A new BT survey of 650 UK professional services executives shows that whilst nine out of ten feel they can reduce office space and at the same time increase productivity through new ways of working, three major barriers stand in their way – the cost of change (50 per cent), senior managers not recognising the business case (49 per cent) and cultural resistance (45 per cent).
The survey findings indicate that a lack of trust in some professional services firms could also be a barrier to technological innovation. When asked about their organisation’s approach to working flexibly, a significant minority (nearly one in four) of staff in accountancy firms said their senior manager was not supportive because they did not trust teams to use the time out of the office well.
There is also a feeling amongst staff that their office remains the battleground of promotion. Over 90 per cent of lawyers, accountants and management consultants believe a regular presence in the office is essential for career progression. However, although office working is perceived to be useful to gain a promotion, the use of collaboration technologies including the ability to work in new, more flexible ways should not be overlooked; half the senior knowledge workers surveyed (51 per cent) believe better collaboration technology and new ways of working could boost their staff productivity by 20 per cent or more.
The survey indicates that legal firms seem slower in adopting workplace innovation. Within this sector, 65 per cent of respondents said less than 10 per cent of their office space is dedicated to collaboration — such as meeting rooms, break-out zones or informal gathering points — and 62 per cent believe the major barrier to the implementation of flexible working in their organisation is that “it would not sit comfortably with our culture” — the highest of all the sectors surveyed.
Emer Timmons, President of BT Global Services UK, commented: “The professional services sector has become vital to the UK, doubling in size over the past two decades and contributing 10 per cent to national economic output. Our survey suggests that some of these firms need to look more boldly at using collaboration technology to unlock new ways of working. Old-fashioned attitudes such as spending time in an office to boost the chances of promotion means many organisations are holding back progress and missing out on the potential 20 per cent increase in staff productivity.
“Today, BT is launching a new proposition aimed at helping knowledge-based businesses further reduce their costs and increase the billability of their people. ‘Powering up the Professional Worker’ is a modular suite of services, managed in the cloud and delivered ‘as a service’– matching cost to demand.”
To mark the launch of ‘Powering up the Professional Worker’, BT has published an economic report looking at cost trends for professional services firms since the internet and mobile communications heralded a new era of collaborative working in the early 1990s.
It reveals firms have been spending an average of £37,000 a year on bought-in goods and services for every person employed. The relative share of some costs have been consistently rising (e.g. IT software, legal services), some steadily falling (e.g. property, telecomms) and others rising then falling (e.g. travel, advertising). Surprisingly, despite price rises, the relative importance of energy costs has not changed significantly.
By comparing changes in employment, earnings, profit and output, the report assesses the relative ‘pain’ felt by different professional services firms during the recession. The ‘Pain Index’ (see table below) shows information services, real estate and legal firms have been the most successful at adapting, with the most successful firms pursuing aggressive cost management strategies, outsourcing non-core activities and reducing property costs in their efforts to protect profits.
Emer Timmons continued: “The UK is widely acknowledged as the global centre of excellence for knowledge based businesses. Many of them have been at the forefront of workplace innovation in recent decades, but based on our experience and technology, we believe we can take them further. BT can help align these companies for hyper-efficiency through business-led, people-centric transformation which will deliver new growth opportunities and connect them to a better future.”