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How PwC is going 'to provide choice' for its employees working from home

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PwC Principal and Deputy People Leader Yolanda Seals-Coffield joins A Time For Change to discuss the company's decision to allow employees the opportunity to work from home, the effects of this decision on the firm, and the most important values for workers in a workplace.

Video Transcript

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Welcome to "A Time for Change." I'm Sibile Marcellus, here with Alexis Christoforous and Marquise Francis. One of the big four accounting firms, PwC, is doing some accounting of its own. They're out with a brand new detailed report on where they're headed and how they're doing on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: And PwC isn't the only company doing a pulse check and making the results public. Walgreens Boots Alliance just issued its own report, and we'll bring you my conversation with the company's Global Chief Diversity Officer later in the program.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, well, it is not the only company doing a pulse check. We want to start with PwC. You might know it as Price Waterhouse Coopers. Joining us now is Yolanda Seals-Coffield, Principal and Deputy People Leader at PwC. Yolanda, thanks so much for being with us. I want to start with some news the company made just recently. It announced that more than half of your 55,000 employees can work remotely indefinitely. What led the company to that decision? And also, I'm curious to know how many employees are opting to go fully remote.

YOLANDA SEALS-COFFIELD: Hi, thank you. It's so great to be with all of you today. And we're really excited about our news about this new virtual choice for our people. So if I take a step back, I think we've learned so much during these past 19 months, as we've all managed through this pandemic. And what we've learned most of all is that our people can work very effectively remotely. We've learned that we can manage and grow hybrid teams. And we've learned how important choice is for our people.

And so as we look to return to the office in the coming months and start to return to our clients, we know that many of our people are so excited to get back in and reconnect in person with their colleagues. But we also know that there are parts of our organization that want or need to remain virtual. And so, we're doing this to provide choice. You know, at the end of the day, our clients are at the center of everything we do. And we're committed to putting together the right hybrid teams to serve those clients.

And when we're in this white hot talent market, this war for talent, I don't think, has ever been more intense. The ability to attract new channels of talent, to go out to people and tell them that they can have a differentiated experience with us around flexibility, is what's motivating us here. So we want to give our people the choice and make sure that we can attract and retain the right talent to serve our clients.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: You recently published a new diversity, equity, and inclusion report. If the majority of your workforce opts to work remotely permanently or indefinitely, how will that impact those efforts in a virtual sphere? The DE&I work.

YOLANDA SEALS-COFFIELD: No, it's a great question. And as you can imagine, we've thought a lot about that in recent weeks. And so, you know, we are giving our 40,000 people-- our 40,000 people in client service the choice to work remotely-- or virtually, rather. We're not certain how many of those people were opt for that option. But what we've learned is that we can manage virtual teams. And so, we are working with our partners who are going to lead us through this. They're working with their clients now to determine what they need from us and where they need us to be. And then they're putting together the right complement of people to serve those clients.

So whether you're virtual or whether you're in person, you're going to have a great experience with the firm. And we're going to make sure that we have things in place to help make that happen. So for example, we're reimagining our learning and development. How we train our people, how we grow their skills is so important. And we have to make sure that we're able to do that, both virtually and in person in a meaningful way.

And by the way, we've done that for the past 19 months. The way our people are going to be evaluated will still be based on their impact, whether or not they are virtual or in person. And that's going to be really important to your question around driving the right level of equity and diversity and inclusion. As we're thinking through this, we want to make sure that none of our people are going to be treated as if they're not getting the same experience and opportunity to grow based on where they're working.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yolanda, I want to ask you about a recent survey PwC conducted. And I was looking through it. 65% of workers are looking for a new job. 88% of executives report seeing higher than normal turnover. What's driving those numbers? Is it confidence that people feel they can find a comparable or better job? Or is it burnout or dissatisfaction at their current job?

YOLANDA SEALS-COFFIELD: You know, that's a great question. And this survey is really compelling. When I think about 65% of employees reporting that they're looking for a new job and that being up from 36% in May, things have really shifted in this country. And so, what's driving it? I don't know that any of us will fully know. It could be the seamless way that you can switch jobs. I'm talking to you from my home office. I can switch jobs today and not actually leave the chair that I'm sitting in. It could be that people want more choice and flexibility. And some of what we're seeing in the data would suggest that.

But we are in this white hot job market. And I don't know that any of us 18 months ago anticipated that the market would be this intense at this stage in the pandemic. So organizations like ours are trying to make sure that we're giving our people the greatest flexibility and choice that we can, that we're attracting people who need or want to work differently, and that we're putting together the right complement of diverse talent to serve our clients.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Yolanda, when I spoke to Lean In CEO Rachel Thomas, they put out a recent report and they said that the work that employees do to boost employee well-being and DE&I work is going largely unrecognized and unrewarded by many companies that say that this type of work is very critical. So is that the case at PwC? And how can other companies turn this around?

YOLANDA SEALS-COFFIELD: You know, that's a really interesting question. And I think it's so important that we're focused on what we're doing from wellness and what we're doing from a DE&I perspective. As we started the pandemic, we saw the same data that everyone else did about how challenging this time was going to be for caregivers and how there would be an outsized impact on women in the workforce as they managed through the needs of home-- educating their children at home and taking care of their families.

We attacked that issue very early at PwC because we knew how important it was that we take into consideration what people are doing and how they're balancing their lives. And so we created additional benefits for caregivers. We created additional benefits for emergency childcare. We provided people with the opportunity to work reduced hours or to work condensed work weeks. And in the most extreme needs, we provided people with the opportunity to take a sabbatical and still earn 20% of their pay to cover the cost of benefits.

And I'm really pleased to say that at the end of that process, at the end of that work, we didn't see an increased number of women resigning from PwC over the past year. So I agree with you. We have to take stock and pay attention to these wellness needs of our people and know how important this is in terms of where they're choosing to work and how they're choosing to spend what is the majority of our time. And we really tried to do that at PwC. And I think it worked for us in terms of the impact it had on our caregivers.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I'm curious what you found in the survey, Yolanda, with regards to what matters most to employees right now. Is it flexibility in terms of where they're working? Is it salary and the benefits package? And how does that all relate back to diversity and inclusion and equity?

YOLANDA SEALS-COFFIELD: You know, that's such an interesting question. And what we're finding is that it's a mixed bag of what people need. Competitive salary is certainly important. And we found that for 30% of people who were looking for new jobs, they were doing so for salary. But we also found that 38% were looking for a schedule with more flexibility. And 28% were just looking for flexibility around where they work. And another 38% were focused on benefits.

So compensation and benefits are always going to be drivers, I think, as people think about where they work. But the need for greater flexibility, the need for people to be able to live where they need to live for personal reasons, for family reasons, should not be underestimated or undervalued.

And that is part of what caused us to take a hard look at our-- where we were in our flexibility journey, which has continued to evolve, as it has with many organizations, and to decide that offering this choice for virtual work really was the next and natural step in the evolution of our flexibility journey because we really are going to see, I think, the world open up to hybrid teams going forward. And we really wanted to provide our people with the opportunity to do that.