The return to the office: Lord Sugar and PwC - Boodle Hatfield

Your lawyers since 1722

17 May 2022

The return to the office: Lord Sugar and PwC

Written by

Katherine Worrall View profile
2 min read

A slightly surprising Twitter argument erupted last week between Lord Sugar and PwC, with the former criticising the latter's decision to allow staff to down tools at lunch on Fridays over the summer.

The policy adopted by PwC is an extension of the one it implemented in 2021 and, as the BBC and various other news outlets reported, seems to be very much aimed at allowing staff more flexibility, acting as a benefit, encouraging trust and rewarding staff for their efforts after what has been a difficult few years.

Lord Sugar's comments focussed on his own concern that staff working from home are less productive. Whilst that might very well be an issue for some employers, PwC clearly does not feel the need to require all its staff to come back in five days a week.

This argument about oversight vs trust, productivity vs flexibility, office vs WFH is a key factor in why the office market (as well as the retail and hospitality markets, and others impacted by where people physically are) at the moment is so difficult to predict. Many employers are, understandably, unsure what the "new normal" looks like and this is having a knock-on impact. Most firms rent their office space and landlords are finding themselves being asked for more flexibility in terms of term length, break options, the ability to share and options to increase/decrease the space being taken.

The vast majority of professional services firms have adopted a 2:3 WFH:office ratio and it is this 2:3 ratio which PwC itself, according to its website, adopted in 2021 and continues to take.

The consequence of any ratio requiring staff to work from an office is that the relevant employer needs to retain office space. And the higher the degree of staff flexibility over how often and when they come into that office, the higher the capacity of that office needs to be. There is then the associated discussion of what that office space looks like; in the wake of such high levels of resignations, is a traditional office environment acceptable or does the environment need to be at a far higher spec?

There isn't, clearly, an easy answer but with office take-up on the rise for 2022 (see my earlier article here), it is clear that offices are here to stay, even if it is not entirely clear what the long term look of office working and/or offices themselves will be.

"Lord Sugar, your post shows how out of touch you are with the modern working world and your lack of knowledge about what PwC are doing," Mr Osborne wrote. "This isn't about taking time off to be lazy - it is about flexibility to work effectively as and when we work our best."

Written by