Support Learning and Insight

It’s more important than ever to understand the challenges facing financial executives. Support the Financial Education & Research Foundation today.

Leadership Robert Half | Protiviti

Re-Entry: How Financial Teams Will Function in a Post COVID-19 World


Sponsored by Robert Half | Protiviti

As we look toward operating in a new normal, remote work environments are going to play a big role. Businesses will continue to look at ways to enhance productivity around the remote workspace. This is something finance leaders need to embrace.

©Halfpoint/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated the in-person work environment that was essential to most businesses. It has become apparent that it could be months – or longer – before it will be safe for employees to return to the office. During the past few months, organizations have improvised – they established remote work environments and contracted with third parties, as needed, for critical infrastructure, including staff, transactional services and IT.

When the pandemic finally eases, it is becoming increasingly clear that the way forward may look very different from the past. Remote working has proven to be as effective as traditional office environments. And numerous studies now show that a vast majority of employees prefer working from home for the foreseeable future. Research by Global Workplace Analytics estimates that by the end of 2021, as many as one in three employees will work from home at least half time, saving companies an estimated $11,000 annually for each worker.

CFOs and finance leaders are reflecting on the lessons of the past few months and exploring ways to incorporate best practices that will help their organizations adapt to this new remote working model. During a recent FEI Finance Elevated web conference, panelists and participants discussed the impact of the pandemic and how their organizations have adjusted successfully.

One of the biggest challenges has been maintaining morale. In a poll conducted during the web conference, almost half of attendees (46%) reported that maintaining morale was the greatest challenge of having a remote workforce, followed by maintaining productivity (25%).

The Four “P”s of Remote Leadership

As CFOs and finance leaders prepare for the likelihood of managing a remote workforce over the long term, it is crucial to recognize the increased effort that will be required to keep employees engaged. That means communicating consistently, on a daily, if not hourly, basis, to keep them informed and bolster teamwork and camaraderie.

Finance organizations will need to recalibrate their operating models to ensure they are operating effectively and continuing to drive the business forward. To do that, consider these “Four Ps of Remote Leadership.”

  • Proven technology (and leveraging that technology) — Although many in the finance and accounting space were embracing automation prior to the pandemic, the rigors of rapidly deploying a remote working environment put financial processes under the microscope. By embracing technology to drive efficiency, finance leaders can reduce manual processes, improve team productivity, better enable remote work, and add value through improved analytics and data visualization, increased transparency, more timely financial reporting, increased transaction capacity, and improved accuracy.
  • Planning — As the pandemic has revealed, organizations need to have a plan. By balancing internal resources (employees, technology and processes) with contracted service providers (consultants, IT services and implementation specialists), finance leaders can manage headcount effectively while making sure that important projects and business functions continue to move forward. The ability to balance people and processes will continue to be critical.
  • Proactive communication — Communication is crucial to maintaining both productivity and morale. That is especially true in times like these, when no two days are the same and finance leaders are constantly making adjustments.
  • Partnerships — No one should try to go it alone. The internal partners that work with finance on a daily basis have important information. Finance leaders should develop and leverage these internal partnerships to “see what they see” and both supplement and benchmark personal knowledge and assumptions to inform judgment.

Adaptation – Preparing for Office Re-entry

Although this pandemic is unprecedented in duration and scope, it’s just the latest example of how CFOs are having to deal with urgent situations on a more frequent basis. Many have no doubt experienced recessionary periods or disruptive innovations that forced their companies to throw out prior assumptions and adjust to new circumstances. The adaptations required to mitigate the risks of re-entering the office post COVID-19 are still in flux, but here are some that undoubtedly will be needed and that finance leaders should be planning for now, in collaboration with HR, operations and other functions.

  • Social distancing — Workplace considerations include separate doors for entering and exiting facilities, touchless entry, wayfinding signage to help employees navigate common areas safely, and policies regarding in-person meetings, lunchroom occupancy and even common courtesies such as handshakes.
  • Facilities — Cubicle spacing may need to be adjusted. This has prompted some companies to consider rotating shifts in which workers would alternate between working remotely and coming into the office.
  • Implementation and monitoring — Resources need to be assigned to both acculturate employees to the new policies and monitor compliance to ensure proper precautions are being taken and to address and correct violations. Being able to adjust quickly, based on new COVID cases or changes to governmental restrictions, will be necessary.
  • Communication — Communication is the next best thing to inoculation when it comes to preventing infection in the workplace. As with any change in the workplace, business model or processes, a solid communication plan is the foundation of change management.

CFOs and finance leaders need to anticipate employee needs and concerns and use re-entry as an opportunity to rally the troops and keep morale high. This should be second nature for finance leaders, who are accustomed to looking ahead and predicting and planning for what’s around the corner.

The coming months are likely to be a rollercoaster. People may need to be shifted to different assignments, and additional resources brought in, at least temporarily, to address short-term re-entry workload challenges. Planning horizons should be shortened to what’s going on next month or in the next planning cycle. The priority should be maximizing the value of what the finance department can offer in the current circumstances.

 

There’s no way to say, for certain, what the future will look like, but by observing the “four P’s,” staying agile, shortening planning horizons, and communicating proactively with employees, CFOs and finance leaders will be well-positioned to adapt to whatever the future holds.

 

For more information, visit www.protiviti.com/MBS.