KPMG has told its UK auditors that they will be expected in the office or at client sites four days a week in the longer term, a signal that accounting firms may reduce the flexibility of their working arrangements after the pandemic.
The move will be closely watched by other large accounting and consulting groups, which have offered staff significant flexibility even after Covid-19 restrictions eased earlier this year.
Cath Burnet, KPMG’s head of audit in the UK, told employees in an email last week that client-facing staff should now be working at least two days a week either at the firm’s offices or at client sites. Staff in other divisions were given a similar message last month, the firm said.
KPMG staff had been working in offices a maximum of four days per fortnight since May, with some employees attending only occasionally.
Burnet also told KPMG’s 6,000-person UK audit division that they would spend the majority of their working week at offices in the longer term.
“In due course, we expect colleagues to be working two to three days per week at the audited entity site, one day in the office, and one to two days at home,” she said in the email.
Some senior auditors have expressed concern that remote working could damage audit quality and limit learning opportunities for young auditors, who carry out the bulk of the work checking companies’ financial statements.
KPMG was criticised by the UK accounting regulator in July for the “unacceptable” quality of its banking audits for the third year running.
It was also threatened by the UK government with a ban on bidding for public contracts if there was a repeat of recent scandals.
Burnet suggested that staff would not be entirely free to choose where they work from each day as teams would be expected to operate from the same location unless they were working from home.
“The days at the audited entity and in the office should be together as teams, whereas homeworking should be for specific tasks,” said Burnet.
Working together in person would “ensure we collaborate more efficiently, deliver high-quality audits, and continue to develop our technical and personal skills”, she added.
Regular attendance at the premises of companies audited by KPMG may depend on the approach adopted by those businesses, however.
A senior auditor at another leading firm said that in some cases his staff were restricted from attending client sites either because of the companies’ Covid-19 policies or because they were reducing their office space to cut costs.
Bosses have yet to decide when auditors would be required to return to offices and client sites four days a week, KPMG said.
The firm said it was following government guidance but that it was pressing ahead with plans to immediately increase attendance to a minimum of two days despite tighter Covid-19 restrictions following the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Other large accounting groups are yet to confirm their long-term working arrangements.
Hywel Ball, UK chair of EY, recently emailed partners asking them to consult with HR about contractual implications before making commitments to staff on future working from home arrangements, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
EY continues to support hybrid working and some of its staff work from home full time but requests for such arrangements require approval, said a person close to the firm.