PwC director on RTO mandates: ‘We don’t feel like we need to’

Professional services firm bucks the trend, doubles down on flexibility commitment

PwC director on RTO mandates: ‘We don’t feel like we need to’

Several major employers throughout the United States are ordering employees back to the office following Labor Day.

Starting Sept. 6, Peloton employees are expected back in the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from now on, according to an internal memo published by Bloomberg. Apple employees near the company’s Cupertino, CA-based headquarters will be required to be in the office three times per week, too. Employees will report to the workplace on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and each team will choose a third day for in-person work.

Apple workers have responded by launching a petition to demand for location-flexible work. “This uniform mandate from senior leadership does not consider the unique demands of each job role nor the diversity of individuals,” noted AppleTogether, which identifies itself as a global solidarity union of workers from across the company.

Starting Sept. 12, all Comcast employees in the U.S. will be required to come into the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, reported.

Read more: HR is trapped in return-to-office tug of war

After more than two years of working remotely, most employees aren’t pleased with losing their newfound freedom. After all, flexibility in where, when and how one works has emerged as the top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those dissatisfied with the amount of flexibility their job affords, 70% said they’d look for a new opportunity, according to Future Forum, a research consortium that polls more than 10,000 knowledge workers around the world every quarter.

A former Apple executive already resigned due to the company’s return-to-office policy, and that was back in May. Meanwhile, Peloton CEO Barry McCarthy has seemingly accepted that the controversial edict will result in a reduced headcount. “For those of you who don’t want to return to the office, we respect your choice,” McCarthy said in the memo. “We hope you choose to stay, but we understand not everyone will.”

Perhaps now’s not the time to call your employees’ bluff. In July, another 4.2 million Americans quit their jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as the Great Resignation continues. That means roughly 77 million Americans have fled their employers since the beginning of 2021. Prompted by the pandemic to re-evaluate their priorities in life, employees have been heading for greener pastures, demanding higher salaries, better working conditions, improved work-life balance and more opportunities to advance their career.

Of the workers who declined their last job offer, 45% said flexibility or work-life balance was the main factor that led to their rejecting the offer, according to recent data from Gusto, a San Francisco-based HR tech firm. Additionally, 48% of workers said that the ability to work from home some or all of the time would be a major or the most important factor in determining whether to accept a job offer in the future.

Despite the “RTO” push, some employers are relying upon the data to influence their scheduling decisions. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) refuses to mandate its employees return to the office.

“We don’t feel like we need to,” Kimberly Jones, PwC U.S. managing director, talent strategy and people experience leader, told HRD. “We’re being responsive to what our people tell us they want and need. These last couple years, we’ve discovered that we can be productive and serve our clients very well without forcing people to be in offices.”

Last year, PwC became the first professional services firm to introduce full-time virtual roles to all 40,000 of its client service professionals. (Since that announcement, Jones says job applications to PwC have increased by 20%.) PwC has nearly 80 offices across the country, including in Los Angeles, Irvine, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose, and says it will continue to allow employees to be in-person or to opt in to virtual and hybrid roles. As part of the flexible arrangements, PwC also offers part-time schedules, compressed workweeks and even leaves of absence (up to six months) where employees receive 20% of their pay.

Jones credits the company’s comprehensive listening strategy, which consists of global surveys, staff discussions, focus groups and a “people experience lab,” for inspiring these benefits. Additionally, PwC has created a new role – director of hybrid work strategy – to stay in touch with employees as their needs change and evolve.

“We understand our people, how they work and their need for flexibility, so we’ve been able to accommodate that,” Jones says. “Roughly 20% of our people told us they wanted to be in the virtual work profile. Other individuals were just appreciative of having the choice, which builds goodwill throughout the company.”

For employees who prefer coming into the office, PwC has redesigned its office to adapt to a hybrid world. Jones says some private offices have been converted into huddle rooms intended for teaming, while some individual workstations have been converted to team tables. The company has also added collaboration zones complete with soft seating, movable furniture and mobile conferencing technology. Additionally, the firm has built serenity rooms, walk stations and sit-to-stand desks to support employee wellness. Many offices also have terraces or other outdoor space for collaboration and socializing.

In May, PwC announced a $2.4 billion investment in its people experience over the next three years.

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