PwC’s Michael Fenlon on the Benefits and Sustained Outcomes of Virtual-Work Flexibility

Originally published on LinkedIn. Michael Fenlon is PwC’s Chief People Officer. PwC is a Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Hall of Fame company.


At PwC, we just announced that we are the first professional services firm in the US to offer all client service employees the option to work virtually and live anywhere in the continental US. These are not intended to be short-term moves, but rather ongoing options. We know many of our people are eager to return to our offices and client sites, but we aim to provide our people with choice and flexibility while meeting the needs of our clients. In the current war for talent, what people want is not just more pay — they want to work for a company that provides flexibility and opportunity, shares their values and builds trust. Because of this, and because we’ve proven we can work successfully with greater flexibility, I believe hybrid teams are here to stay.

Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve seen an increased demand for greater flexibility. The scarcity of talent means that leaders who don’t listen to their people, risk losing them – or not being able to fill open roles. Business leaders in every industry are feeling the pressure to get their workplace model right, spurred on by the “Great Resignation.” Executives are seeing the churn, with 88% of respondents from our US Pulse Survey: Next in Work reporting higher turnover than usual. Employees listed new opportunities, flexibility, expanded benefits, and compensation as their top incentives for moving on.

After 18+ months of remote work, there is no question that employees have new expectations about flexibility. In fact, our Pulse survey found 41% of employee respondents want to be remote, compared to 29% in our January 2021 survey. At the same time, many organizations have proven over the past year that people can deliver results and high performance with greater flexibility. That doesn’t mean the enforced isolation of working under “house arrest” that we experienced amidst the pandemic, but rather a flexible hybrid workplace that reduces “the grind” and burnout, enables culture building and more attractive ways of working and living.

Providing people with greater choice and flexibility is essential to recruit and retain talent. It’s not a matter of either flexibility or strong culture, but rather achieving both while hiring the best talent to serve clients/customers. I’m often asked what it really means to provide flexibility in the workplace, and what is meaningful to employees. There are no cookie-cutter solutions – the right approach depends on the organization, its people, and client/customer expectations.

As we move forward at PwC, we draw upon decades of experience in delivering flexibility to our people, keeping our clients at the center of everything we do, as well as important lessons from the past year, including:

  • Build Trust. Perhaps the most powerful ingredient in any team is a shared sense of trust. Without trust, it’s difficult to retain and recruit talent, make progress on diversity, equity and inclusion, and build confidence among external stakeholders. Our new firm strategy is centered around trust – providing trusted solutions to complex problems for our clients and stakeholders and building trust in society. We also focus on trust internally – reinforcing our commitment to a culture of care and belonging, being a great place to build a career, and giving our people the everyday support they need to learn, grow, and serve our clients. Throughout the pandemic, preserving this trust has included prioritizing safety and supporting the evolving needs of our people. While trust in governments and the media is dangerously low, business stands out as the only trusted institution in this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer. 80% of employees surveyed in our Trust in US Business Survey, trust their company the same or more now than before the pandemic. As executives consider how to provide their people with more choice, they have a powerful opportunity to build on this foundation with an emphasis on inclusive leadership and hybrid work arrangements.
  • Well-being = sustained outcomes. When people have the time and support to care for themselves and loved ones, to disconnect and reset, their engagement at work increases. This is not about empty promises – leadership modeling, benefits and protected time policies are some of the essential ingredients. We ask our people to create team plans that include flexibility and well-being goals – fully integrated with our client service delivery. Building these plans is an exercise in building trust. It’s important to recognize that a culture of well-being evolves, just as we’ve seen mindsets shift over the course of the pandemic. We must innovate to attract and retain top talent.

Providing the flexibility our people want will not only benefit our firm but that benefit is passed on to our clients. We can bring the best talent to our clients in the most cost-effective way, reduce the risk of turnover and more fully leverage our investment in tech-enabling our firm. I welcome your thoughts and perspectives based on your own experience, and what you believe is best for people, our economy and society.