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Remote Work – The Impact to Finance Teams

Ever wonder if your finance job could be accomplished from home? Over the last few weeks Covid-19 has forced the world to reconsider the approach to remote work. Historically, finance functions have been performed in the office, side-by-side, with team members in constant communication. Without that person-to-person interaction, quickly and efficiently overcoming the challenges that face finance teams becomes increasingly problematic. How do you resolve complex issues on time sensitive projects when you can’t stop at a coworker’s desk for a quick chat? How do you share complex financial information with stakeholders spread across departments when you can’t hold a meeting in a conference room? How do you close the books on a turbulent first quarter with the entire finance staff and auditors working remotely? These questions highlight why, in the wake of Covid-19, closing the gap to reduce or eliminate disruptions created by remote work is now more important than ever.

Increasing Popularity of Remote Work

Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, remote work has been rapidly increasing in popularity. To date, there has been a 173% increase in remote work since 2005. Globally, remote work has expanded from customer service jobs to industries such as IT, Healthcare, and Education. Cultural shifts in the work force have helped shape this surge in popularity. Young workers often prioritize flexibility as one of the main benefits when seeking employment. Flexibility contributes to increased job satisfaction and increased employee retention for organizations.

Organizations are also beginning to understand and take advantage of the benefits provided by remote work such as:

  • Increased Disaster Preparedness: The disruption caused by Covid-19 will not be soon forgotten by organization leaders and investors. Utilizing remote work policies to help close the gap in disruption during a disaster will make sure organizations are better prepared in the future.
  • Cost Saving Opportunities: Shedding corporate owned IT devices such as laptops or mobile phones reduces organizational costs. Additionally, less business travel and reduced office space significantly contribute to costs savings.
  • Better Access to Talent: Employing remote workers provides access to a global talent pool. This is especially important for hard to fill positions that require a rare combination of skill and experience.

Remote Work Challenges for Finance Teams

CFOs are facing the immense challenge of closing the books on an unprecedented first quarter with most, if not all, of their finance staff and auditors working remotely. Organizations that rely on finance teams sitting together, using on-site technology, or performing manual data entry in spreadsheets will face substantial challenges during the close process. In comparison, organizations that have virtualization tools in place and rely on cloud-based technology for accruals, adjustments, and intercompany transactions may have a much smoother close process this quarter. Even then, those organizations will still face new obstacles in order to file financial statements. This has resulted in some companies performing dry runs of their close process in order to test systems and capabilities.

Reducing Disruption for Finance Teams

The disruption created by the Coronavirus has also provided an opportunity to re-examine the limitations of how we work. Organizations that can quickly and effectively pivot back and forth between traditional, on-site and virtual, remote-based work structures will be better situated in the future. This helps organizations limit disruption to finance teams as much as possible. As a start, organizations can assess the following areas to evaluate their current level of preparedness:

Intentional Communication

17% of remote workers say that collaboration/communication is their biggest struggle with remote work. Frequently, there’s either too much communication or not enough with remote work. It’s easy to get overloaded with communications coming across numerous channels such as email, instant message, websites, and software applications. However, it’s equally as frustrating to miss an important call or be left out of a decision as a result of not receiving a communication.

Communication is routinely mentioned as an area of focus when it comes to remote work. It’s easy to bring former workplace communication habits into the virtual workplace. However, that can quickly lead to frustration and disengagement from employees. It’s important to be clear, direct, and intentional when communicating in the virtual workplace.

In time sensitive or uncertain situations, it is especially important to have clear and consistent communication amongst team members and with key stakeholders. Implementing an easy to read dashboard to display current status can help keep critical stakeholders informed and make clear which issues require immediate attention and which can be postponed.

Enabling Daily Tasks with Technology

Just as with the on-site, workplace documentation and business workflows need to be reviewed, updated for remote based work, and stored in a location that is accessible for remote workers. This is important as tools can change or be updated without notice. It’s important to have policies and guidelines in place that allow autonomy for remote workers and prevent second guessing from management. The goal is to find the balance between empowering workers and maintaining control.

When it comes to communication, there are plenty of tools to utilize for remote work. Whatever communication tool is selected, ensure the communication channel serves a specific purpose. For example, a dedicated tax channel will ensure others aren’t flooded with questions or issues unrelated to their work. A dedicated communication channel for an entire program is a creative way to keep employees and key stakeholders involved in critical decisions and communications.

Conclusion – How Can CI Help

Remote work has advantages and disadvantages for organizations. Due to the inherit challenges, remote work will not replace teams in the same room, working together closely any time soon. However, organizations should be ready to implement whichever work strategy is required at any given time. Specific solutions can be implemented to help smooth the transition and reduce disruption. That can range anywhere from developing a dashboard for sharing communications with stakeholders to implementing entire cloud-based solutions. Regardless of the need, Collective Insights has the experience and the knowledge to take on these unique challenges.