As states start the arduous process of opening back up in a safe manner, businesses prepare to transact again, and employees get ready to go back to their offices, it’s a good time to look back, reflect, and apply what we have learned over the past few months. Many accounting/finance teams have proven to be very resilient as they’ve adapted to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Work from Home (WFH) arrangements more than holding their own as viable solutions.
About WFH Effectiveness
There are those on both sides of the argument as to whether WFH is beneficial or detrimental to an accounting/finance team. For most accounting/finance departments, the risk/cost to find out has always far outweighed any benefits. But the coronavirus has forced this experiment upon us all. Most accounting/finance departments are now operating with a stay-at-home work force with no choice but to make it work.
From a purely anecdotal standpoint, my discussions with colleagues and friends have been extremely positive. They enjoy a reduced commute time, more flexibility, and the lower costs associated with working from home. In fact, many friends say that they are more productive now than before the virus. At least some research seems to back this up.
A nearly 2-year study from a University of Stanford professor noted that while the positive and negative effects from WFH were expected to offset each other, the results show that the effects are mostly positive. WFH employees were working a full day as opposed to coming in a little late or leaving early one or more days a week. They also found WFH was less distracting and allowed for more concentration when compared to the office. Additional findings showed that turnover lessened for WFH employees. They also took less time off and had fewer sick days. The company in the study actually saved money (about $2,000 per employee) due to less office space needed.
Now, to be fair, not everyone has experienced a positive impact from WFH. I’ve heard stories of four roommates crowded around a breakfast table, each fighting for space. Some WFH employees have experienced an increased sense of isolation, something to be expected.
Nothing works for everyone. And it doesn’t have to. This is where accounting/finance teams can come up with their own hybrid plans that work for the most people while providing the best return – happy, productive employees less inclined to turnover. Even when employees do move on, WFH offers CFOs/Controllers an additional benefit – a larger hiring pool.
Hire Right – From Anywhere
During my time as a member of the workforce, I have seen many amazing opportunities where I thought I was a great fit, but the job was in another part of the world. While many people can and do move for that great job, I didn’t want to. I like where I live. I enjoy the activities, the scenery, and the family that I have here. But with WFH, employees now have the opportunity to go for that amazing job far, far away.
This benefit works both ways. Employers can recruit and hire the perfect candidate, even if their business is in Silicon Valley and the candidate is in Fountain Valley. WFH allows CFOs/Controllers to select from a much larger candidate pool and find those potential employees with the right mix of experience, attitude, and soft skills.
There are obviously some drawbacks to having a team spread out. A major one is human connection. We’ve all heard it before: Go for the job, stay for the people. Our office coworkers become a second family to us. We celebrate birthdays, go for happy hours, and do community service together. This is all harder to foster with a WFH team that only sees each other on a computer screen. Harder, but not impossible. Accounting/finance teams will just need to be more creative. One aspect of WFH that will help: With less turnover, employees have the opportunity to develop closer bonds with their coworkers even when they don’t share physical office space.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
If there is a truer rule in business (and life, for that matter), I haven’t heard of it. The importance of being proactive has been reinforced even more by the pandemic. Those who are proactive are better prepared to handle what comes at them. It’s that simple. Now is the time for proactive CFOs/Controllers to think about how to structure their accounting/finance departments and how teams will work in the future. (For example, will WFH continue to be accepted practice?) Now is the time to meet with the company’s recruiting team and discuss expanding a talent search. Now is the time to meet with the facilities team to design a more modular workspace that allows employees to work in the office or at home while minimizing unused space.
As the expected re-opening of the country will be slow and steady, proactive CFOs/Controllers should use this pace to their advantage. Take the steps needed now to ensure a dynamic, engaged workforce for the future. Discuss possible changes with your team and get their input. Start putting it all together today so that you can be ready for tomorrow.
WFH Effectiveness Opportunity
Even in tough times, there is always an opportunity to learn. Businesses, employees, and consumers have all had to adapt in order to function. The shift to a WFH workforce during this time has not been without its drawbacks, but there have also been many positives. Accounting/finance teams should take what we’ve learned from these past few months to see if an office workforce, a WFH workforce, or a hybrid of the two can improve productivity, employee engagement, and employee satisfaction, all while reducing turnover and costs.
More on Business Stabilization
Are you getting the most out of your new WFH arrangements? We’d be happy to offer suggestions. You can also download our service sheet below, which details how we’re working with clients to assess contingency plans, mitigate risk and reduce business disruption.
About the Author
Jeff has fifteen years of experience in all areas of finance and accounting, including financial close, FP&A, budgeting and forecasting, financial modeling, and financial systems and has served a variety of industries including entertainment, manufacturing, energy and consumer products. Jeff started his career at KPMG in their audit practice and from there held a variety of finance and accounting roles at Twentieth Century Fox, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Warner Bros. Jeff holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from East Tennessee State University and a Master of Accountancy with a concentration in Financial Systems from The University of Tennessee.