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.
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
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.”
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.
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