Finance department responses to Covid-19: Coping with remote working
22nd May 2020
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The business community has seen big differences in how companies have coped with enforced remote working. There have also been significant variations in how different departmental areas were able to respond to the unexpected call for all workers (where possible) to work from home. Finance teams have been particularly hard hit in some businesses, yet relatively stress-free in others.
Although Finance departments fundamentally all provide the same support to their businesses, the embedded culture, process steps taken and the tools used will vary widely. These are the factors which ensure each Finance team is unique. It is also key differences in the way individual Finance teams operate which have either hampered or enhanced their ability to move to remote working successfully.
Negative impacts on remote working
1. A track record of apathy and resistance to change has proved to be a prominent disadvantage. This applies to those Finance leaders who have preferred to keep things the same, sometimes for years, due to an “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. It also applies to some individual staff members who have remained in the same role for long periods of time without development. The problem is that over time, the way that work is done becomes increasingly inefficient. There is no reason why Finance (like any other area of business) should not keep up-to-date with changing technology and look for continuous improvements in working practice.
2. In the digital age, entrenched and excessive reliance on paper, fax, and post is not only unnecessary, it’s inherently inefficient and inflexible. During lockdown, some businesses have had to resort to sending staff into a closed office to pick up post, drive to premises to physically collect cheques (which can’t be paid in when banks are shut), and have staff working remotely in their kitchens and spare rooms keying in invoices whilst paper copies pile up in their homes as the weeks pass. This kind of activity is not only unsustainable, it’s also very risky from a confidentiality and data protection perspective too.
3. Reliance on a handful of individuals for specific activities. From convoluted approval processes where one person becomes a bottleneck to encouraging ‘super users’ of software tools or function/information ‘gurus’ who become everyone’s go-to person whenever a non-standard problem arises. This reliance on an individual for specific support works when the Finance team is sat together in one office and spontaneous questions are easy to accommodate. It has proven rather less successful when the team has to work separately, and the approach fails completely if the key person is unable to work.
Positive impacts on remote working
1. Pre-existing use of cloud-based software has proved to be a significant advantage. Cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) finance packages are not only highly secure and efficient, they are also relatively easy to access remotely and still maintain high levels of security. Those businesses who (pre-pandemic) already operated their Finance function using a cloud solution found it very easy to shift their employees to remote working quickly and experienced little or no delay in Finance operational activity.
2. Multi-tasking teams found it easier to adapt. Those Finance teams which had a track record of ongoing investment in training, actively encouraged skills sharing, and rotating roles within the department have found it much easier to cope with the changes required. Multi-skilled staff members can cover for colleagues who are sick or unable to work effectively at home with young children present for example. Finance managers of multi-skilled teams have also been able to reallocate work as needed.