Is flexible working a win win? | A contribution from Helen Crossland, Seddons Solicitors
Is flexible working a win win? | A contribution from Helen Crossland, Seddons Solicitors

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Commerce & Industry

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General

16/09/19

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A contribution from Helen Crossland, Seddons Solicitors If we are to believe the statistics, flexible working is the winning ticket. For employees, it is often now a key consideration in any job move that agile working will be part of the package. It may also be a factor in why they are seeking a new role in the first place. Most businesses too are keen to fly the flag of flexible working, recognising the allure it has for potential new recruits and the positive, forward-thinking message it can send out about their business. While it may be secondary to the impact it can have to a businesses’ bottom line, if office space can be forfeited or used more resourcefully, flexible working at face value seems a wholly positive initiative. Flexible working brings other advantages - it is a widely acknowledged tool in promoting employee wellbeing. Employees who have more latitude and control over when and where they work are proven to have less sickness absence. Mental health issues in the workplace are also reduced. Operated properly, it can increase productivity levels and garner such satisfaction in employees so that they won’t leave. Put simply, businesses risk losing good people if they shun modern working practices. Particularly if the competition is busy investing in technology and smarter, leaner working methods which enable staff to work remotely and as efficiently as they do when they are at the office. The benefits that come from enabling employees to perform their duties from home, a hot desk or co-working space, some or all of the time, are undisputable. The reality however, is that agile working raises a number of practical challenges. Its work ability is governed largely by having the right infrastructure and IT support in place. Confidentiality and GDPR are also high-risk factors and have the potential to become a PR (and other) nightmare if laptops and paperwork are left unattended or on public display. Some businesses, because of what they do, simply cannot be as versatile as others. Moreover, certain roles do not lend themselves to being performed remotely owing to their managerial or supervisory nature, or the fact that the incumbent needs to be visible and on site. Problems can also arise where organisations offer flexible working too widely or without due consideration of business needs. It is not uncommon for organisations to have to row back on agreed working patterns when realising they are faced with a personnel or management vacuum on certain days. As for hot desking, there is strong evidence this is the least popular style of working and can be a significant source of stress and disaffection where individuals regularly have to engage in mid-week battles over computers and seating. Practicalities aside, trust and cultural issues still remain the foremost barriers to effective remote working. To help overcome these, a holistic approach needs to be taken on flexible working. This can be assisted by having effective policies in place which set out agreed parameters and which make it known that there must be equal flexibility on the part of the employee. Agile working may be something that an organisation offers to all employees as standard. In most cases it will be considered on a case by case basis however, as part of a formal flexible working request. Any employee with 26 weeks’ continuous service or more is eligible to apply to work flexibly. Applications can range from a desire to work fewer hours or days, compressed hours, varying start or leave times, or to work from home some or all of the time. Employers are obliged to give all requests ‘meaningful consideration’ and process applications, including any appeal, within 3 months of receipt. Unless a request can be readily granted, a formal meeting is recommended to discuss the application; the options then being to accept or refuse the request, or to agree a compromise including potentially granting a trial period. Any rejections must be based on one or more of the eight prescribed business reasons. Employers may understandably believe that when an application is granted, it will equal contentment in the recipient; appreciative of the ability to continue performing their role of choice while being better able to manage their other responsibilities and commitments. Not so according to the research which shows that 65% of employees who work flexibly or part-time report feeling less connected to their team, with 45% feeling their input is deemed less valuable because of their reduced working time/visibility. This is attributed to a host of factors including missing out on training and development initiatives, key/group meetings being scheduled at times they are not present, and marketing and social events taking place at prohibitive times. A conclusion to be drawn from the research is that employers should think twice about accepting requests if they are doing so reluctantly, or if they cannot ensure the employee’s working arrangements could be properly accounted for. If the business is unable or unwilling to be adaptable to those who work flexibly, it may be better to decline an application than risk opening up a whole new range of issues caused by an employee feeling devalued or side-lined. For a flexible working arrangement to succeed, it must be carefully managed with consideration given to the timetabling of meetings and events, the use of IT/ communications and ensuring that learning and development opportunities still include the employee as far as possible. Such measures can guard against employees being unwittingly or as the case may be, deliberately marginalised. For flexible working to be successful, there must be a two-way street and compromise on the part of the employee. Businesses are not expected to work around any one employee and if they do, run the risk of inciting resentment in others. There also needs to be recognition that an employee’s chosen work arrangements will inevitably cause them to miss certain opportunities and information, and that the employee needs to be equally responsible in minimising such gaps. The 10th edition of our highly regarded Market Insight Report represents the views of over 1,100 professionals, and contains insights from our specialist consultants and key business partners on market and employment trends.  If you’re looking to find out more on salary benchmarking and the motivations driving the modern workforce today, download our full report which contains key contributions from  Western Union Business Solutions, Women in Fund Finance, Intoo UK & Ireland and Breaking the Silence.

