How to Improve the Productivity of an Office of Finance Working From Home

Blog post

In 2018, over half of all employees worked from home in some capacity.1 Additionally, over the past four years, the amount of companies that allow individuals to work from home on a consistent basis has grown by 40%2. The office of finance is no exception to these trends as the role of accountant places in the top ten of the most common remote jobs in the U.S3.

This shift to a more “work from home” mentality in companies can be attributed to several reasons. Among them is the need to be desirable to a changing workforce. In 2016, the average “Baby Boomer” turned 60 years old, and currently, the average age for an accountant is 44 and will continue to drop as more accountants retire4. This means that more organizations need to accommodate the generation that makes up the majority of the workforce, more specifically, Millennials. As an age group, Millennials highly desire the ability to work from home and that factors heavily when they choose to accept or decline an organization’s offer of employment5.

But beyond that, sometimes life happens, and employees need options other than the standard “9-5” in an office building. The organizations that are the most flexible and understanding of this and allow their employees to work from home see their turnover rates fall by over 50%6.

Even with the growing demand, as it stands, only about 7% of employers in the U.S. offer work from home flexibility7. But as these year-after-year trends continue, working from home will become a reality for more workers and organizations. Unfortunately, for the office of finance, this can prove detrimental to the productivity of the team.

While studies show that working from home improves the productivity for jobs that require creativity, due to the number of distractions at home, it can hinder jobs that are repetitive in nature, such as transaction matching or JE processing. This hindrance oftentimes leads to late nights and an incredibly lengthy close process for finance and accounting teams.
In order to prepare for organizations to meet these continuing market changes, remain a competitive option for the new workforce and maintain the integrity of their financials, offices of finance need to take the following steps.

Review Your Existing Process

The first step to improving any process is to look at it from an objective standpoint. Keeping in mind the overall goal of the office of finance, look for things like a lack of transparency into the workflow. As your office of finance disperses out, the issue of visibility into the status of tasks will only grow.

Additionally, review the parts of the financial process that, while they may have a solution, are incredibly time-consuming. Anything that causes a delay in any of your financial processes and threatens the integrity of reported financial documentation should be noted. This includes issues that already have a solution. For example, are your recurring manual JEs such as accruals, depreciation & amortization costly and time-consuming, but when manually handled, the process becomes passable?

One way to thoroughly review your processes is to examine everything from the view of a potential investor. Assume that anything that could be a problem, will be.

Identify All of the Current Solutions

After the issues have been detected, it’s time to identify the solutions that are already in place. This type of analysis is important for multiple reasons. Primarily, the solution may not be feasible in a work from home setting. Remember, communication is key when it comes to a remote accounting team, and a dispersed team means any issues that were previously solved by walking to the other person’s desk require new methods.

Secondly, an analysis allows you to reflect on the capabilities of older solutions. Often times, when organizations are given the time to look at how they have previously solved a problem, they find that there is now a more cost-effective or efficient way to correct the issue.

Recognize the Cause of Issues

From delays in the workflow to a lack of visibility in the status of tasks to be completed, the issues that the office of finance encounters typically lie within the tools and methods being utilized. Primarily, this is because manual processing and spreadsheets are the most common tools used to complete financial processes. While spreadsheets have been the backbone of the office of finance for decades, they were originally designed to balance the budget of a typical four-person family, and thus fall short when met with the demands of today’s enterprise-level organizations. Additional error-prone and inefficient tools and approaches include:

  • Confusing email approval chains
  • Tasks handled within and outside the ERP
  • Written lists of tasks and their dates of completion that have to be updated in-person
  • Daily meetings with global controllers for status updates

Without a centralized solution for tracking your team’s progress, there is little to no insight into problems and delays, which translates to the existence of a very real risk to the reliability of your financial statements during and after your financial close.

Where to Go From Here

Knowing that current trends will continue, in order to stay competitive, organizations will need to be able to meet the demands of the workforce while maintaining the integrity of their financial processes. Simply stated, this isn’t possible with the current tools and methods utilized by the average office of finance.

By implementing automation within your financial processes, from manually entered journal entries to task lists, you can provide a reliable and repeatable close every time.

Automating your financial processes offers:

  • Visibility into areas for process optimization
  • Reduction in time to complete and monitor close tasks
  • Reduction in time to prepare for a close
  • Reduction in write-offs
  • Risk mitigation
  • Identification of bottlenecks in the workflow

To learn more about how an automated solution can benefit your company’s office of finance, download our eBook: 5 Reasons Spreadsheets Are a Problem for Your Close.

Written by: Caleb Walter

[1] Papandrea, D. (2019). “Want to work from home? Understand the pros and cons before deciding” Retrieved March 23, 2020, Monster

[2] Shepherd, M. (2020). “11 Surprising Working From Home Statistics” Retrieved March 23, 2020

[3] Hess, A. (2018). These are the 14 most common remote jobs— here’s how much they pay. Retrieved March 12, 2020

[4] (2019) “Accountants and Auditors” Retrieved March 23, DataUSA

[5] Lighthall, S. “The work benefits of working from home” Retrieved March 23, 2020, Zendesk

[6] Shepherd, M. (2020). “11 Surprising Working From Home Statistics” Retrieved March 23, 2020

[7] Shepherd, M. (2020). “11 Surprising Working From Home Statistics” Retrieved March 23, 2020