Recap: Navigating Disruption in the Accounting Space | Tenant Talks

With a vaccine now on the horizon, our “next normal” seems to be approaching – and very soon. On Wednesday, December 9th, 2020, we hosted our most recent Tenant Talks event. Panelists included representatives from accounting firms KPMG and E&Y in both Canadian and US-based offices, while Rocky Ozaki, Founder of Now of Work led the discussion.

We learned about how firms in the accounting industry are navigating disruptions and preparing for the future of their offices.

Prefer to watch the video recording? Watch here.


Q1 – What’s one significant change your company has made in response to COVID-19?

Grace Paul, America’s Experience Leader of Real Estate Services at E&Y shared how E&Y now puts a renewed and focused effort into the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of its staff.

“We’ve done what we can to focus on staff’s wellbeing in a time that’s very challenging. And not just their fiscal wellbeing but their mental wellbeing as well,” said Grace.

David Hearn, Regional Real Estate Services Leader at E&Y said his company is looking at less office space, and for that space to be more of a collaborative space that still adheres to social distancing.

“You’re no longer going to come into the office from 9-5,” he said, “It’s a purpose-driven environment. If you’ve got a meeting, you come in, and do what you gotta do and head out.”

Walter Pela, GVA Regional Managing Partner at KPMG Canada, jumped in to discuss the accelerated pace in which organizations have adopted flexible and remote working arrangements. He said that despite the adverse context in which all of this has happened, the silver lining was that his firm really began to embrace flexibility. 

“This seismic shift has accelerated what was going to happen in the next 5-10 years into a very short window of time,” said Walter.


Q2 – How has your organization dealt with “fatigue” or burnout that many are experiencing because of the pandemic? How are you re-energizing your organizational culture?

Speakers discussed their similar experience in fatigue and the reason it has happened. Including: a lack of physical connection, a slowed speed of communication, and fewer hands-on mentorship opportunities.

David said that his firm has seen a reduction in monthly company-wide and an increase in smaller, more meaningful meetings.

“Thanks to technology, we have lots of team calls to check in. We feel we have a stronger connection than we ever had, even if that’s over video,” said David.

Grace shared how her leadership team has taken a no-judgement approach to how people are showing up to work. People are bringing their real selves to work, and they’re not always as made up as they used to be. The work-self and the personal-self have become more blurred. 

Walter agreed that teams are touching base more often than they would before. He has seen the same happen with his company’s global people surveys that would traditionally only be done once a year. They are now sent out much more frequently to assess employee sentiments more often.

“Our Chief Mental Health officer’s sole purpose is to amplify the message and acceptability of mental health as something we talk about in the firm,” he said, “Together, we work on noticing symptoms of struggling mental health and coming up with a game plan of what to do around them.”


Q3 – As we look to, and plan for, a year from now (assuming a vaccine being widely available and effective) what purpose will your physical office fulfill? What might it look like – what can or can’t change?

Walter stated that although the office remains the anchor to businesses, people are the biggest asset. He discussed how design will and is already changing towards people-based design and use of the space.

“Space is no longer based on intensity or how many people you can pack per square foot. That has shifted greatly,” he said, “We need to offer a variety of mind space.”

David said that he expects that employees will want to avoid the commute times and parking costs of coming in a few days a week, so they’ll be making their best efforts to be a lot more efficient with their time.

“If you knew you had to go into the office one day a week, you’d plan that day extremely well,” he said.

Grace stated that there is a direct correlation between people’s commute times and their willingness to be in office. Her firm expects that this will play a big factor when it comes to the hybrid working model. Grace agreed that days in office will become a lot more intentional.

All of the panelists brought up their concerns around how leadership is going to blend the physical and the digital in the future.

“How do you make sure that there is equal participation from those who aren’t in the office?,” said Rocky, “What happens to those who don’t have as much face time if they prefer to work remotely?”

Panelists agreed on leadership’s critical role in ensuring equality as we bridge the physical and the digital in the future office.


Q4 – What are examples of approaches to bringing staff back into the office? Does your organization have any safety measures put in place for both physical and mental well being for welcoming staff back to the office?

Grace mentioned her firm’s tactical efforts to ensure the health and safety of staff, like measuring indoor air quality, ramping up cleaning protocols, and introducing self-certification apps.

She stressed how important it is that firms communicate changes and expectations to their employees. 

“You need to make sure that people understand that the measures in place are intentional and consistent,” she said, “People need to know what to expect and how to use the technology.”

David shared how EY has implemented a 4-level system that determines the percentage of staff leadership is allowed to bring in, 100%, 50%, 25% or 10%. The rule is that leadership making this request for staff to come in must also be present on those days.

He mentioned that leadership has to be mindful of the employee experience. Especially if their employees are coming back to work while the rest of the community remains locked down.

David talked about how EY has worked closely with its whole ecosystem to ensure they understand building protocols. “We’ve worked closely with landlords to make sure our safety protocols match what the building is doing,” he said, “If landlords only allow 3 people in an elevator at one time, then we can expect to see lineups in the lobby and on our floors. We need to make sure we work with that schedule and understand and match their intentions.”

Next, Walter discussed how his team intends to remain socially distant by keeping communication digital and meetings virtual wherever possible. Lastly, the panelists shared some of the benefits of digital meetings. 

“The screen is a great equalizer,” said Walter “It’s hard to dominate team calls when everyone gets the same space on a screen.”


As always our Tenant Talks events end off with a round of rapid-fire questions. Here’s what our panelists had to say.

What are you most fearful of moving into 2021 in regards to the working environment?

“The liability of office space out there that’s not going to be used,” said David

“Failing to seize the moment, going back to the same old,” said Grace

“We don’t want to get complacent and be back where we were after the pandemic has been managed. We don’t want to go back to our old ways,” said Walter.


What’s the biggest surprise/learning you’ve gained from this COVID experience?

“Remote working proof of concept, confirmed,” said Grace

“Our resilience and ability to work remotely,” said Walter

“Resilience across the board, from landlords to staff, clients, everybody,” said David


What is the one golden nugget of advice you’d like to share about the future of office design and experience?

“Design and experience are going to matter more than ever in the future. You’ll want to be the employer of choice and location of choice,” said Grace

“The environment is purpose-driven, you come in, do what you have to do, and it makes people a heck of a lot more efficient,” David said. 

“Being able to plan for a post-pandemic situation. What does the hybrid future look like? We have an opportunity, a window, to plan for it now,” said Walter


We thank our panelists & attendees for joining us on this discussion on workplace strategy for the future of our offices.

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