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If we are to believe the statistics, flexible working is the winning ticket. For employees, it is often now a key consideration in any job move that agile working will be part of the package. It may also be a factor in why they are seeking a new role in the first place.

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Becky Hughes

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Becky Hughes

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Becky Hughes

How is Fintech changing the commerce industry?
How is Fintech changing the commerce industry?

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Commerce & Industry

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General

10/12/18

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Fintech is constantly rewriting the rules on how companies operate, how businesses lend money, and how customers pay for goods. It’s exciting to see how it’s changing the way we conduct transactions across the market, and it’s going from strength to strength. Fintech was the leading sector for investment last year, with UK financial technology firms attracting a record £1.34 billion in venture capital funding. With the fintech market constantly evolving, from blockchain to automation, let’s look at how it’s impacting commerce and people’s roles:  Flexibility and Accessibility  One of the key benefits of fintech is its flexibility and the ease with which it can be adapted to suit the evolving digital market. In today’s hyper-connected world, it offers accessibility; casual shoppers, business people, and even companies can access their money instantaneously on banking apps, and pay for services with the touch of a button. It’s a new way of doing business, and digital-only banks like N26 and Revolut are springing up to deal with this method of frictionless payment, challenging traditional banks as they do so.  Falling behind means losing business, and fintech is disrupting the rules of business. The trend towards instant accessibility is raising client expectations: companies need to ensure that they’re providing a high-quality online service to their customers if they want to remain competitive. Whether it’s a mobile-friendly service or a 24/7 helpline, flexibility and digital accessibility are today’s keywords, and this is creating a demand for faster, more efficient ways of doing business. Innovation in Auditing The rise of fintech has also brought about a revolution in the role of the auditor. Blockchain technology has repeatedly been hailed as a breakthrough in the burgeoning crypto economy, receiving more than £500m of investment in the UK alone over the past year- and for good reason!  Blockchain is a decentralised online ‘ledger’ that records all transactions made for a particular company. Each transaction creates a ‘link’ that is locked into an online chain of similar transactions and makes it extremely difficult to tamper with; to interfere with one transaction, you need to tamper with all of them.  The biggest challenge an auditor faces is having the relevant data on hand to carry out their daily responsibilities; now that businesses are operating essentially in ‘real time’, a blockchain ledger containing essential data for any business can be monitored and maintained by the internal audit team, and then verified by an external team. For anybody working in accounting, adopting blockchain is an excellent way to minimise error, risk and enhance accountability, whilst also freeing up time to concentrate on other important tasks.   AI and Conversational Commerce From deep learning to analytics, AI is playing a vital role in influencing the market. Indeed, fintech companies are turning to smart technology to develop new interfaces, such as apps, through which they can learn more about their client base than ever before.  Using smart software helps companies in commerce to automate day to day tasks like data analysis, freeing up time normally spent on time-consuming or mundane parts of their job to do more valuable, high-level work. In fact, AI can do everything from draft contracts to analyse customer data and create actionable insights into the way an organisation does business; naturally, fintech companies that provide this software are thriving.  The benefits go further. For accounting teams, using automation and RegTech can even help them detect fraud, as the system can process, analyse and monitor customer behaviour to detect suspicious transactions and flag them for further investigation. With so many uses, it’s no wonder that fintech is paving the way for teams to do their day to day jobs more efficiently than ever before. An interconnected market  With all of this innovation taking place, we’re expecting to see more collaboration between big business - especially in commerce - and smaller start-ups, as both sides seek to leverage the other's expertise and gain more visibility in the market. Companies like Mastercard are partnering with and nurturing start-ups in order to encourage innovation within the market; still others, like Visa, are partnering with start-ups like Paidy, which offers post-payment credit services for eCommerce customers in Japan. As the fintech market expands, expect to see more of this collaboration, as firms grow closer together in order to innovate their customer offering. Looking to the future with Marks Sattin At Marks Sattin, we’re excited to see what the future will bring for the commerce industry, especially as fintech strengthens its grip on the market. It’s time to get involved: take the next step in your career and become part of the change with our range of jobs in commerce and industry, or read our blog for more insights.   

