubted he would have done as well if he had started his working life virtually.

"I doubt I would have had those strong relationships if I was doing my summer internship or my first bit of my career over Teams and Zoom” said Sunak, adding: "That's why I think for young people in particular, being able to physically be in an office is valuable”.

And some research suggests that workers agree on the benefits of face-to-face working.

Last month, one in five professionals expressed anxiety about the prospect of missing out on both learning opportunities, and chances to progress when not in the office, according to a new report from Momentive.

However, additional data from fellow banking behemoth Goldman Sachs found that businesses are now, on average, three per cent more productive per hour since the start of the pandemic – more than double the figure before remote work became more widely spread. The bank’s stats suggest this will continue to rise – with increased automation and worker efficiency also playing its part – to a huge four per cent by 2022.

Work-life balance improves due to WFH

The benefits to HR of flexible working extend far beyond the auditing and accounting world, as reflected in new research. A recent survey found the work-life balance of Brits has improved during the pandemic.

MoneySuperMarket spoke to over 2,000 households across the country to find out how the pandemic impacted their work-life balance.

On a scale of one to ten, the results showed that the average rating for work-life balance improved by 0.4 when compared to before the pandemic.

Overall, nearly one quarter (23%) of Brits agreed that their work-life balance has improved because they spend less time commuting.

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