PwC has told 40,000 staff in the US that they can work remotely from anywhere in the country but will have their pay cut if they move to locations with a lower cost of living.
The decision to allow staff to work remotely on a permanent basis is the most radical response from a Big Four firm to the changes wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the plan, client-facing employees have been given two weeks to opt in to “virtual” roles, working from home except when they are occasionally needed in an office for team meetings, client visits or other key events, PwC said.
Staff who choose to work remotely would be required to come to the office no more than three days a month, it added.
Cutting the pay of employees who move to cheaper locations mirrors the approach taken by tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Yolanda Seals-Coffield, PwC’s deputy US people leader, said this was not a change of approach. “The way I look at compensation is that our strategy on that isn’t changing, meaning we pay our people based on where they live,” she told the Financial Times.
“You’re going to earn the same as the other similar employees in your geography earn whether or not you’re virtual.”
PwC said it was the first professional services firm in the US to allow employees to work remotely from any part of the country.
The decision to allow professionals to work primarily from home on a long-term basis is likely to force competitors, including Big Four rivals Deloitte, EY and KPMG, to consider whether to do the same in order to retain staff.
“Part of what we’ve seen over the course of the last 18 months is that if you want to recruit people and retain the talent that you have, you have to give them more flexibility and options,” said Seals-Coffield, adding that the change was not driven by cost.
Fiona Czerniawska, chief executive of Source Global Research, a data provider on the consulting industry, said PwC’s move was “a bold one”. She predicted that the change would “not only help with retention, but may also help to attract new talent”.
The decision by PwC US, first reported by Reuters, is at odds with the approach of its UK sister firm. PwC UK, which is separately owned and managed, has been a strong proponent of offices and has told staff that they will spend an average of two to three days in the office after the pandemic.
“The virtual world is no substitute for human contact for a people business like ours,” Kevin Ellis, chair of PwC UK, said in July.
Yesterday, he told the Financial Times: “Each territory firm makes decisions based on their local markets.”
But Seals-Coffield said fully remote staff should be able to progress. “There was a time when we would have thought someone working part time would never make partner and that is proven not to be true,” she said.
“I have no reason to believe that you can’t have a successful career here if you’re virtual. And it’s our job to make that happen.”
Seals-Coffield said research showed that 30-35 per cent of the wider workforce wanted to work “virtually” but that she could not predict the level of uptake within PwC or whether groups such as working parents were more likely to opt in.
The new policy does not cover PwC’s partners or its 15,000 back-office staff, including functions such as human resources and IT support, most of whom are already able to work remotely.
The firm did not have significant plans to reduce the size of its office space, Seals-Coffield said.
PwC has left the door open to reversing the policy if permanent remote working is not a success. “While these are not short-term moves and are intended to be ongoing options for our people, we will continue to evaluate and innovate — as we do with all of our policies, benefits and flexibility,” it said.