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Fintech is constantly rewriting the rules on how companies operate, how businesses lend money, and how customers pay for goods.

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Pres Pillai

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ABF’s venture into the sports nutrition arena – the story so far
ABF’s venture into the sports nutrition arena – the story so far

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Commerce & Industry

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Career Advice

18/01/18

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Mark is the Finance Director at ABF’s Sports Nutrition, which was created post the acquisition of two SME sports nutrition businesses: HIGH 5 and Reflex Nutrition. HIGH 5 is a leading hydration and energy brand and Reflex Nutrition is a premium strength and recovery brand.  AB Sports Nutrition is the culmination of a project ABF undertook which focused on how it could enter high growth fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) categories that they did not operate in at the time. Sports Nutrition was chosen as a high growth category which fitted well with ABF’s skill base, and had potential to create value within its grocery division. Over a period of two years, the business development team in ABF met a number of sports nutrition business owners. This exercise whittled a list of thirty potential targets down to ten. In 2016 ABF started in-depth discussions and due diligence work with HIGH5 and Reflex. After a lot of hard work, both businesses were acquired within a few weeks of each other in February and March 2017. The biggest challenge we experienced in the first six months was managing two highly entrepreneurial businesses; learning what makes them successful, developing growth plans; whilst managing the reporting and governance needs of ABF. We had to work out what critical processes needed to be put in place, e.g. anti-bribery and corruption guidelines and key segregation of duties controls, and what processes could wait because they would dampen the entrepreneurial spirit of the business. Whilst juggling this dichotomy, the people in the business were looking for leadership in a time of huge change, (we took the decision in May to move the HIGH5 factory from Leicester down to the Reflex Nutrition site in Brighton). From a finance perspective, we are in the process of building the foundations to enable us to accelerate growth. Implementing standard costs, and Purchase Price Variance accounting was one of the first big changes, along with developing processes to meet ABF’s four-weekly reporting cycle. After a spell of finance team recruitment, the team have done a great job of getting behind the numbers; to understand current performance and also, where the business makes money. This is helping inform better decision making. Lots of people who work at AB Sports Nutrition have a keen interest in sport. A passion for sport and for our products also shines through in our customers – at events people talk animatedly about their sports nutrition in a different way to how they talk about browsing the supermarket aisles. Whether struggling round a park run or competing in a Mixed Martial Arts competition, there is no doubt that HIGH5 and Reflex are helping people enjoy their sport more.  The lovely thing that makes ABF different is the degree of trust and autonomy they give to businesses at a local level. One of the most motivating aspects for me is that we are at the beginning of a journey, and we are making strategic choices for the direction we want to embark on. At ABF there is no set rule book; you can, if you are comfortable with some ambiguity, set your own path. Your plans and strategies are robustly challenged but this is done in a respectful way and with the aim of getting to a better solution. You also realise over time that usually someone somewhere in ABF has faced a similar challenge to the one currently facing you…and if you reach out to that person then almost without fail you get advice and unconditional help. The final thing that makes ABF different is the long term view. Roughly 50 years ago ABF invested in a small business in a sector they weren’t currently in. I’m not sure that our Sports Nutrition business will be as successful as Primark has been…but we plan to give it our best shot!  If you would like to learn more about ABF and our career opportunities, please visit the microsite here.  Guest author: Mark Fowle - Finance Director at AB Sports Nutrition

