Members in business: how did remote working change the finance team?

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Remote working forced many finance teams to re-evaluate their working practices. Three members share their experiences.

In the middle of March last year, finance teams across the UK became remote working and cloud-based overnight. There was no time to develop any processes or patterns; that had to be figured out as time went on.

It did more than change our methods of communication, however. Switching to remote working forced finance managers to review many aspects of the job, such as:

  • data security
  • people management and wellbeing
  • core processes
  • service priorities
  • staff onboarding
  • financial troubleshooting

We asked our panel of members in business how they coped with the change, and how it’s reshaped the function for the longer term.

We took our payroll onto the cloud – and pressing problems to WhatsApp

Ali Jaw FMAAT, finance and operations manager, M B Technical Services (fire and security specialist)

The lack of face-to-face human connection and social interaction was a challenge from the start. We also had a lot of technical issues when it came to connectivity for team members. One staff member, in particular, had severe Internet connection issues.

You also need to take into account the security threats. There is a risk that comes with having sensitive information shared via the internet. We looked at our options and set up a secure portal to share sensitive data, keeping it out of our emails.

I was also very conscious of the loss of work-life balance. It is very difficult to switch off when you’re working from home. We made sure that we had regular team catch up online via Teams and Zoom to make sure we provided much-needed support to each other. We made sure people were aware of when other team members needed to take a break and reminded them to take one. We embraced using WhatsApp for instant messaging, which is quicker when you need feedback on pressing issues. We also invested in better software and hardware for staff.

The payroll team, for example, really embraced technology. We now have all our payroll data on a cloud backup, whereas in the past, it was purely done on one PC with no backups.

The pandemic has taught us that we can perform effectively from home if we embrace it. We don’t have to be together as a team to achieve results. We could be anywhere in the world and still deliver. As long as we are getting results, that’s what’s important.

We solved everything except how to make a good cup of tea

Björgvin Vigfússon MAAT, Westmorland Linen Rental and Laundry

Once we switched to remote working, my biggest challenge was to get colleagues from other departments to commit to more frequent communication. I needed that so that said departments could get their reports on time.

It forced some new systems and processes to be implemented, and the priorities of the team have changed. Instead of spending 20-40% of the time chasing to get information from other departments and doing data entry, we now spend around 10%. It gives us more time for more value-adding tasks such as real-time reporting on the weekly/monthly performance of different departments within the company.

We also found a way to tackle the “do you have five seconds to look at this with me?” issues that arise on a regular basis throughout the working day. First, we would zoom regularly, around three to six meetings throughout the day, never longer than 10min. After few weeks of this, a word document was made with an FAQ for issues, which each member of the team helped to create. At the moment, the running joke is that this document has the answer to everything except how to make the perfect brew. The jury is still out on that one.

Strong processes were our saving grace

Clare Elliott, CFO, ILUX (a workplace IT provider)

There was no notice and no time to plan for remote working. We had a conversation on the Friday afternoon before lockdown and decided to try it for a week and be back in the office the week after to sort out any issues. Little did we realise that our trial run would turn into a permanent change.

Being an IT company, we had all of the equipment and latest systems we needed. We all learned how to use our 3CX and Teams systems extremely quickly. We all saw it as a learning curve to gain experience and strength from.

Our next challenge came when we had to employ a new team member. We had a great training and education system for new recruits, but that involved sitting by their side and showing them the ropes. We had no idea how to translate that to remote training. But like the rest of the world, we didn’t have a choice.

The one saving grace was that we had all of our processes and procedures documented. They were all up to date, and those documents were in a shared folder for the whole team. That was invaluable, as it meant that our new team members always had something to refer to. We created a rota system to spend time with the new recruit so they never felt isolated or alone and always felt supported.

The fact that our business processes were fully documented really came into their own. It’s one of those tasks that nobody really likes; it’s difficult and time-consuming to establish. It can also easily go out of date if everyone isn’t committed to maintaining it. It’s easy to think you’ll never need it, but the pandemic proved otherwise.

Calling AAT members in business

Would you like to join our panel of members in business and share your thoughts and ideas on the challenges that the finance function faces? Email the AAT Content Team.

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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