CFO Chapter 6: Remote Working
It was meant to be “an aberration” according to Goldman Sachs’ CEO but remote working is now very much the norm for countless companies across the globe. Whilst for those who work from their sofa, shed or even bed, the work from home (WFH) revolution is about flexibility and better work-life balance, for CFOs it signals new challenges to contend with.
Challenges however are by no means “problems” in this instance. Instead, they are merely the inevitable difficulties which arise and can be overcome when beginning to operate in a way that deviates from 100 years of in-office working. These include acquiring new software, overcoming security concerns, ensuring the engagement and retention of staff, and more. In this CFO Chapter we will therefore be sharing how financial leaders can navigate all of these challenges to secure tangible success for companies who operate remotely.
Is remote working being embraced?
Before we contemplate how CFOs can make remote working effective, we should consider how many CFOs will face decisions regarding it. Throughout lockdown there was no option but for companies to operate remotely ;however, now there is the choice and with it learnt lessons.
This has resulted in businesses adopting various approaches to work including hybrid schemes, fully remote or completely in-office. However, research shows that remote working is already making a dent in established ways of working. For example, 44% of UK workers currently work remotely (either fully remote or with a hybrid model), and this figure would likely be higher if more companies offered the option. According to McKinsey’s 2023 survey, 87% of employees said they’d accept an offer of remote working.
Moreover, ResearchGate has accrued data to estimate that 75% of employees by 2025 will work remotely at least five days a month. It therefore appears that both now and in the future most CFOs will need a strategy that encompasses WFH possibilities.
How to make WFH a success?
With variations of WFH on track to become the norm and spread to more companies, CFOs will be keen to ensure that digital mishaps, disgruntled staff, and security breaches are thoughts they don’t need to worry about.
Conquer them head-on with our top tips below:
On a basic level, remote working requires two ingredients –workers and collaborative technology. Without one or the other, remote working simply wouldn’t be possible. Fortunately, given the rise of WFH, many corporate tools are now built with remote working in mind, such is the presence of it.
Nevertheless, already using software such as Zoom to conduct meetings with external partners every now and then is very different from overhauling an entire tech stack to ensure that your internal employees can work from anywhere. Although CTOs should hold chief responsibility for this, it is also an important consideration for CFOs.
After all, adoption of technology, especially that which will make or break remote operations, is a huge investment. As guardians of budgets, CFOs therefore have a right to be involved in the selection process of remote working technology. Key questions they should bring to the table during their selection are:
- What security measures do new technologies offer?
Operating without safeguards has always been a risky venture. From building sites to technological databases this holds true. One small error can be costly in terms of livelihoods, reputation, and money. Whilst red tape might have a bad reputation it is therefore always important to consider.
This is especially true when it comes to choosing software that facilitates remote working. With individuals having access to sensitive information from various locations that can’t be physically overseen or secured, additional precautions must be taken.
- Will new technology be easy to learn and apply for all members of staff?
A big factor that usually initiates a transition to remote working is to make life easier for employees. As a result, it is crucial that the technology which they will be working with is also conducive to their needs.
Should at-home technology not be simple for staff to adopt this can lead to frustration, low morale, and decreased productivity, which are all antithetical to the principles of remote working and result in the initiative not being cost-productive.
- Do technology providers guarantee prompt support and backup services?
As the foundation of remote working, a lot of responsibility is inevitably placed on technology. Instances of it faltering can therefore be significantly problematic – colleagues unable to communicate, databases becoming inaccessible etc.
Although employees feel 83% more productive when working from home, this can quickly reverse if the tools they need to operate no longer work. Whilst in-house IT departments might be able to resolve generic issues, doing so virtually for various pieces of software is far more challenging. When selecting software, it is therefore pertinent to ensure that providers guarantee quick resolutions so that if errors should occur, productivity isn’t damaged for long.
Given the significance of technology in enabling a successful rollout of remote working, some might hope that software alone will keep employees happy. Paired with the fact that those who WFH on average save 72 minutes a day and 78%of them poll that they experience an improved work-life balance, some might think that motivated employees are the default when WFH. However, when people are not physically together, greater efforts are sometimes required to ensure everyone feels valued.
This typically arises for two opposing reasons. One is a disconnect with colleagues and a feeling of being distant. The other is micromanagement. Making sure that neither of these happen is principally the responsibility of HR but just like how CFOs have a responsibility to assist their CTOs when choosing technology, they should also support HR in matters of remote employees.
Why? Because staff are the most valuable asset of any company. Not only do they keep everything running smoothly and possess invaluable knowledge related to your business and industry, they are also costly to replace. In fact, it is estimated that hiring for a vacated position can cost up to two times the salary of the position you are seeking to fill.
Ultimately, if morale dips and talent begins to leave a company, this only encourages others to do so, increasing turnover and spending on hiring. In contrast, making WFH a success which boosts productivity and employee satisfaction opens up the possibility for hiring costs to decrease. By proving that WFH can work with existing employees, CEOs could become inclined to employ staff from other parts of the world where wages are cheaper.
Evidently, employee engagement is therefore intrinsically attached to spending costs which CFOs can’t ignore. To make remote working a positive experience, CFOs should not be shy to spend first to avoid doing so in greater numbers later on. Some of the best items to invest in for these purposes are:
- Away days
- Remote management training
- Funds for employees to improve their WFH setup
- Gym memberships
- Asynchronous flexible working hours
Having employees operate worldwide can sound like a scary prospect for security-minded professionals. Yet with the world of work shifting to a remote basis, it is something that companies will have to get comfortable with. This includes CFOs and the highly sensitive data their teams handle everyday.
However, it isn’t simply a matter of being comfortable with the prospect of dispersed data, instead precautions must be implemented to keep it safe. Securing data is not only a must to engender trust in peers and clients, it is also a matter of staying compliant with regulations. CFOs are therefore conscious that not complying with security regulations poses a very real risk of losing significant sums of money – from people withdrawing their custom after trust is lost, to being fined by authorities.
Fortunately, securing data will have already been partially accounted for if the previous two pieces of advice have been heeded. Data remains secure when handled by protective technology and conscious, loyal employees. Security should therefore also be part of CFOs’ strategies when it comes to selecting WFH technology and trainings which will benefit both colleagues’ development and their wider company.
How else can CFOs optimise remote working?
Having ensured that remote working operates smoothly, CFOs should also recognise the opportunities they can gain from their hard work. As they are responsible for reporting upon various numbers, CFOs will be keen to observe that two metrics which regularly improve thanks to flexible working schemes are those related to the environment and gender equality. For instance, since adopting remote working, some companies have experienced a reduction in women leaving their business by a third, and lower numbers of polluting commutes are there for everyone to see.
Pushing the right buttons with remote working
Overall, whilst being an undertaking that requires various factors to be considered, remote working can definitely work two ways for CFOs. If they invest in it wisely, they will reap positive rewards. When done right, it can boost productivity, employee morale, talent acquisition, and ESG metrics, all whilst saving costs (one CFO recently reported that a shift to WFH saved his company £6.8 million per year). Collectively, these are numbers that any CFO would be happy to share.
The next chapter
In the next installation of the CFO Chapters, we will be looking at the new set of hard to quantify metrics which CFOs are having to measure as consumers' values change. You can find out more about this chapter plus the others which will feature in 2023 by clicking here.