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PwC won this year’s workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for Best for Flexible Working. Here they talk about the policies and practice behind the judges’ decision.
PwC’s 22,000 strong workforce has been able to function as normal since the pandemic started thanks to the flexible working practices it already had in place, and an investment of over $3 billion globally in leading digital technologies and training to support remote working. “That adaptability to change is part and parcel of the normal way we work,” says Anne Hurst, Inclusion Lead at PwC. “We were very pleased by how smooth the transition to remote working was,” she added.
As the pandemic proceeded, PwC recognised that there was a need to put in extra measures to keep people connected, so they introduced virtual social meetings and thought creatively about how to maintain wellbeing. Ideas included walking and talking meetings and cookalongs instead of virtual coffee meetings. They took a relaxed approach to whether people had to have their camera on or off during meetings to ease video conferencing fatigue and the challenges parents might face with having their children around. That being said, managers were relaxed about children popping up in meetings: “It was the life everyone was experiencing,” says Anne.
Senior leaders spoke of the issues they were facing with homeschooling. A senior partner said that his son would give him a kiss when he finished his home schooling at 3pm. “When it happened on the call it was delightful and we all said hello,” said Sally Evans, Wellbeing Lead. PwC also supported families through providing educational resources to parents through its Tech We Can lessons.
PwC has done a lot of work on flexible working in the last few years. In 2017 it introduced its ‘Everyday Flexibility’ policy, which enabled colleagues to work from wherever it made sense for them to do so and encouraged employees to have more autonomy over when they did their work, as long as they delivered. This has recently been updated with the launch of PwC’s new ‘Deal’, reflecting the firm’s commitment to supporting its people and responding to changing working patterns accelerated by Covid. This will involve ‘Empowered Flexibility’, or the ‘Empowered Day’, allowing people to work a pattern that best suits them, to continue to work from home as part of blended working and a reduced working day on a Friday during July and August.
Offices have already been reshaped to focus more on collaborative work spaces, moving away from allocated desks. The firm’s new office being launched in Belfast this summer will have a large amount of collaborative space, for instance, and will be a flagship for how the company will work in the future.
PwC also launched its Flexible Talent Network in 2018 which has recently been rebranded the Flexible Careers Network to make the point that flexible working should not affect people’s career progression. The network works with business and recruitment teams to challenge whether a role needs to be done full time in the office and to make sure jobs are advertised in places where a diverse group of people will see them. The aim is to ensure that there is not just one route into employment at PwC.
PwC’s contingent workforce has two parts to it: one is the Flexible Careers Network which includes those working reduced hours, annualised day contracts and on fixed-term contracts. The other is a Contractor Network for those on fixed-term contracts, temporary contracts or working through Limited Companies. Over 1,500 people work through this network and over 60,000 have signed up to learn more.
Since Covid-19, PwC has surveyed its workforce about their preferred way of working and a lot of people have said they want to work in a blended way, with a mix of remote, in the office and client site working. Sally anticipates senior leaders working from home more than they did previously and in a more visible way. “It will be more inclusive and explicit,” she said. PwC is also looking at how it can ensure that everyone feels included if they choose to work remotely or in a blended way, for instance, by using technology such as virtual reality headsets, to ensure everyone can fully participate in meetings.
PwC also had to think creatively about how to manage the childcare constraints that many of its employees have faced during the pandemic. PwC employees often work billable hours so, to avoid burnout from parents homeschooling during the day and burning the candle at both ends to make up hours, they introduced a new time code – the time off for dependents code. This was to encourage people to work a pattern suiting them, reduce their working hours where needed and to lessen the stress of juggling multiple responsibilities.
PwC also moved to set up a dedicated Covid-19 microsite where people knew they could go to find support and clear, consistent advice. This has been viewed over 5,000 times a week since it was launched. Firmwide emails from leaders were sent out regularly and livestreams and webcasts were broadcast on different topics, usually hosted by an expert. These helped create a support community on challenging topics and people shared useful tips and light-hearted stories about the realities of lockdown. That allowed the firm to see where the pressure points were and what it could do to alleviate them, such as providing back-up childcare on an individual basis.
The microsite served to highlight the nature of what people were facing and for parents that was not just childcare and homeschooling issues, but also anxiety about the impact of Covid-19 on their children’s mental health. “We held live streams with a consultant psychologist with parents asking questions like if it was ok if it was 3pm and their kids were still in their PJs,” says Sally.
In the most recent lockdown there has been a focus on mental health and keeping physically active. The firm has launched a new physical activity campaign, Move the Nation, which aims not only to keep people healthy, but to help them connect with others [if only virtually] and have fun.
Over the last year PwC has also facilitated moving training online and onboarding thousands of staff virtually. That has meant rethinking induction processes and ensuring people get a sense of the PwC culture, for instance, by ensuring everyone gets a buddy and access to a career coach to build their network. Usually inductions would be an all-day event and the learning and development team did a lot of work to transfer everything virtually, with break-out sessions and chances to network. Graduate induction was the biggest project: 1,300 new graduates joined in the first week of September and PwC put on a week of induction and networking sessions, drawing on their experience in earlier months with more experienced hires, and including quizzes and small group challenges to engage better with their recruits.
Usually PwC visits universities up and down the country to recruit its graduates so they built a Virtual Park where people could find out more about the company. The Park was launched by PwC’s student recruitment team in September 2020 and, to date, more than 10,000 students have been through the virtual doors. Candidates create their own avatar and are fully immersed in a virtual PwC campus where they can walk up and speak to others in the Park – other candidates on the same programme, or PwC employees and HR professionals to answer any questions.
Tools in the Park include sharing screens, using your webcam and watching embedded video content traditionally shared at in-person events. The Park hosts campus events, like careers fairs, skills sessions and recruiter drop-in sessions. This new approach means both PwC and candidates are no longer restricted by cost, time, resource, travel or venue restraints.
PwC’s flexible approach has also helped people to keep more positive during the pandemic through volunteering. The firm recognised that many people wanted to support their local communities during the pandemic. It transformed its annual ‘One Firm One Day’ volunteering and fundraising initiative to ‘One Firm Every Day’, giving people the flexibility to give back to their communities as opportunities arose as well as balancing their other work and home commitments. More than 800 people volunteered 4,672 hours of their time during the course of lockdown to support Mutual Aid groups, NHS trusts, councils, food banks and key workers, amongst others.
One volunteer said: “Despite the challenges, our firm-wide volunteering programme was able to continue and be extended this year, which helped me contribute to my community at a time when it is easy to otherwise feel powerless and isolated. The support I received from the firm gave me renewed focus and hope. Interacting with colleagues, organisations and members of the public, having a shared purpose and being able to make a visible difference to people’s lives outside of my day-to-day work was an experience I won’t forget.”
*workingmums.co.uk’s Best Practice Report will feature all the winners of the Top Employer Awards as well as individual case studies with the aim of sharing best practice. It will be published on Tuesday and you can download it free of charge from the site.