PwC's CPO: Return to the Office Planning

As the Chief People Officer of PwC, Mike Fenlon understands the importance of developing a workforce for the digital, inclusive, and sustainable economy of the 21st century. In our August CHRO Next Practices Monthly call, Mike discussed how he has applied human centered design to transform and drive innovation at scale, and of course dove in on the company's return to office and hybrid work strategies.

  • On return to the office planning… PwC has had offices open on a limited basis—they are purely optional—but has been operating largely in a virtual manner. We’ll open all of our offices later in the fall, but in terms of a return, we’re monitoring the situation (no set date).
  • On rethinking work… PwC has been using the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink how they work. They’re seeing heightened demand for increased flexibility, and companies that offer flexible work will have a competitive advantage. They’ve categorized jobs on flexibility factors such as “purely virtual” or “largely in-office,” with the majority of roles being “flex”—somewhere in the middle. Ultimately, decisions have to be localized due to their client-centric organization. They can’t legislate from the central to every global employee’s daily schedule. They’ve playbooks for managers and employees so that there is consistency and understanding.
  • On determining who needs to be in office… PwC has started with the role and determined that many roles can be done virtually or with much more flexibility than first thought. Every role operates within a team. They also have relied heavily on employee listening to categorize roles. Finally, they acknowledge that they didn’t get everything right and seek to make rapid decisions as new issues arise.
  • On employee listening… Beyond the traditional engagement survey, they pulse employees with a single question via “Feedback Friday.” They also built a listening platform (for clients and employees) that enables surveying at the enterprise level, but individual teams can also do pulse checks. Further, they conduct qualitative panels of employees, conduct sentiment analysis, and monitor social media.
  • On vaccine mandates… PwC supports CDC guidance, but have not implemented any policies around employee vaccine mandates. They encourage employees to speak with their personal physicians. As many of their employees are expected to be onsite with clients, if a client requires a vaccine, they will work with both the client and employee to accommodate both.
  • On shifting from individual performance to team performance… PwC has introduced what they call the “New Equation,” which is anchored on two fundamental truths/strategic imperatives that define the business world today. By embracing these, it helps informs the importance of inclusive leadership skills, collaboration, and more, that can be integrated into performance feedback conversations. The New Equation entails:
    • Building trust – related to DE&I, transparency, ESG, cybersecurity, etc.
    • Ability to deliver sustained outcomes
  • On maintaining equity in a dispersed workforce… In August 2020, PwC published its first transparency report, which ties to a broader agenda of equity and inclusion. Globally, the company has deployed digital badges on a variety of topics; one of the most recent ones is on inclusive leadership, which includes leading a virtual team. They’ve built skills and playbooks on this, and are conduction trainings—which touch on subjects such as running or participating in meetings, management decision making (hiring, promotion, performance management, feedback, coaching, who I’m advocating for, who I’m investing in), etc.
  • On onboarding and assimilating new employees virtually… Like most companies, PwC had to move the things they’d like to do in person to virtual, and they’ve done that based on their listening strategy. They do weekly check-ins with new hires. Regarding socialization, which they see as critically important (many new hires are right out of college and feel very isolated), one thing they do is form small groups of interns/new employees and connect them with peers who are just a little further along from a career standpoint. This focus on building connectivity is intended to drive relationship building and create a sense of community.
  • On office space and in-person collaboration… PwC sees the value in coming together in person, but expect such situations to be more deliberate in the future (such as for a learning experience, for coaching, for a particular phase of teamwork when in-person collaboration really affects outcomes, and for onboarding). They’re examining the employee experience and project lifecycles to determine where in-person is most valuable.
  • On diversity, equity, and inclusion… though CEO Tim Ryan has been a huge advocate for DE&I—he is the driver of PwC’s CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative (of which i4cp is an early pledger), real change doesn’t come solely at the senior leadership level. It needs to be found in all aspects of the culture, and be taken into account in the thousands of decentralized decisions that get made every day by non-executive employees. Ultimately it comes back to the culture and the question, how do you build trust? Part of it is through transparency. Employees know that this is a part of what makes them successful in their career, and with clients. DE&I is integrated through PwC’s people processes, as a leadership capability, among other things.
  • On upskilling… Investment in workforce upskilling remains front and center. Digital transformation, DE&I, and inclusive leadership are among the items being reinforced.
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