Just a few months ago, if you had asked anyone whether it would be possible to move an entire revenue agency workforce to work from home, few would have thought it likely. But that’s exactly what agencies around the world have achieved. And they rightly take significant pride in the speed and decisiveness with which they were able to outmanoeuvre the uncertainty of working through a pandemic.

Now the really interesting question is, what happens next? If tax agencies could return to the pre-COVID world, would they? I suspect that many would reply with a guarded “no”. The experience of remote working for many agencies and their staff has been generally positive. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some agencies have seen an increase in productivity since being forced to move to remote working models. Accenture research highlights that 48 percent of employees across industries who had never previously worked from home would now seek to do so more in the future. So, is there a chance to take advantage of the new tools and models set up in response to COVID-19 and reimagine the way revenue workforces operate?

For tax agencies, a more flexible approach to remote working opens a number of potential advantages. If a remote working model becomes the default, it creates opportunities for people who find it difficult to travel to an office. That might include carers or people with limited mobility. Or those based in places far from major centres where offices are located. It’s creating a whole new vista of employment opportunity by expanding the talent pool that tax agencies would be able to access. There’s clear upside for agencies, staff and potential employees.

But making what was a temporary shift to remote working a permanent way of operating does also raise challenges. There are fundamental questions common to both public and private sector about the best way to manage a remote workforce, for example how frequently people should be expected to come into an office. The tools that they need to operate effectively, securely and safely also need careful thought.

Working from home can have implications for wellbeing, too. So agencies need to understand how their employees may be feeling, and make sure that they offer the right support. For example, to support our workforce in Ireland, Accenture developed a program called Let’s Get Virtual. It involves a multi-pronged communication campaign to provide practical information and learning interventions to help the workforce adjust to working remotely and to look after themselves and others.

The actual work that people do may not vary considerably from office to home. But how they do it and the context in which they operate will be very different. When new employees join an organisation, a significant part of their onboarding takes place almost organically as they spend time with new colleagues. The culture of an organisation, while often not explicitly articulated, becomes apparent very quickly. To achieve that with a virtual workforce requires considerable thought about how to communicate values and expected behaviour. New forms of training and collaboration will be needed to bring people into the organisation and help them work effectively. However remote working is new and with new joiners, issues of trust and cultural understanding are uncomfortable questions that we must all face in adopting to the new reality. It’s a familiar challenge for Accenture, as we’ve been operating as a virtual organisation long before COVID-19.  Staff have learned to accept this reality and this experience is part of the help Accenture is sharing with other large organisations to implement the tools and methodologies that enable them to work remotely.

I’d be very interested in your views about whether remote workforces will become a permanent fixture for revenue agencies. And please get in touch if you’d like to hear about how Accenture goes about making the most of virtual teams’ agility and flexibility.

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David Regan

Managing Director – Consulting, Revenue Lead

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