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The future of work is people, say ICAEW international members

14 December 2020: In the first poll of ICAEW Chartered Accountants around the world, common challenges and opportunities emerge – alongside a clear belief that people need to be put first and foremost.

Often operating from critical vantage points within organisations, chartered accountants are well-placed to share insights into how organisations of all types and sizes have been functioning during the coronavirus pandemic. 

A survey of ICAEW members based in over 50 countries published today indicates that the majority (nine in ten) think working life will look quite different. Reflecting on what has worked well and what less so, members also point to the pandemic-induced changes that are here to stay and those that are not. 

A greater focus on mental health and wellbeing

Without ignoring the negative impact of the pandemic, many of the significant shifts in working life seen this past year – from remote and flexible working to rapid digitalisation – have been largely welcomed. 80% of respondents found the move to remote working a positive step, while almost three-quarters (73%) hailed the acceleration of digital transformation during the pandemic.

However, the move comes with potentially significant downsides, including greater isolation and alienation of employees. The impact on mental health is seen by just under half (47%) as having been negative, while two-fifths think staff morale has suffered. 

Mixed views from respondents on how successful organisations have been in supporting staff wellbeing during 2020 suggest the need for greater focus ahead. Organisations that show and build empathy may well be the ones able to best navigate the challenges of post-pandemic work.

Addressing the needs of new talent

One in two international members polled agree it has been challenging to bring onboard new employees during the pandemic. 

Building personal networks, adapting to corporate and/or professional culture and gaining practical experience is also more difficult to do remotely. This is of specific concern when it comes to young employees who may particularly need proper supervision, on-the-job training, and mentoring. 

Where organisations look to retain more hybrid working practices, they will also need to dedicate attention, time and resources to ensure they can attract, develop and retain the best talent.

A finance function in evolution

If members are broadly positive about the limited impact of the pandemic on productivity, underpinned by increased investments in technology, many highlight significant operational challenges. These are often in areas that most rely on human interaction. 

Over three quarters, for instance, identify the difficulties of making meaningful forecasts in distressed times. Two-thirds point to challenges in understanding what has been going on in the business while suggesting that financial controls have generally held up. 

Looking ahead, members want to retain some working practices (and digital tools) from 2020 while also resuming more face-to-face interactions to help ensure greater certainty around financial and risk management. Whatever the precise balance between on- and off-site working in the future, successful organisations cannot compromise on their need for an effective finance function. 

In-person interactions still matter

If there is one aspect of working life that ICAEW members internationally have missed during 2020, it is the loss of face-to-face contacts with colleagues and clients. Digital communications work, but they cannot replace those ‘drop by the desk’ moments. 

It is no surprise most members believe organisations will want to reinstate in-person interactions as soon as possible, even if in a more hybrid format. Physical gatherings are key enablers for creative thinking, brainstorming and innovation. 

Members concur that engaging new clients and building new partnerships are harder to do virtually. Internally and externally, it is easier to build trust in-person. It will be up to each organisation to realise the best mix of virtual and physical work interactions to succeed in a post-pandemic world.

Worldwide, COVID-19 will continue to have a far-reaching impact on the working practices of many organisations. As we continue to explore the implications for the profession, we welcome all thoughts on the survey’s findings and reflections. 

Read the survey results in full here.


CABA offers support to past and present ICAEW members and staff, ACA students, and their close families – has produced a range of guides on maintaining good mental health during the pandemic, including how to adjust to the new normal.