Looking to get your finance team back in the office? Might seem harder than it looks. Up until last March, everything seemed completely normal. You woke up, went to work, and during your time-off traveled or visited with friends and family. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the COID-19 pandemic changed the world as we knew it.
Since then, we’ve gotten used to social distancing, masks, and Zoom meetings. Most of us have successfully made the transition to working from home. In fact, a January 2021 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey found that 83% of employers say remote work has been successful for their employers.
How to Get Your Finance Team Back in the Office
But, as the vaccine continues to roll out and cases dropping, it appears that we’re returning to a pre-COVID world. It may not be exactly the same. But, it’s going to be pretty close.
With all that being said, it’s time for you to begin preparations for your finance team to return to the office. And, to make this less daunting, here are 7 areas for you to focus on so that they’re safe, productive, and excited to be back at work.
1. Safety, first.
Regardless of the industry, everyone should feel safe physically and mentally before returning to the office. Because that’s a broad area, the first place to start is following the recommendations from the CDC, such as;
- Checking to see if the building is ready for occupancy, like making sure that there isn’t mold or pests.
- Cleaning ventilation systems and increasing air circulation.
- Arranging work and common area to encourage social distancing.
- Sanitizing work areas.
- Staggering shifts or start times.
- Conducting daily in-person or virtual checks.
Additionally, listen to your team’s concerns. If they’re not comfortable returning to the office, assure them that you’ve taken the appropriate measures to reopen the workplace. If they’re still apprehensive and have been productive working remotely, consider letting them continue to do so.
Also, because COVID-19 has taken a serious toll on our mental health, check in on them. You may also want to provide them with access to mental health apps like Headspace.
2. Communicate all the way.
A lot has changed over the last year. And, this could include the new policies, changes, and expectations. Teams may also be hybrid or nervous about returning to the office. Over-communicating with them can help put their minds at ease and motivate them going forward.
Fortunately, you have a wide variety of communication tools at your disposal to keep your team in the loop. These include email newsletters, Slack, or Zoom. You can also schedule one-on-one or team meetings. Some organizations have even created internal podcasts.
3. Close calendar adjustments.
“Accounting departments within companies take pride in shortening or having a short ‘close-window,” says Jeff Woodall for 8020 Consulting. What exactly does that mean? Well, for most accounting teams, they work “a little extra right after month-end close for a few days to complete all the required tasks.”
The reason for this is that it makes the remainder of the month less stressful. It also makes management or those up in the C-level happy. With that in mind, before your team is back in the office, this is “the perfect time to implement close calendar changes that could either shorten the close window and/or reduce the stress on the accounting team.”
“Are there items in your close calendar that can be moved to before or after the close period?” asks Woodall. “Now is the time to identify those tasks that do not provide maximum value/return to the company‘s close process.”
For example, when you review your chart of accounts, assign “a Balance-Level based on materiality (High, Medium, or Low) and Risk-Level (High, Medium, or Low).” This “could identify account reconciliations (Low balance and Low risk) that could be shifted to the post-close calendar or to a quarterly or semi-annual reconciliation,” he says.
“Standardization is also a wonderful way to reduce stress and time spent on the close.” Let’s say, “your company has suspended operations during this time; use this opportunity to clean up your folder structure to make things easier to find,” Woodall suggests. “Create standardized forms, combine duplicative Excel workbooks, add macros to existing Excel files to automate tasks – all of these can be done relatively easily and will shave off time of your close.”
4. Reduce pressure and boost team engagement.
Even before the pandemic, finance teams were struggling. According to the survey Under Pressure: Operational Challenges for Finance Teams, only 26% of financial team members felt that everything was “smooth sailing.”
The reason? There’s an imbalance between operational tasks and future-oriented work. For example, finance teams are spending too much time time-consuming transactional work, such as tracking down receipts or auditing expense reports. Instead, they’re striving for more opportunities to collaborate or improve critical processes.
