How to keep remote finance teams engaged

How to keep remote finance teams engaged

As working remotely becomes the norm, it’s important to boost inter-departmental relations – especially when it comes to finance

No longer a novelty, the benefits of remote working are being enjoyed by the majority of us for at least some of our working lives – whether we work from home occasionally, or never even set foot in our company’s HQ. In fact, IWG’s Global Workspace Survey found more than half of employees work outside their company’s main office at least 2.5 days each week.

Team members are now used to working on projects together despite being in different cities, countries or time zones. And, thanks to cloud-based software (like Google Sheets or Xero) and communications apps (like Slack), finance professionals have the collaborative working tools they need to ditch the commute and join the out-of-office club. Or, it means companies can explore  the option of outsourcing their financial management needs to freelance finance experts based in offices elsewhere.

Remote finance teams can be beneficial for business. The department’s day-to-day work is traditionally admin-heavy and centred around manual processes. To make remote working possible for in-house finance teams, companies will most likely have to rely more on digital tools for expense- and cashflow-management. By revamping the remote office set-up for finance teams, companies can end up moving towards a paper-free culture, or implementing tech that automates a business’s financial processes. Therefore, facilitating remote finance teams can help companies move with the times and make their operations more efficient. And, from the perspective of the finance professional, having the option of remote working can boost their work/life balance and sense of wellbeing, which has a positive effect on team performance.

At the same time, remote working brings its own challenges. Other departments rely on the finance department being a “safe pair of hands” that – like a duck paddling away underwater – glides across the lake with barely a ripple, with all the vital work taking place in the background. The outputs of marketing, sales, technical and creative teams are far more visible, while finance departments too often get dismissed as pure “money handlers” – when in fact, they have a huge part to play in advising a business’s next steps. There is a risk that, by working remotely, formally in-house finance professionals could feel even more segregated from their working environment.

What’s more, much of a finance team’s work is time-sensitive. It there’s a delay that impacts a company’s cashflow, there are financial repercussions and the company’s reputation can suffer. For remote finance teams to be successful, it’s important for them to remain in sync with business activity taking place back at the main office, and to have quick reaction times to prevent a lag in crucial operations.

A way to overcome this is for management to schedule – and stick to – regular updates with remote finance teams. A weekly briefing with the CFO over a Zoom call, task-management software and a clear communication strategy for knowing which deadlines to prioritise are all vital. And expectations should be set about how available remote finance professionals need to be to take urgent calls. It’s not about time-policing – it’s just about making sure important processes don’t slip through the net by making remote teams feel involved (and accountable).

Where possible, face-to-face time need not be eliminated completely. To build effective working relationships with the rest of the team, remote finance teams can be invited to social events and important in-house briefings, to foster a stronger sense of connection with the company they represent. This also helps other employees appreciate how their own role is integrated with the actions of the finance team, builds trust, and encourages staff to cooperate with the protocols the finance team has to enforce (like filing expenses on time). A more connected team benefits an organisation as a whole, and boosts the chance of making remote working a success in the process.

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