Deloitte will allow its 20,000 UK employees to choose how often they come into the office, if at all, after the pandemic, making it the latest firm to throw out the rulebook and embrace ultra-flexible working.
The accounting firm said it would let staff decide “when, where and how they work” following the success of remote working during the Covid crisis. While the company has offered more flexible working since 2014, the latest announcement will mean ditching its office-focused approach once the final phase of lockdown restrictions are lifted next month.
“We will let our people choose where they need to be to do their best work, in balance with their professional and personal responsibilities,” the Deloitte chief executive, Richard Houston, said.
“I’m not going to announce any set number of days for people to be in the office or in specific locations. That means that our people can choose how often they come to the office, if they choose to do so at all, while focusing on how we can best serve our clients.”
That compares with some rivals such as PwC, which expects staff to spend at least 40% of their time with colleagues – either in the office or out on client visit – once Covid rules allow.
However, the government is expected to take a neutral stance on the issue once the rest of lockdown restrictions are lifted in England on 19 July. Sources have told the Guardian that workers will not be told to return to offices and that companies will be left to make their own decisions.
It marks a U-turn from last summer, when Boris Johnson was accused of rushing employees back to struggling city centres in an effort to revive the economy, despite the continued risks.
But the government’s hands-off approach could cause confusion for workers and allow employers to dictate terms, according to Labour, which has called for stronger rights for staff “so that workers are not pressured or blackmailed back into unsafe workplaces”.
Labour’s approach could mean staff at major banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley would have the right to push back on hardline return-to-office plans. The Goldman Sachs boss, David Solomon, has famously called remote working an “aberration” and claimed he was worried about how to train the next generation of bankers if most staff were operating remotely.
Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, James Gorman, has suggested workers cannot expect the same high wages if they avoid city centres. “If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York. None of this: ‘I’m in Colorado … and getting paid like I’m sitting in New York City.’ Sorry, that doesn’t work.”
However, others such as the FTSE-listed fund manager Schroders have taken a different tack, telling employees they would not be required to return to the office full time, while the consumer goods group Unilever has said staff will never return to a five-days-a-week office pattern, calling it “very old fashioned”.
Deloitte’s decision will mean reserving most of its office space for team collaboration, training and client meetings, though each team would have to ensure their arrangement suited clients and staff, the company said. A recent staff survey found that 81% of Deloitte’s employees expected to work from home up to two days a week in the future, while 96% wanted the freedom to choose how flexibly they work in future.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to embrace the benefits from the last 16 months of being able to spend more time at home,” said Houston, “while our people can be flexible in the way they work and reconnect with their colleagues and the office as needed.”