No Late Calls, Fewer Friday Meetings as Accenture Tackles Stress

Accenture Plc says it wants its workers less stressed.

The consulting giant has asked employees to end conference calls by around 5:30 p.m. each day and limit the number of big meetings on Fridays during the summer. It’s also promoting training to help employees understand the science behind stress.

Accenture, with more than 500,000 employees in 200 offices globally, sent 95% of its staff to work remotely in March, as the coronavirus became a worldwide pandemic. While the company has seen productivity increase during the crisis, it says it’s now paying careful attention to how employees are managing their work-life balance.

“We’ve been very focused on mental health and helping people make sure they take breaks,” Jack Azagury, who oversees more than 10,000 employees as Accenture’s market unit lead for the U.S. Northeast. “It’s not like we’re working from home -- it’s that we’re living in the office. We do need to be very careful about people burning out.”

Stress is the latest front in corporate America’s response to the pandemic. After sending workers home in droves more than three months ago, many employers are now hesitant to bring them back to the office as parts of the U.S. see a resurgence in Covid-19 cases. With restaurants, shops, gyms and entertainment venues still shuttered or offering limited service across the country, many employees are working longer hours and feeling greater stress.

Temporary Desks

In some ways, Accenture was prepared for the pandemic. The firm’s consultants are often on the road as many as four days a week, and the company has no formal operating headquarters. It also was an early adopter of “hoteling,” with no permanent desks or offices assigned to employees.

That meant the company was already running many of its operations digitally. It’s the largest corporate user of Microsoft Teams, with Accenture’s audio usage within the teleconferencing app nearly tripling to almost 1 billion minutes a month since the pandemic began.

Azagury said he’s working with his staff to craft reopening plans for offices in his territory later this summer. The firm plans to initially authorize a return for only those workers with jobs that require them to be on site, such as working on a client project that needs a physical presence.

“As complex as the work-from-home move was, the return back is as complex if not more complex,” Azagury said. “There are more permutations and more uncertainty. When we went to work from home, there was a date and we all did it. Here there’s a question about when and how much.”

Kitchen Changes

The firm is planning to make changes to kitchens and common areas to control the flow of people and ensure social-distancing guidelines are followed. With hoteling, employees have grown accustomed to using Accenture software to book an office for specific times of the day based on their schedule. With the new guidelines, changes will be made to that system, Azagury said.

“You’ll have to reserve to go in,” he said. “But even if you only need the office for four hours, that office is booked for the day” to ensure it’s cleaned after each use.

Even as Accenture prepares to bring employees back, it’s trying to help those working from home deal with the stress that can accompany such arrangements. The firm is offering employees access to Headspace, the meditation app, for example.

Accenture doesn’t expect permanent changes to its real estate footprint. In New York, it still plans to take over the top eight floors of One Manhattan West in Hudson Yards.

“The need for in-person interaction is still there -- there’s still things that are just better done in person, like getting up on a white board and brainstorming with the group,” Azagury said. Still, “people will have more flexibility to work in different places and at home if they need to.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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