PwC NI: putting its people first (Sponsored)

Mar 26, 2021
PwC Northern Ireland’s Emma Murray explains why she’s looking forward to returning to work in the firm’s brand new nine-storey headquarters and helping local businesses get back on track.

Coming back to work after having my baby to a world that had been transformed because of COVID-19, of course I found that so much had changed. But what will always be the same is the importance of actually being together, and I can’t wait until we are,” says Emma Murray, Audit Partner at PwC in Northern Ireland.

And in a few short months, Emma will be joining her colleagues in Belfast as the firm opens new headquarters in the city centre, a multi-million-pound investment by the UK firm that underlines its commitment to local talent and businesses.

“Merchant Square is a transformative investment because we’ve been focused from the start on ensuring that collaboration will be at the heart of everything we do, from our people to our clients and our Place & Purpose partners,” says Emma.

“After a year of being apart, we value more than ever the impact of working together, the spark of conversation that sets ideas flowing. In audit, one of the most important things we do is support the training and career development of our teams, and that happens best in person rather than over a video call.”

The way PwC supports its staff is front and centre in its new headquarters. For a start, the nine-floor building will have a dedicated wellbeing space fitted with meditation pods, space for exercise classes like yoga and pilates, and treatment rooms to accommodate manicurists or physiotherapists. It is also evident in how it has further invested in its people through the Digital Academy programme, which trains participants in new technologies focused on data analytics, visualisation, and automation.

“It’s hard to know how we would have managed the last year without technology. If there were any questions about the sense of investing so heavily in technology before the pandemic, there isn’t any more. The firm was ahead of its time in understanding why staff needed access to the best technology, to the point where we were able to pick up our laptops on the last day in the office and start working from home almost seamlessly,” Emma adds.

“How we audit has changed as a result of COVID-19. As a result of the technology holding up so well, we have been able to conduct audits remotely. It was a culture shock in many ways at the start as there was always such a heavy reliance on being present at a client site to validate source documents and be close to client teams. But we’ve been able to demonstrate how we can do much of this through secure online portals for collecting client data and information and connecting with group teams worldwide where there would have been an expectation for a physical visit to overseas locations.
However, as the saying goes, nothing beats being there – but at least we have developed a way of working that gives us more options and, indeed, more flexibility.

“For years, we innovated how we audit, using smart technologies to extract data remotely, to analyse it, and to enable our clients to drill down into it where appropriate. We always look for new technology-enabled solutions, but we’ll never underestimate the importance of having the very best-trained people to be in charge,” Emma continues.
The firm often states that its most important asset is its people, which is very clear as it prepares for a return to the office. Surveys have revealed that, while some firms are transitioning to a permanent ‘work from home’ culture, PwC staff plan to use the office between two and four days a week.

“There’s a culture that people embrace in the firm. I’ve spent my entire career here, so clearly there’s a lot to commend it. But it’s been incredible how much focus has been placed on supporting each other during this time. The leadership recognises mental health as a business-critical issue; if we’re not healthy, how can we be effective? So we’ve had things like a year-long subscription to a mental health app, firm-wide live streams to discuss resilience and topical issues that impacted people over the year, and access to mental health counsellors through our health plan,” says Emma.

“We also created a way that empowered people to take time out during lockdown if they had caring responsibilities, with a new time code. Things like this, which people spent much time researching and developing, spoke volumes to our people about how they were valued,” she continues.

“In many ways, I’m not surprised at all. I was promoted while I was pregnant, which would be unexpected in many other places. But it was never a problem here. So far from feeling like being in the office is a drag, I see people who look forward tobeing back with colleagues and friends, particularly in our brand new headquarters.”

In recent weeks, PwC revealed that Northern Ireland is the best place to live and start a business, according to the Future of Government survey of 4,000 people in the UK. The team, led by Kevin MacAllister, is working with companies of all sizes in the local market.
According to Emma, getting the next couple of years right for business is the most important thing the firm can do. “I became an accountant because I was inspired by our entrepreneurs, and I still am. I’ve been there with the owners who have faced difficult times, and I admire the passion to turn it around. I love to see businesses bring in fresh things, new money, nurture talent – helping to make it a good place to live and work. For me, it’s much more than a job. It’s personal.”

Emma Murray is Audit Partner at PwC Northern Ireland.