TenantTalks Event recap : Navigating Disruption in the Accounting Space

On September 17th, 2020 Aura hosted the latest edition of our virtual speaker series, Tenant Talks, this time with a spotlight on the accounting industry. We wanted to find out how and if office norms had changed for accounting firms a good five months into the global pandemic. 

Panelists included representatives from PwC Canada, Davidson & Company LLP, MNP LLP, and Walsh King, while Rocky Ozaki, Founder & CEO of NoW of Work Inc., facilitated the discussion. 

Is remote working here to stay? Is business running as usual? What processes have changed for the better? Here’s what we learned: 

(More of a watcher than a reader? Watch the video recording of the event here.)  

What habits or business processes have changed as a result of COVID-19? 

Erez Bahar, Partner at Davidson & Company LLP shared how his firm has made a cultural shift to accepting casual dress code in the office more than ever before. 

“The new normal has become comfort now and what works for you,” he said, “All that really matters is that you’re getting your work done.” 

Tia Walsh, Partner at Walsh King, agreed that firms are slowly moving away from formal dress codes and eliminating the misconception that people are only to be taken seriously when dressed in suits. She stated that it’s time to understand how people work best and give them more choice.

Eva Tone, Partner at MNP LLC, shared how her company has transitioned away from in-person meetings and in-office work for ultimate safety during the pandemic. With 80% of work responsibilities falling under “high concentration work”, it’s become a no brainer that these tasks can be done from anywhere. She was impressed with her firm’s ability to make the transition so quickly. 

“We were always set up for remote work, but we never would have had the courage to go for it,” said Eva, “This has been the best test for us to see just how much we can do with our digital platform”.

Jim McGuigan, BC Region Managing Partner at PwC Canada, explained to us how the pandemic has accelerated the move to going paperless by removing printers. Previously, this bold move was met with plenty of pushback from other departments, however attitudes have now changed as a result of the pandemic. Departments are welcoming the improved data security and increased social responsibility that comes along with the change.   

When COVID-19 comes to an end and many staff members prefer to keep working from home, what purpose will your physical office fulfill? What will change, and what won’t?

Two main ideas came about:

    1. That people will always want and crave some sort of social interaction
    2. That workplaces will change permanently as a result of the pandemic 

“We don’t see ourselves going back to the way we operated pre-pandemic,” said Jim, “we don’t see the office as a place to come in and do individual repetitive work. It will be more of a place to collaborate and innovate with others.”  

“We’ve seen such an acceleration of innovation as the result of COVID-19, ” he said, “Hopefully our new normal will combine the benefits of traditional in-person collaboration with that technological innovation.”  

Erez chimed in on the idea that remote work hardly means working in your PJs but having the choice to come in or work from a more comfortable space.

“The office will become a place that you want to come to, rather than a place that you have to come to,” he said, “it will become an experience, not an expectation.”  

Erez, Eva, and Tia discussed the importance of regular human interaction, the psychology behind leaving your house to be productive, and the face-to-face mentorship junior staff will always need as they build their careers. 

All panelists agreed that while technology like Zoom helps us get the job done, the value of physically spending time with others will never change. 

How do you see your team developing new relationships and innovation with less “water cooler chat” throughout the day due to remote work?

The consensus was that companies now need to make more deliberate efforts to engage their staff when working remotely, plus invest in the technologies that help them do their jobs with as few obstacles as possible.

Eva told us how her team starts the week off by asking each other 3 non-work related questions and how the simple initiative has brought her team closer together.

Tia shared her thoughts on how remote work will always be challenged with trying to replace the natural interaction that happens in an office setting, but companies can always do their best to integrate culture into its online collaboration tools. Her idea was that the office will transform into becoming a collaborative space staff can head to for meetings and brainstorming sessions, while most focus work is left for home. 

Jim took complete confidence that advancements in technology and training will hold teams and culture together. 

“We’ve seen such an acceleration of innovation as the result of COVID-19, ” he said, “Hopefully our new normal will combine the benefits of traditional in-person collaboration with that technological innovation.”

Erez wrapped up the discussion by stressing the importance of focusing on existing relationships. With all events and conferences cancelled limiting face-to-face networking, it’s worth reaching out and checking in with existing connections at a time when you’re not required to, but want to. 

What have you done to your space to make people feel safe to return? 

Panelists shared several initiatives their firms have been taking to ensure the safety of their staff including:

    • Creating and communicating new policies
    • Installing plexiglass and other protective equipment 
    • Limiting the number of occupants in meeting rooms and lunchrooms
    • Limiting visitor access
    • Encouraging sanitization of hands and workstations 

Lastly, we asked: 

What about the typical accounting firm will never change and why?

Panelists responded that:

  • Office design and layout will likely not change as the nature of accountant roles stay the same (individual tasks fit for cubicle work)
  • The commuter culture will not disappear just yet. 
  • The industry will continue to be more formal and conservative than others.
  • Junior staff will always need hands-on and in-person training.

To listen to answers on our round of rapid-fire questions and find out what else our audience asked, watch the full TenantTalks™ video recording here.

About TenantTalks™

Brought to you by Aura Office Environments, TenantTalks™ is a speaker series featuring expert insights and best practices on office design, company culture, and workplace strategy for businesses located in Vancouver. Don’t miss any details regarding future events by joining our subscription list.