Workplace Transformation and the Next Generation Employee
Focusing on the evolving aspirations and motivations of the modern professional workforce; mobility, wellness, culture and skills are the levers for change at accountancy firm, Ecovis. Here, Ben looks at the changing trends in the workplace, outlines some of their successful programmes and defines what it means for businesses as they look to recruit and develop the best young talent in an increasingly competitive and dynamic market…
Times they are a-changin’
As I write this article, I’m sat in a coffee shop in Soho with my laptop in front of me, coffee to hand and some classic Bob Dylan streaming. I look around and it’s not difficult to find inspiration for a piece on workplace transformation and the next generation of the employee; technology and trend ooze from all of those around as they pay for their celery juices and butter coffees via their smartwatches, whilst also using their mobile apps to do anything from sustainable shopping to checking in on a Qigong class. I’m feeling a bit staid as I drink a filter coffee…how boring! And yet, it gets me thinking about the changing trends in the workplace – and in particular, what they mean for Ecovis as a business as we look to recruit and develop the best young talent in an increasingly competitive and dynamic market.
In recent times, we have embraced all manner of change – from ‘dress for your day’ to flexible working and the introduction of mental health first aiders – and yet we know there is so much yet for us to learn and develop. To tweak a Dylan line, we won’t speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin.
Is it a millennial thing?
For somebody that has worked in Practice for the past 15 years, I could be forgiven for thinking that some of these trends seem gimmicky, and yet as a partner group, we are acutely aware of the importance for us, as a company, to embrace these changes. As a business, we are defined by the people that we work with and for, and as this demographic mix changes, it would be folly to bury our heads to this shift and carry on as we were.
Whilst I personally don’t fully buy into the whole ‘millennial’ debate, it is clear that the modern professional workforce is changing, and their motivations and aspirations can vary quite significantly from what was the norm when I joined PwC back in 2004. So much of this has been powered by technological and cultural shifts and the reality is that most young people do not want to graduate to a desk-based job, where they wear a suit and work all the hours god sends to climb the traditional corporate ladder. Life’s too short and people are starting to realise that sooner!
Crucially, we can never forget that these young professionals are the front line of our business and act as the face of our business to our clients, who are also evolving in their own culture and needs. With this in mind, we’ve focussed our energies on Mobility, Wellness, Culture and Skills as levers for change and have – as far as possible – taken direction on these drivers from our team, our peers and our clients.
One of the key pillars that we have focussed on in recent years has been workplace mobility. Whilst not a particularly new concept, it is still something that has taken time to properly bed in. Our staff all have Microsoft Surfaces and operate on Microsoft 365, including Skype for Business, so can increasingly work seamlessly, whether in the office or bolting an additional day in down on the coast.
We’ve implemented a ‘dress for your day’ policy, which, when coupled with flexible and remote working policies, allow our team the freedom to fit their work around their lives much more than has ever been the case before. These are small steps, but are almost demanded in the modern workplace…even Goldman Sachs have a ‘dress for your day’ policy!!
Wellness and giving back
We’re a long way from perfect, but we’ve also made progress on Wellness and Giving Back; in 2016 we constituted the Ecovis London charitable Foundation (ELF) and have worked very closely in the homelessness sector – funding weekly one-to-one counselling, as well as running CV and skills workshops to try and help get vulnerable people back into work. We’ve also run a number of work placements for those in need of a boost to get back on the career ladder and have been humbled by the results. For many of our staff, it is this that sets us apart and you cannot place a value on the change that we help drive or the responsibilities that we as businesses should shoulder.
Whilst we think technological change is amazing, we’re also aware that this world of social media and instant gratification brings new challenges around states of anxiety and mental health – regardless of age or position. With the support of Heart of the City (HOTC), a London-based responsible business programme, we’ve introduced a wellbeing working group, have trained some of our staff as Mental Health First Aid Champions (MHFC’s) and are starting to roll out some really simple steps to making Ecovis a better, happier place to work. From free fruit and corporate gym membership to walking meetings and firm-wide fitness activities, these are all aimed to improve the state of mind and happiness of those we work with and for.
Culture, culture, culture
We’ve always been good at the fun, social side of culture at Ecovis – we have an annual away day where the whole office head abroad for some team building, we have monthly socials and sporting events, and yet we know that culture extends so much further than this. Increasingly, a modern workforce demands more of a company’s culture in terms of what they stand for ethically, their place in the community and the value placed on the initiatives developed by the team as a whole.
For us, it is really important to embrace the ideas and visions of our staff and initiatives such as ELF, MHFC’s, Skype for Business and Dress for your Day have all come directly from staff suggestions, something we try to foster through various internal working groups that advise directly into the partner group.
Changes in skills and services
Technology has also had a transformational impact on the work that we do for our clients – with many traditional compliance services being automated and commoditised to a greater extent through the myriad cloud accounting applications that are now available in the market. Such developments have forced us to look again at the type of service we offer, how we deliver them and the value that we add to our clients.
Our people need different skills to adapt to this – from coding capability to broader business advisory and strategic thinking skills – and we now run a broader spectrum of training than ever before. A great example of this is the development of our Data Analytics team, which we’ve invested in over the past three years and is now viewed as a key part of our longer-term strategic vision as a firm. Similarly, we were one of the first accountancy practices to embrace cloud accounting and are currently providing focussed investment in technologies ranging from Audit Analytics to RPA.
You better start swimmin’
All of the above has been done with a focus on recruiting, retaining and motivating the best possible young talent to our business and in providing a better service to our clients. We know that we’ve got a long way to go and that we can learn from our peers, our clients and from organisations, such as HOTC, but never before has the opportunity for such knowledge sharing and collaboration existed.
Whilst some of us (myself included!) will never move over to the extremes of celery juice or buttermilk coffee, it feels good to be going in the right direction and, as Partners of the business, we take great pride in the fact that we are recognising the changing face of the workplace and the needs of the next generation of employee and client.
So, as I finish my coffee and reflect on our progress in this world of workplace transformation, I’ll close out on the same song as I started this piece: “you better start swimmin’, or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin’”.