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Organisations finding it difficult to keep up staff morale finds ICAEW survey in 50 countries

Most businesses around the world expect working life to be different in the future, a survey by chartered accountancy body ICAEW has found. Based on a survey with chartered accountants from more than 50 countries, the shift to remote and flexible working was mostly seen as positive experience, ICAEW said.

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

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.

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. 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.

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.”

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