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Mark is the Finance Director at ABF’s Sports Nutrition, which was created post the acquisition of two SME sports nutrition businesses: HIGH 5 and Reflex Nutrition.

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Pres Pillai

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Pres Pillai

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Pres Pillai

Fitbit to Dublin
Fitbit to Dublin

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Commerce & Industry

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General

30/09/16

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Wearable tech giant Fitbit announced the launch of their new EMEA headquarters in Dublin at the end of August 2016 - yet another boost to Ireland’s reputation as a leading location for technology sector roles. The US based company hopes to grow their operations to 100 staff by the end of 2017 and Chief Executive James Park said "We look forward to building a strong team here to complement our offices around the world". Dublin has become a recognised strategic hub for tech excellence. It’s not just the tech giants like Google and Facebook that have chosen to make Dublin their home, there are some fantastic Irish start-ups like Foodcloud and Soundwave making a mark on the city. The move is seen by leading Irish figures as a solid endorsement of Ireland’s credentials as a home for leading international organisations and for foreign investment.  IDA Ireland, the semi-state owned body responsible for attracting investment into Ireland, would certainly agree. Martin Shanahan, CEO at IDA Ireland, stated that the move cemented “… Ireland’s reputation as a place for fast-growing tech companies to build and support their future international growth". Mary Mitchell O'Connor, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation described the move as "a further recognition of Ireland's appeal as an international hub for successful companies". This confidence is reflected by both Marks Sattin and our clients.  In a recent breakfast round table hosted by Marks Sattin for senior finance leaders at The Shelbourne in Dublin, the overall feeling was of a confidence in the ability of Ireland to attract world leading organisations and with that the prospect of further exciting employment opportunities.  

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Wearable tech giant Fitbit announced the launch of their new EMEA headquarters in Dublin at the end of August 2016 - yet another boost to Ireland’s reputation as a leading location for technology sector roles.

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Matthew Fitzpatrick

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Matthew Fitzpatrick

Matthew Fitzpatrick

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Matthew Fitzpatrick

Team GB equals gold for the Northern Powerhouse
Team GB equals gold for the Northern Powerhouse

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Commerce & Industry

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General

24/08/16

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The North has hit the headlines in recent weeks as Team GB powered to the No.2 spot in the medal table at the Rio Olympics with many of our most successful Olympic athletes of all time hailing from the great North. It seems that the new government is keen to capitalise on this success and Theresa May has pledged investment to boost the Northern Powerhouse project to “help the great cities and towns of the North pool their strengths and take on the world.”In an open letter featured in The Yorkshire Post, the prime minster stated that the United Kingdom has been much too dependent on growth in London and committed to building “a country that works for every one of us, in every part of the UK – not just the privileged few.” May confirmed significant government investment in transport, innovation, sport and tourism setting out a clear commitment to “get behind Yorkshire’s innovators and entrepreneurs” and promising that the UK Government would underwrite science investments made by EU institutions ensuring key investments in Yorkshire are not disrupted. The prime minster stated that these investments would be maximised by developing a “proper industrial strategy” to back Yorkshire’s key sectors.  In a separate article featured in the Birmingham Mail the prime minster set out plans for powering the “Midlands Engine” - another key part of the industrial strategy for the Northern Powerhouse. May highlighted the new business confidence in Birmingham “showing it can excel at a thousand different things, from high tech firms like Advanced Computer Software creating hundreds of jobs, to high-end manufacturing firms like Hydraforce opening their new factory over in Aston.” The Government’s key investment projects focus on transport with a new body, Midlands Connect, to drive forward better transport across the region and £60 million of innovation funding to back Midlands entrepreneurs. And let’s not forget Manchester! Over 20 Olympic medals were won by athletes benefiting from the world class training facilities at the Manchester Velodrome and the GB Taekwondo Academy. The defence group BAE Systems – which has a strong presence across Lancashire – is UK Sport’s official research and innovation partner. This partnership is intended to enable British athletes to achieve sporting excellence through the application of cutting edge technology and engineering solutions. A key part of the new vision for the Northern Powerhouse is greater local control and authority with a major devolution deal for Sheffield City Region agreed and new metropolitan mayors due to be elected in Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands next spring. There is little doubt that UK Sport’s strategy of embracing innovation, marginal gains and significant investment in training has helped Team GB rise to the top. With “a proper strategy” evolving for the Northern Powerhouse the future is looking very bright for the North!  

