It seems like a distant memory now, but at this time last year, 3.2 percent of the American workforce was fully remote – that's 4.3 Million people. At the time, that number seemed so significant that the Harvard Business Review wrote an article that boldly proposed that employees ought to be able to work from anywhere. Fast-forward to today, and 40 percent of the U.S. workforce – or 157 Million workers – are doing precisely that. It's the same story all over the globe: everyone is working from home, from developers in Denver to accountants in Auckland. How does remote working affect the finance department specifically? Read on to learn all about it.
Working From Home With Your Finance Team – Done Right
No one expected the switch from in-office to remote work to be flipped so abruptly, but now that it has, the distributed workforce model is here to stay, at least for now and quite likely forever. What the office that no longer works from the office looks and functions like will vary widely depending on everything from industry and market to the individual company and departments within it.
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When it comes to the finance department, accounting leaders that can mitigate the unique challenges of a remote workplace model by addressing them proactively will be the first to identify opportunities to leverage the benefits the model introduces. Managing a team of offsite accounting talent doesn't mean relinquishing control of the work they do. Managing it well can actually allow for better strategy and added value.
Provide Clear Expectations And Directions For Meeting Them - Remote Working in the Finance Department
In reality, managing a team that's working from home doesn't look all that different from one that you see every day in the office. There are certainly unique challenges to contend with, which we'll get to in a second. But ultimately, the easiest way to anticipate any issues in the switch to remote work is to simply trust your own experience.
That's because the core of the accounting work that finance professionals do isn't going to change, whether they're entry-level bookkeepers or senior financial analysts. The books still have to be closed, invoices still have to be made and paid and forecasting might even be more critical than ever.
The key to maximizing the potential of a remote team is the same as it is with one that works in-house: provide clarity. Role clarity, organizational clarity, project deadlines and company goals should all be documented, concise and available. Make sure that you and your team are on the same page about these expectations as soon as possible. Then continue to follow up with your team to make sure you stay that way – just as you would from the office.
Create A Blueprint For Effective Communication When Working Remote in a Finance Department
The phrase "communication is key" is a cliché for a reason: it's true. It's especially true in remote situations and will help immensely in respect to providing the clear expectations your accounting team needs you to provide.
A recent study on the shift to remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis shows that there's a bit of a gap when it comes to the perception of how leaders have risen to this challenge. 64 percent of leaders thought that their organization was extremely or very committed to meeting employee communication needs, but only 54 percent of their employees did.
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Approach communication with the goal of answering two vital questions. The first should be "What tools will we use to communicate with each other?" The other should be "What goals will we use effective communication to achieve?"
Tools like Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom and Slack have all emerged as useful additions to channels like email and getting on a good old-fashioned phone call for remote work communications. So have collaborative platforms like Trello, Asana and AirTable.
If you want to use Slack to communicate with your accounting team daily to satisfy the the goal of replacing the ongoing, conversational immediacy of walking over to accounts payable to ask a question, that's a great solution. Set expectations around how long team members have to respond if they're marked "available" and then lead by example.
Keep Team Morale Is High – Productivity Will Follow Suit
Did you catch the caveat in the paragraph above? There's a reason we added "...if they're marked 'available'..." to it. In-person teams aren't always free at a moment's notice, and neither are remote ones, especially as the remaining hurdles to pre-pandemic productivity are cleared.
It can be tempting to imagine that remote teams who don't respond instantaneously to an emailed request for a status update or file access over chat may be shirking their duties. That's rarely the case. In fact, once all the components to successful remote work are in place, employees on the virtual commute tend to be more productive, not less, according to research.
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Defaulting to an atmosphere of trust and patience instead of suspicion and hand-holding will keep morale high, and that's something we've known is great for overall work output and productivity for quite some time now.
Patience is important in the current working climate. Remembering that everyone could use a little extra right now is a great reason to start evaluating your team's productivity by measuring the quality of their output and instead of how quickly they clear their inbox.
Make a Plan For Coping with Time Restraints and Resources
There are certainly a number of challenges that are unique to remote work. Your team might find themselves coping with time zone differences, and businesses across the board are working on some pretty tight margins right now.
Knowing how you'll handle these issues before you come up against them will keep your offsite finance department running smoothly. If you're seeing productivity take a dive or a sudden jump in talent loss due to burnout, it's probably time to consider a solution that's perfectly positioned to help with both: outsourcing.
Organizations have harnessed the efficiency that offshore accounting talent can provide long before social distancing made it the only option. With the infrastructure to communicate with remote teams already established, bringing on a virtual general accountant or accounts payable clerk makes more sense than it ever has before.
Highly qualified accounting talent can be found in countries like Manila, and adding even one to your team can be a smart investment for newly remote organizations. It frees up resources that can be spent on strategic growth, a crucial initiative right now. It can also alleviate the burden on your existing team, which can pay dividends when it comes to increasing productivity while we're all working from home.
Make a Seamless Transition From Remote Working in the Finance Department to Outsourcing
Finance leaders will find that outsourcing and working from home have a great deal in common when it comes to how work gets done and how it's ultimately delivered, but there are a few key differences.
With an outsourcing provider, for instance, your vendor is responsible for the value-neutral work of finding, training and retaining the accounting professionals assigned to your organization or project. They'll also be the ones responsible for paying and providing benefits and professional development opportunities for members of your remote team, allowing you to reinvest both time and money into other initiatives.
Myths abound about what you can expect while outsourcing, many of which are easily debunked. In fact, the challenges associated with outsourcing look a lot like the ones you've likely already tackled with the transition to remote work, except for the addition of a partner to act as your advocate and help smooth out any wrinkles that arise in the process.
We've made it easy to see what the process of outsourcing entails. Get an in-depth look at the process with Outsourcing Step-by-Step: Taking the Mystery Out of Outsourced Accounting.
And with this, you've learned how much remote working in the finance department and outsourcing have in common.
See What It Costs to Outsource Accounting Tasks
Personiv provides custom outsourcing solutions for accounting teams across the world, and we create those solutions by building teams of all sizes. You can see exactly what you could save by leveraging finance and accounting outsourcing by using our interactive calculator below: