Subscribe to our newsletter

From remote to reality

Face-to-face interactions are crucial for a healthy finance function, but if everyone must work remotely, what are the implications? Can finance be truly digital? Rachael Singh investigates.

From remote to reality
smsfadviser logo
working remotely
  • Contributed by Rachael Singh
  • May 15, 2020
share this article

Despite the traditional view of an accountant being a technical, but less social, member of an organisation, finance functions have tended to operate en masse in the office. Their presence being of comfort to budget holders whose foray to a desk would be to check an invoice’s status – or ask a favour of the influential and important payroll clerk.

Working from home certainly isn’t unheard of in finance, but full-scale remote access – leaving a slew of empty desks – is unusual. “But really what’s the difference between phone or in person?” asks Thomas Sutter, of the Global Solutions Centre of Excellence at Oracle NetSuite and a former FD for multiple organisations.

“Just because someone is physically in the office doesn’t necessarily mean they are being productive,” he explains.

“For successful remote working you require three things: technology, people and process. And you need all three,” he says

1 TECH

Most organisations use the cloud in their finance function but some – with on-premise systems relying on a virtual private network to share information – may struggle, says Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and founder, Aqilla. 

New research highlights that VPN (virtual private network) usage has grown dramatically since lockdowns across the globe have forced working from home. Subsequently, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre has issued new guidance around password policy and two-factor authentication before you and your staff  access organisational systems.

Scantlebury suggests that professional support should be sought where a business is looking to access in-house tech remotely, and where it needs to upgrade to enable this mass accessibility.

Sutter adds: “If it could save your business in the longer term, then a reasonable technology investment shouldn’t close down your business.” 

2 PEOPLE

In these difficult circumstances, moving to a task-based management style can help overcome the communication difficulties that come from simply not being able to ask a team member ‘how are things going?’.

A task-based methodology should incorporate visibility: what needs to be done, when and by whom. The Mental Health Foundation advises that taskbased structures are the best way to allow for a more organised and structured day, which can be a source of comfort to people during stressful periods.

Paramount to managing people is communication, says Ernie Humphrey, VP strategy and thought leadership at Stampli, and a career coach author. However, it is not considered the norm for CFOs to be overly communicative with their staff . Humphrey advises managers to keep their “virtual door open” and make an extra effort to find ways to show staff  they are appreciated; be that to fund online training, or sending tokens of appreciation. “Don’t let distance prevent you from cultivating a trusting relationship,” he says.

3 PROCESS

Aligning both team management, tasks and technology means process. And paramount to good processes is business continuity, should staff  be unwell or need to take time away from their desk. Remember, working from home creates different time and workflow pressures from being in an office.

“You could look at agencies to fill gaps should they arise,” says Sutter, or “matching people to different roles temporarily”, he adds. “We’ve looked at our own business continuity weeks ago and are helping others,” says Scantlebury.

“We have worked with companies to ensure passwords and access allowances are controlled, should they need to hand over to new or temporary staff ,” he explains, something he advises all companies to think about.

Understanding and communicating with your supply chain, staff , customers and in many cases shareholders, is pivotal right now. “During a crisis, this is when relationships are built,” says Humphrey. And the decisions made now will last well beyond the global pandemic.

Rachael Singh is a freelance journalist

Receive the latest Financial Accountant news,
opinion and features direct to your inbox.

related articles