By Jessica DiNapoli
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Accounting and consulting firm PwC told Reuters on Thursday it will allow all its 40,000 U.S. client services employees to work virtually and live anywhere they want in perpetuity, making it one of the biggest employers to embrace permanent remote work.
The policy is a departure from the accounting industry's rigid attitudes, known for encouraging people to put in late nights at the office. Other major accounting firms, such as Deloitte and KPMG, have also been giving employees more choice to work remotely in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
PwC's deputy people leader, Yolanda Seals-Coffield, said in an interview that the firm was the first in its industry to make full-time virtual work available to client services employees. PwC's support staff and employees in areas such as human resources and legal operations that do not face clients already had the option to work virtually full-time.
PwC employees who choose to work virtually would have to come into the office a maximum of three days a month for in-person appointments such as critical team meetings, client visits and learning sessions, Seals-Coffield said.
"We have learned a ton through the pandemic, and working virtually, as we think about the evolution of flexibility, is a natural next step," Seals-Coffield said. "If you are an employee in good standing, are in client services, and want to work virtually, you can, full stop."
Location does factor, however, into PwC employees' pay, Seals-Coffield said. Employees who opt to work virtually full-time from a lower-cost location would see their pay decrease, she added.
Alphabet Inc's Google also bases employees' pay on their location, with those who work from home permanently potentially earning less.
Most U.S. white-collar workers have been working from home since the pandemic took hold in March 2020. Chief executives have grappled with bringing employees back, weighing their management style and preferences against risks such as more contagious COVID-19 variants and workers rejecting vaccines.
PwC said in a memo to employees this week that it is offering the new policy to attract and retain talent and become more diverse. Partners at PwC whose team members choose to be in the office regularly will not be allowed to work completely remotely.
"We're confident we can manage hybrid teams," Seals-Coffield said. She added that PwC's research suggests that 30% to 35% of its eligible workers will take the firm up on the offer. PwC has 55,000 U.S. employees in total, and with its new policy, the majority will be able to work virtually if they want.
Seals-Coffield said PwC is not planning to make any significant changes to its real estate footprint due to the new policy. The firm plans to use its office space differently and in more collaborative ways, she said, without elaborating. PwC is globally headquartered in London, with its U.S. head office in New York.
In addition to providing auditing and accounting services, PwC consults with companies on issues such as return to the office. Asked about how PwC's new policy would inform its advice to clients on the topic, Seals-Coffield said that other organizations are deciding how to approach it "in ways that work for their workforce."
In June, PwC said it would hire 100,000 people over the next five years in jobs that would help clients report on diversity and climate. The firm currently employs 284,000 globally.
A spokesman for Deloitte said on Thursday the "range of time spent at client sites, at Deloitte offices, and remotely will vary."
The firm said in June all of its 20,000 employees in Britain would be allowed to choose in the future whether they work from home or not.
(Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Peter Cooney)