While Australian is working towards vaccination rates that allow a re-opening of businesses, state and federal borders, there’s still many longer term changes that will need to be examined and considered.
The best indicators we have of a post-covid future is to consider those countries that have reached acceptable vaccination rates (as determined by their authorities) and have re-opened partially/fully for business.
We are likely best to look to Europe, the US/Canada, and perhaps Singapore as a case in our local area.
In the US, the AFR reports the risk of catching COVID-19 at most workplaces in the US is no greater than catching it elsewhere.
And major employers of knowledge workers are expecting their staff to be back at their offices/desks by January 2022. Knowledge workers are perhaps the closest digital job to Australian accountants we can consider.
It’s likely, given the US scenario, that there will be resistance to returning to the office by some workers. This especially so in Australia, where we have held a fortress zero covid case for the past 1-2 years. So we can expect a stand-off and longer negotiation/discussion period between Australian accounting firm owners and Australian accountants over what the long-term plan should be in terms of return to the office.
It’s more than likely a hybrid model will take shape in Australia, where part at home and part at work. And each industry will have different risk profiles, in terms of their employees “at home” situation versus their “at work” situation. For example, there seems evidence to support crowded “at home” multi-generational situations involve higher risk than say a person living alone / with a roommate. And the work situation depends on the office environment. So we many not see a return to co-working spaces in the immediate future, and accountants working from crowded coffee shops will involve higher risk than offices dedicated to accountants.
Also, at the same time, there is likely going to have to be a difficult discussion on vaccinations of employees, and the extent to which knowledge is shared within the office of who has/hasn’t been vaccinated.
The 5 key issues Australian accounting firm owners will have to consider:
- Determining when the future model of office work in their firm needs to be in place, and communicating this to their staff
- Resolving the difficult discussion of who is/isn’t vaccinated, and whether this knowledge is shared with other staff
- Undertaking a risk profile of staff to determine the risk profile of the firm for covid
- Considering a hybrid model of working from home / from the office
- Considering the difficult discussions with staff on productivity and moving to pay commensurate with productivity to allow staff to select work location and working hours.
Many of these issues will only come to light in early 2022, but Australian accounting firm owners should be ready to have these discussions with their employees, and have mapped out a risk profile to mitigate risk to the staff working in offices.
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