As entire companies are working remotely, finance teams have no choice but to shift their operations to support a distributed team.
But this type of organizational structure is nothing new. According to FlexJobs, remote work has increased 91% in the last decade. More than 50 percent of global companies allow remote work, and 16% are fully remote.
Daryl Allen, Director of Finance at Gremlin, has been supporting employees across 19 U.S. states and The Netherlands since he started at the company. He recently joined Peter Nesbitt, VP of Finance at Teampay, to share his perspective on enabling remote teams. Watch the webinar on-demand.
Benefits of remote work
Both Daryl and Peter came from traditional backgrounds. Both began their finance careers in investment—at a bank and private firm, respectively—at companies that required employees to be physically present in the office. Though Peter spent only two years in investment banking, Daryl was at his firm for 10 years.
“In that position, and in that company, there was no remote work,” he said. “It was never considered as an option. In the past two years since I joined Gremlin, I’ve interacted with many tech companies, and I’ve found remote work is almost always the default.”
Now, companies are beginning to see the benefits of remote work. Research has found a 13% improvement in the performance of remote workers, as well as a 20-30% increase in total company productivity. Organizations are able hire talent from a larger pool and save approximately $2,000 per remote employee on rent..
Daryl and Peter identified three elements that make remote work successful: technology, operations, and culture.
Distributed teams need collaboration tools, such as well-known platforms like Slack and Zoom, as well as software specific to department and role. For example, both Peter and Daryl leverage a number of cloud-based solutions for finance, including QuickBooks, Bill.com, Carta, and Teampay.
In a time when many companies are trying to cut costs, it can be difficult to justify investing in a new software platform. At Gremlin, employees are required to develop one-page ROI reports when considering new software. Usage of new tools is monitored throughout the subscription period, and then the ROI is re-evaluated before the contract is up for renewal. Leveraging a system that enables visibility into software spend by vendor is especially beneficial for eliminating “software creep.”
Overall, Daryl believes that reducing costs above all else is the wrong approach. “Don’t avoid investing in something beneficial,” he said. “If you pass on investing in something that helps your team be productive now, then you’re going to make it worse later on.”
Both Daryl and Peter emphasized integrations in their search for new technology. “Having systems that connect to one another makes things easier for my team because we have easy access to our data and we’re not trying to copy it from one system to another over and over again,” Peter said. “It also makes the process a lot easier for employees, so they don’t have to do a lot of manual work.”
Another important factor is scalability. “Things have to scale because we’re growing so quickly,” Daryl said. “I’m not buying something that will be useful for three months. I want to buy something that will be useful for a year or two years, that will grow with the team.” This is true of growth in headcount, as well as scaling to meet changing business needs, even if team size says the same.
Access the webinar on-demand:
Conducting finance processes virtually requires a significant shift away from traditional methods. Daryl and Peter both leverage the Google suite of tools to conduct month-end close, as well as templates that can be used month over month.
Both speakers talked about setting clear deadlines for stakeholders to review and provide input, building in a buffer period knowing that deadlines will likely be missed. Daryl sets one-on-ones with decision makers and budget holders, which enables him to answer any questions and solicit feedback in real time.
When employees are remote, “you can’t just pin someone down at their desk and make them submit their expense report,” Daryl said. “So if you’re still holding up your monthly financial close because you’re waiting for someone to scan receipts back to you for an expense report, you have to find another way.”
Even digitized expense management processes slow finance and employees down. Expense reports often don’t come in until the end of the month or later, including late and incomplete submissions. Finance teams may find themselves waiting on employees to complete their financial close—not to mention that they’re left in the dark about exactly how much was spent across the company for most of the month.
According to Peter, increasing efficiency is about enabling agility. “Setting up your systems, processes, and culture to be flexible is critical to mitigate risk and maintain business continuity.”
At Gremlin, Daryl meets regularly with his colleagues to discuss how they’re going to communicate with each other. “Sometimes that turns out to be having a meeting about how we’re going to have meetings, but it’s also critical to being remote,” he said.
Whether it’s having your webcam on during video meetings or threading Slack messages appropriately, consistently revisiting communication tactics will help improve employee engagement in a virtual setting.
“There’s so much passive communication that can happen in an office, like body language or visually seeing if someone is busy or at their desk or not,” Peter commented. “It requires a lot more active communication to facilitate that when everyone is remote.”
This is especially true in the current environment. As both speakers noted, doing business today is about much more than facilitating distributed operations. “It’s not just that people are working remotely. There’s a global pandemic happening around them,” Daryl explained. Employees are watching their kids, caring for relatives, and facing personal challenges in addition to adjusting to a new way of working.
“We try to lead with empathy and just understand that things are difficult,” Daryl said. “Removing small barriers and obstacles is, I think, the most beneficial empowerment we can give at this point.”
Empower employees to work remote
Peter summed up his approach to his role. “Be a system builder, not an empire builder. Find ways to support and improve productivity of the employees that you already have.”
Daryl echoed that sentiment. “Don’t introduce tools that don’t have an obvious benefit for employees to use,” he said. “Don’t create undue obstacles for managers or employees. Don’t push finance bureaucracy on people who don’t have a finance background and who are just trying to do their own jobs.”