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Pres Pillai

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Pres Pillai

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Pres Pillai

British firms 'call for airport development'
British firms 'call for airport development'

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Commerce & Industry

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General

11/04/16

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A host of British businesses, including a number of top financial services firms, have called on the government to end 70 years of inertia and take steps to improve the UK's overall air capacityCompanies including Aberdeen Asset Management, Land Securities, Lloyds Banking Group and WPP are all involved in the so-called Let Britain Fly campaign, which marks a major step in the ongoing debate over developing a new aviation hub in the south-east. According to the firms involved, this matter could have serious consequences for businesses across the UK as well as for the country's overall financial health in the coming years. "If our economy is to flourish in the future it is vital we continue to be one of the best connected countries in the world. This is why we believe Britain remaining Europe's most important aviation hub is of strategic national importance," the organisation declared. There has been much debate over the UK's place in Europe over recent years, with this just one aspect of the problem that has been rumbling on for some years. More than 200 million passengers pass through British airports each year, with Heathrow already working to its full capacity to process these people. Further investment could take the pressure off this hub and ensure travellers are not subject to excessive delays or overcrowding. Some 40 per cent of British exports in value go by air, highlighting the importance of aviation to the country's overall economy. A government-appointed commission is currently examining where new runways could be placed, but no decision will be made until at least 2015, with business leaders keen to avoid any further delays and push the coalition into firm action. "We live in a world where connectivity is key - not only in digital but also in physical terms. This means we urgently need MPs to put our long-term national interest ahead of short-term politics," Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP told the Telegraph.

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Pres Pillai

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Pres Pillai

Pres Pillai

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Pres Pillai

Digital Health - a new revolution
Digital Health - a new revolution

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Commerce & Industry

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General

11/04/16

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New digital devices are making it increasingly possible to monitor health closely and deliver personalised care. Health is one story that is never out of the news. Whether it is the structure and funding of the NHS, the impact of modern lifestyles or the latest medical breakthrough, it is a matter in which everyone has a stake.  The use of digital technology may increasingly play a part in shaping the way healthcare is managed in the future. On one level this will be administrative; notwithstanding the failed project in the 2000s aimed at creating a new NHS computer infrastructure, ministers in the current government have gone on looking towards greater digitisation. Many of the benefits of this are obvious, such as enabling NHS staff to access important patient data at any time and in any location. However, the digital influence may go a lot further than that. The Doctors of Data Annual Review has noted the potential for wearable technology to create new paradigms of personal healthcare. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment and prescriptions, people can now benefit from devices such as wearable technology that can measure vital body functions and transmit data in real-time using wireless and mobile networks. This will build on developments like genomics, which personalise medicine according to each patient's biological make-up. This could mean, for instance that the right help can swiftly be found for patients displaying problems. It notes that pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking to partner with technology firms in delivering solutions. Indeed, an app from the NHS library called Sleepio, which won the Wired Health Bupa Startup competition, can offer just this sort of help by providing personalised behavioural therapy to those struggling with insomnia. All this could create a large number of roles for those working in the technology sector who would like to bring these developments to bear in a way that is highly beneficial - saving some lives and improving others. The M4 corridor may be one area to gain, with its well-established reputation as one of the centres of UK tech. Indeed, Thames Valley Chambers of Commerce has noted one Silicon Valley company has decided to set up a UK base in the region. E-health firm AliveCor now has a base in Slough, and is expanding fast. Its most notable product is the AliveCor Universal Heart Monitor, an ECG recorder that monitors and stores data on electrocardiogram rhythms. This is being trialled in both the UK and US. If successful, its further development and that of future devices could generate many jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.  AliveCor is certainly happy with the UK location, stating: "It’s an ideal location as it contains the correct mix of industries that we need and impacts: mobile telecoms, medical technology, secure cloud-based storage and big data analytics The calibre of potential staff and collaborative industry partners is second to none. Also, as this is the EU base, to be close to Heathrow airport is vital to reach all of the EMEA markets." While AliveCor is a fairly small company, there are indications that the likes of Apple with its Healthbook app are also getting involved in this area. In short, it is clear that there are great potential health benefits to be gained from the use of digital technology - and plenty of firms for whom developing the right products may be very lucrative and create thousands of new jobs.

