With restrictions being eased across various states of Australia in the coming weeks, it is important to consider the current and future effects COVID-19 has had on public practice within Australia. Over the past few weeks, we have seen everything from pay cuts, reduced hours, redundancies and believe it or not, staff hiring!

Listed below are some observations of what we have seen, and what we might come to see of public practice in the future.

The initial effects of COVID-19 on the accounting job market

Since Victoria was declared a State of Emergency on Monday, March 16 we have seen Big 4 firms cut hours and pay by up to 40 per cent, widespread redundancies across boutique, mid-tier and Big4 practices and firms having to transition to working from home.

Initially, we saw a number of hiring processes put on hold as well as start dates being pushed back indefinitely due to a lack of workflow. With SMEs shutting their doors during the pandemic and larger organisations tightening the screws on their budgets for consulting services, there has been a strain on the incoming workflow for accountants.

What does hiring look like for accounting firms right now with COVID-19?

The first and most sensible response for accounting firms during COVID-19 was to put all hiring processes on hold until we had a better understanding of the economic effects of the pandemic. After a couple of weeks of being bunkered down, some practices (in particular suburban firms) picked up their hiring processes right where they left off.

Clients have arranged meetings with candidates via various digital video platforms and negotiated flexible start dates to suit both the candidate and client’s needs. They have also provided the flexibility to work from home indefinitely until we have more certainty of the future. With the assistance of FutureYou’s 9-page Virtual Onboarding pack, clients have been able to remotely set up new-starters from home, with a detailed outline of what needs to be done the week before their start date, the first day and beyond to ensure employee retention and wellbeing.

An interesting observation to note has been a significant spike in contract work. In a market which relies typically on permanent hires, businesses with immediate requirements are operating with complete transparency and are taking candidates on 1-3 month contracts who have recently been made redundant. This is with the understanding that both parties might be looking for a different style of candidate/firm in a post-pandemic society.

The 'new normal' in public practice

One of the key things to note from this pandemic is the transition from public practice being a candidate poor to candidate rich talent pool. What this means is that for the next 6-18 months, we are going to see the balance of power transitioned from employee to employer. Candidates are going to experience the job market to be far more competitive for vacancies, while clients will have more ownership in dictating salaries.

 Taking into consideration the recent spike in redundancies, boutique firms are capitalising on having access to a larger pool of higher calibre candidates. While there is always a ‘flight-risk’ for accountants moving from the big end of town into a boutique practice, progressive and innovative firms are being given the opportunity to flaunt their wares and show high calibre candidates the amazing opportunities they can present.

The past month has seen businesses having to transition from their offices to working from home, with some doing it better than others. While some firms were able to set up in half a day, there are a number of accountants whose firms are still having a lot of teething issues with connectivity and communication. Funnily enough, clients who typically didn’t have working from home capabilities, but do so now, have seen a spike in productivity since staff have been able to work remotely.

Whilst digital transformation is a lot more than just working remotely, there is a current need for firms to get familiar with working online and gives employees the chance to focus on streamlining the business as well.

What we can hope for

With this pandemic being a case study for working from home for a lot of people, will businesses be more flexible with it from now on? And will it last?

Over the past month, we have learned to connect on a deeper level with family and friends, social media has burst at the seams with homemade recipes and ‘work-out’ from home videos and we have valued exercising outdoors more. My hope is that this leads to a healthier society, both mentally and physically.

Please reach out if you would like your own copy of FutureYou’s full virtual onboarding checklist, please message me on LinkedIn or email me at tommiles@future-you.com.au. If you would like some support on your hiring processes or help to find a new role, please let me know.