Tuesday 9 March 2021

Michael Armstrong

Working life to be different post-pandemic: ICAEW

DUBAI, January 5, 2021

Most businesses around the world expect working life to be different in the future, with the shift to remote and flexible working seen as positive experience, according to a survey by chartered accountancy body ICAEW.

Nine in 10 businesses felt working life would look different in the future, compared to pre-pandemic times, the report said.

Mental health

A far greater reliance on remote working during the pandemic, and the risks of staff feeling isolated, meant support for employee mental health and wellbeing was more important than before, the report said.

Just under half respondents said the pandemic had had a negative impact on mental health, while two-fifths believed organisations found it difficult to keep up staff morale.

Flexibility around working hours and having a greater awareness of colleagues’ personal obligations were key to supporting mental health, the report said.

Nevertheless, most respondents said the shift to remote working was a positive experience, as was the acceleration in technology it brought with it.

Developing talent

Half of those surveyed said bringing on board new employees had been difficult because aspects of ‘on-boarding’ new hires was more challenging when done remotely.

As a result, members said they wanted to see a return to in-person interviews and induction processes.

In a climate where new and young employees had missed out on the benefit of face-to-face interactions, ICAEW said organisations must actively pursue mentoring, guidance and formal training to help build their practical experience.

Human interaction

The report also examined the value that face-to-face interactions can add to organisations. Half of survey respondents said that the pandemic posed challenges when engaging new clients and building relationships, while just under half thought it was easy to maintain corporate culture. [4]

The pandemic had underlined that organisations were ultimately dependent on people interacting, ICAEW said, and suggested that remote working could bring new dynamics to employee interaction.

Remote working could change the perception of hierarchy, break down cross-country barriers and facilitate recruitment, the report added.

Business challenges

Three-quarters of respondents said their top operational challenge was forecasting, while two in three said the pandemic made it difficult to understand what was going on in their business.

Successful organisations must be aware of what’s going on in their business, irrespective of whether employees are remote or office-based, the report said.

Mark Protherough, ICAEW Executive Director, Learning and Professional Development, said: “It’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic has had a very extensive impact on working practices across the globe and that the changes are likely to last for some time to come.

“Our members have told us there have been positive shifts in working patterns over the past year, creating new opportunities and accelerating shifts in technology. But there have also been significant downsides, most notably the reduction in face-to-face contact, which has had a negative impact on day-to-day operations, recruitment, employee wellbeing and mental health.

“Chartered accountants sit at the heart of business so are well-placed to see the bigger picture as economies rebuild. We hope these findings will inform and guide organisations all over the world as we move into a period of recovery.”

Michael Armstrong, FCA and ICAEW Regional Director for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA), added: “In markets like the UAE, where early intervention has led to marketplaces and trade reopening sooner, there is a sense that the country is getting ahead of economic recovery. And this bodes well for people wanting to return to the workplace where there is, perhaps, a greater desire for face-to-face interaction with colleagues because of the country’s large expatriate workforce.

“The pandemic has certainly exposed many vulnerabilities across business operations. Agility remains a significant theme throughout the pandemic, and businesses that have accelerated their digital transformation are best positioned to recover. However, as the digital economy evolves, so too does the threat of cyber-crime and so digital literacy is also going to be hugely important as we move forward to protect businesses from potentially ruinous risks.”

“Chartered accountants play a critical role in minimising the financial distress to businesses and the wider public. Thinking clearly under pressure is essential in a crisis, and finance professionals and their teams have the skills and attitudes necessary to carry out a systematic appraisal of current circumstances and map out a range of future scenarios including their financial implications,” Armstrong added.- TradeArabia News Service


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