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Pioneer Profile: PwC

Not all innovation is driven by technology.  With a clever working environment and a culture hungry for change, innovation will naturally occur, says PwC.

An interview with Heather Richardson – Chief of staff for People Teams at PwC

PwC is reimagining its workspace across the UK, creating more choice in its offices with collaborative shared work spaces where staff and clients can work side by side.  London and Manchester are blazing the trail – gone are individual desks replaced with spaces designed for flexible working, quiet zones and booths for sensitive conversations and calls.

A tech centre at its More London offices – called Frontier – showcases what can be achieved.  In a nod to the co-working phenomenon it’s a home for emerging tech and an experience centre, it’s an environment that encourages creativity and innovation across our firm and with our clients.

The reimagining its workplace sits alongside the way PwC’s people increasingly work – with flexible working, home working and a relaxed dressed code.

The nature of professional services firms often results in teams working in their own silos with little unprompted interaction with each other.  Technology is changing that, but the working environment is also key to driving real cultural change.

“It’s a behavioural thing,” says Heather Richardson tells Spiranti.  “The way people want to work is changing, and firms need to offer greater flexibility to support attracting and retaining talented people and, importantly, it drive collaboration and innovation.

“We are already doing this and it’s key to how PwC will look as a business in the future.  We’re creating  ways of working that we hope will enable us to attract a host of different roles in a competitive global workspace

There is, of course, a degree of sensitivity on how such a fundamental change is executed, particularly from partners in individual offices and teams working closely together.

Staff can be naturally anxious around changes to the way they work, and PwC always take steps to accommodate them.  But change has in many ways occurred naturally.  Individuals and teams are embracing change and working out the dynamics for themselves.

PwC spent a lot of time consulting with staff and looking at their own clients’ experiences and workplace environments before embarking on its workplace revolution, and always with an eye towards not being caught up in the latest fad.

“It is still too early to fully judge results as it is still bedding down,.  “But anecdotally, feedback has been positive – the flow of ideas and collaboration is really noticeable.  You really do meet people and make connections that would not have previously been made.

“Because a building is collaborative, staff can and do change the culture of the firm.  PwC has found that this move makes people feel part of the firm – particularly when that firm is changing rapidly.”

PwC, like many large businesses, is on a workplace journey – one where the traditional hierarchy is flattening, where firms are prepared to try different things, learning to fail fast and move on.

There are a lot of people out there that might think PwC is not suitable for them.  The firm wants to make it easier to attract people and easier for talented people to find the firm – not just young people, but those that have moved to different businesses and those that have taken career gaps, perhaps to raise a family.

PwC has introduced a 16-week returnship programme to help people test the workplace again after a career gap, gain confidence and show the firm and themselves that can do it.  Many find a permanent role at the end of the 16 weeks and is just one example of how PwC’s approach to the workplace is evolving.

Technology does undoubtedly play a major role in shaping the workplace of tomorrow.

“PwC has people wanting to work the traditional 9-5 and others with family commitments where that is just not possible, technology does play a key role in giving staff that flexibility – we can fit around you.  Our move to the Google platform has made it really easy for digital hangouts instead of face-to-face meetings.

“But we don’t set out for staff their working patterns – we leave teams to have those conversation themselves, knowing that some will be earlier starters, others preferring to work later, and others preferring to work from home.  Technology is the enabler, but trust is the key.”

But there are potential downsides that need to be managed.  People can become isolated if working always from home and technology can make people feel like they are always working.

Sensible policies and processes, as well as ongoing conversations and a culture of trust and empowerment amongst teams, will help people to manage this.

Looking across PwC’s offices you will now see a mix of suits, jeans, t-shirts and hoodies.  Change is coming to the professions – staff and clients demand it.  The shift over the past four to five years has been exponential and is unlikely to slow down.  Watch this space.