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New digital devices are making it increasingly possible to monitor health closely and deliver personalised care.

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Pres Pillai

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Pres Pillai

Accounting on the edge: cool office spaces
Accounting on the edge: cool office spaces

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Commerce & Industry

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General

11/04/16

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The accountancy profession draws people in for many reasons, but hip office space generally isn’t one. That isn’t to say accountants’ offices are never amazing physical spaces (such as PwC’s award-winning South Bank location), but they are often less likely to include features that offices in the tech and creative sectors would. Indeed, tech titans such as Google and Apple are renowned for how cool their offices are, and even smaller players in the sector are getting in on the act. Teeside-based eCommerce firm Visualsoft has recently moved to a new office featuring pool tables, a fridge full of beer, a living wall of moss and table football. While a forward thinking office may not be as essential to attracting accounting talent as it is to attracting tech talent, accountancy firms could reap some major benefits from some minor tweaks. Research has shown employees are both more engaged and more motivated by spaces that are exciting, and firms willing to break with traditions in this respect could benefit from increased creativity (not that we’re advocating ‘creative accounting’ per se…). Indeed, some accountancy firms are already beginning to embrace new office spaces, with PwC’s office in Philadelphia now featuring a sun-trap roof terrace and a games room with a Wii and pool table. Given the spectacular growth the tech sector has enjoyed over the past decade, it’s little surprise accounting HR departments are looking to it for cues.

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Pres Pillai

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Pres Pillai

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Pres Pillai

Morrisons – the latest victim of the supermarket wars
Morrisons – the latest victim of the supermarket wars

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Commerce & Industry

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General

11/04/16

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Relegation can have a lasting impact on an organisation. Many former giants of football such as Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough still linger in the lower leagues – unable to recover from a string of erratic performances. The FTSE is even more treacherous than football’s top flight, with the threat of relegation looming on the horizon any time a firm’s market value dips. One huge British retailer learned this the hard way recently, with Morrisons cast out of the elite club of British corporations earlier this month following a 47% slump in half year profits.   As in football, there is inevitably a shake-up in an organisation following relegation – and reports this summer linked a Morrisons exit from the FTSE with investment from private equity (PE) firms. On the surface there is reason to think Morrisons’ CFO and senior members of its finance team may be worried – given PE’s reputation for regime change following a takeover. However, a change in ownership could also present the CFO with an opportunity. Investors will be looking to figure out the best possible way to turn the organisation around – and the existing team possesses a unique understanding of the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. While the management could well face an uphill struggle, with the support of a PE team focused on growth who can offer the perspective of the “critical friend”, they have the opportunity to turn around Morrisons’ fortunes. The world of football provides a perfect example of why the retailer’s new investors could do a lot worse than sticking with their current team. Despite being relegated, Hull City decided to stick with existing manager Steve Bruce and their key players – and are currently riding high in the promotion zone.

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