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Lessons from the pandemic: Implementing a new flexible working deal for our people

Hemione Hudson Head of Audit, PwC United Kingdom 06/05/21

As we begin to emerge from lockdown, and look back over the last twelve months, it would be an understatement to say that the pandemic has proven challenging. Working from kitchen tables, balancing work with homeschooling and caring responsibilities, being socially and physically distanced from each other – it has been an intense and demanding time for all of us.

In the Audit practice we have had two clear objectives throughout: the wellbeing of our people and audit quality. At the peak of the pandemic, all 5,000 of our audit partners and staff were working from home, with no physical access to the organisations we audit. This meant we needed to completely rethink how we work and support our teams in new ways. The lessons we learned throughout the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the way we work and will be central to the changes we are making to allow greater flexibility for our people moving forward.

Managing wellbeing in a remote environment

We embedded new processes for support in a remote environment and have had a keen focus, firmwide, on mental health.

We held a series of firmwide live stream events with mental health experts to provide advice and guidance on coping through lockdown. This included a session solely for the Audit practice focused on how to remain energised and build resilience as we headed into a virtual “busy season”, a time of year, renowned for long hours, which poses a particular challenge when working remotely. We have also offered the mindfulness app Headspace for free for a year, in addition to providing a 24/7 confidential mental health helpline.

We worked hard to ensure that everyone got the coaching and mentoring they needed, especially those newest to the profession. Importantly, we were able to maintain our training and development programme virtually and have introduced new training on supervision, coaching and review in a virtual environment.

Face-to-face mentoring, training and support will always be a critical part of how we help our people develop. However, as we adopt a more hybrid working model moving forward I am confident that the systems and practices we’ve developed during the pandemic will help us provide a blended approach that suits the needs of our teams.

Using technology to create new systems and processes for remote working

The highly collaborative nature of an audit means there are strong benefits from audit teams being able to be together in the same space – usually in the on site “audit room”. Throughout the pandemic we’ve provided a safe working environment in our “covid-secure” offices, for our audit teams to use when they’ve felt comfortable to do so, and when possible due to restrictions. When this hasn’t been possible our teams have established virtual audit rooms to allow everyone to work collaboratively online.

Auditors have had to be innovative in using technology in new ways to gather the evidence they need to arrive at their audit opinions. For example, inventory inspections have been carried out remotely, using video technology and drones. This new process usually involves auditors watching two video feeds provided by the company being audited: one looking at the counting of individual stock lines, with the other further back observing the general environment and checking that there’s no interference.

As the lockdown lifts we will no doubt see an increase in the time our audit teams spend together, both in our offices and on site with the organisations we audit. However, these innovations will be fundamental to the new working practices we establish, ensuring that our auditors can work more flexibly, in ways that suit them.

A new normal, but the same commitment to quality

These unprecedented times have proven challenging for everyone, and I am immensely proud of the agility, perseverance and resilience demonstrated by our people.

We’ve learned that remote working on a massive scale is now possible, but there is a lot to be said for being together and working face-to-face. Flexible, blended working is here to stay and we’ve put in place a new deal that empowers people to decide the most effective working pattern for them.

The lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic will shape our approach to how we work in the future. New technology enabled processes will enhance quality through standardisation and automation, whilst flexible working practices will ensure our teams remain connected and supported regardless of where they are working.

Contact us

Hemione  Hudson

Hemione Hudson

Head of Audit, PwC United Kingdom

Gilly Lord

Gilly Lord

Head of Audit Strategy & Public Policy, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 8123

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