How European companies are embracing hybrid working, ESG

Businesses are increasingly focusing on environmental, social, and governance KPIs, according to European finance leaders.

After more than 18 months, COVID-19 is unfortunately still part of our lives. Businesses have learned valuable lessons that are being put to good use as we continue to manage our daily lives and economies amid the outbreak. Recently, I met with our Europe Regional Advisory Panel members to hear what they have done in their companies during the pandemic and get their insights into any trends they are seeing develop.

In many companies, there has been a lot of dialogue between employers and employees about whether to return to a traditional five-day, in-office workweek. Expectations about where a job can be based, while still being productive, have changed.

Hybrid working is emerging as a strong trend, with staff spending at least a couple of days in the office each week. You can imagine the financial effects of a less “present” workforce include lower costs due to needing less office space, and our panel members said they were seeing this.

This shift may have an impact on areas such as consultancy, where clients traditionally expected consultants to be “on the ground”. In the future, that role could also be a hybrid with Zoom meetings replacing some of the in-person contact.

Our panel pointed out that offering hybrid working could put your company at an advantage in the battle for talent, with one member calling flexibility the “new currency of talent”. As global competition for candidates heats up, if your business can offer the flexibility of when and where your staff work but doesn’t provide these employee-friendly options, your competitors who do offer flexibility will have an edge.

I also learned how home working leads to more streamlining of back-office functions, creating efficiencies and reducing headcounts. Automation, with the accompanying impact on processes, makes it easier for companies to accommodate different types of working, either from home or in different time zones. A representative from a global telecoms firm told us that they have seen companies embracing automation that hadn’t been interested in it before the pandemic.

As for the future of management accountancy skills, one panel member explained that, although management accountants have a famously strong bond with Excel, a knowledge of computer code will give you an advantage. The ability to process and analyse data outside Excel — and having the skillset to do things in the database management program SQL (pronounced like “sequel”) or in Python — is going to become, according to a panellist, “a real differentiator”.

Finally, the importance of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) KPIs has become firmly embedded in companies since the pandemic started, according to our panel. I noticed ESG metrics being taken more seriously before then. But interest in them has accelerated. It is at least partly because there are significant financing investment opportunities that are linked to your firm’s ESG performance. If you are not at least looking at your ESG footprint, you could be missing out, and not only on your corporate social responsibilities.

As we move into the next phase of the pandemic, whatever that looks like, follow our regular regional advisory panel discussions to gain insights into the changes affecting businesses around the world. They could well impact you, too.

Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, is chief executive–Management Accounting, at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing AICPA & CIMA. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Oliver Rowe, an FM magazine senior editor, at