Before getting your finance team back in the office, use this time to reduce your team’s pressure, boost engagement, and encourage strategic impact by;
- Talk to your team so that you can find out what they find most satisfying at work, as well as what frustrates them.
- Revisit your corporate card policy to increase visibility and reduce workload over time.
- Carefully review your team’s expense report and audit reports to make sure that they’re effective.
- Be more strategic about time-consuming reports. Using cloud-based tools that provide real-time data to lighten their workload.
- Does your team feel overburdened? If yes, invest in technology or hire new members to help reduce their responsibilities.
5. Address changes to organizational design.
“COVID-19 and its effects forced short-term changes on many finance functions, including changes to organization design — structures, networks and workflows, and role design,” Jackie Wiles writes for Gartner. “Finance leaders will need to account for these new realities in their long-term plans for the shape of the finance function.”
Flatter finance function structures.
“Finance function organizational structures have typically been hierarchical,” adds Wiles. “However, many finance positions were eliminated in 2020, essentially flattening most finance organizations — and requiring staff to operate more autonomously and adapt quickly to change.”
“Finance managers will now manage more employees, making it critical for them to be clear about the finance activities they do or don’t need to perform while allowing employees to work more independently.” To respond to these shifts, you can;
- Gather feedback from your team to find opportunities for autonomy.
- Identify repeating and monotonous tasks that can be automated.
- Establish a “default” culture where your team feels empowered.
Finance function networks will fade.
“With a hybrid workforce model, internal networks on which finance staff rely could dissolve,” adds Wiles. “Finance function leaders and managers must create opportunities to maintain employee engagement as finance staff remains remote — whether temporarily or permanently.”
To get there, it’s suggested that you;
- Use digital tools that allow your team to collaborate no matter where they’re working.
- Develop a “Connector manager” culture where your team can refer or assist each other.
- Increase motivation and engagement by holding finance function employees accountable.
Adapt finance function workflows.
“Finance function leaders have long focused on standardizing workflows and roles to increase efficiency, but standardized models proved brittle during the volatility of COVID-19,” Wiles adds. “To strike a balance between standardization and flexibility that can improve organizational resilience:”
- Track “more qualitatively leading indicators, such as changing customer demands, shifting regulations, workflow vulnerability and the level of side-of-desk work.” Why? It will pinpoint probable disruption levels.
- Prioritize standardization to lower disruptions and speed up workflows.
“Despite these shifts in organizational design, finance leaders shouldn’t make decisions on how to evolve the finance function in a vacuum,” warns Wiles. “Gartner research shows that it’s still important, for example, to make decisions about the level of centralization in finance activities.”
6. Solve the work-from-home/work-from-office equation.
“There is a real possibility that the return to normal will be a gradual or stair-step process,” states Woodall. “Even without a government mandate, companies may still find it useful to stagger their return policy.” What’s more, the move to remote work was so seamless that it could be the future of finance.
During this period, finance and accounting teams should “come up with different plans to implement based on different return-to-work paths,” recommends Woodall. You may also look into building a hybrid team or continue to offer more flexible work schedules.
“One activity that may prove useful is to review the finance/accounting functions to determine which of those require, or are maximized by, in-office attendance or collaboration,” says Woodall. “These vital in-office functions could then be scheduled to specific times in order to achieve the best results without adding complexity.” From there, “they could be partnered with the company’s return policy, such as work-from-home days, staggered in-office work hours (arrival/departure times to/from work), limiting staff meeting sizes/time limits, and any other changes to ease the transition.”
For the time being, these policy changes might be temporary, like for the next couple of months. However, they’re effective, efficient, and are keeping your team productive; you may want to consider making them permanent.
7. Tap into the power of FOMO.
Finally, create a space where your team actually wants to return to. For example, purchase standing desks and other ergonomic furniture to combat the sedentary lifestyle they’ve been living over the last year.
You could also plan for team bonding activities or healthy competitions. And, since they haven’t seen each other in a long time, plan for less formal or work-related events for everyone to catch up and reconnect with each other.