By Kenny Eon, GM and SVP EMEA at Emburse
Covid-19 undoubtedly disrupted all industries and many businesses, causing the sharpest recession on record and employee hardship as workers were told to work from home. As well as the initial practical challenges, this transition proved difficult for those in finance teams which saw their workload explode, as business leaders asked for updates, forecasts and replanning at a frequency and rate that had never been seen before.
Organisations are entering a new wave - transitioning into hybrid work. According to a recent global survey, 42% of respondents reported their company has already fully transitioned to a hybrid environment. For many teams this way of working is still new territory, and they are navigating a precarious balancing act before organisations reach a sound equilibrium between home and office working.
To optimise hybrid working, organisations must embark on a digital transformation. At a recent roundtable, it was agreed that these initiatives will only be successful when implemented from the top down. This is where the CFO comes in. Unless those in senior positions get on board, digital transformation processes will be time-prohibitive and ineffective. CFOs aren’t necessarily being rebranded to drive a fully digitalised metamorphosis, but it is certainly their responsibility to initiate such change.
The time for digital transformation is now
Remote working has highlighted areas in need of modernisation. Financial executives have had to juggle their broad range of responsibilities from strategy and treasury to internal audit and risk management at a crucial, and often stressful, time for businesses. CFOs identified one of the most pressing challenges has been adopting technological tools and services, partly due to a dislike for change in familiar work processes; it is often only with hindsight that workers see the true value of digitisation.
Despite many teams having undertaken some form of digital progression to support remote working, there is still more that needs to be done to align work and admin processes. The lack of organisation experienced by some remote teams has had a knock-on effect on employee wellbeing. Research suggests there’s been an increase in feelings of stress and anxiety for workers who bear the brunt of company disorganisation, and many paper-based finance teams reported it almost impossible to function effectively with staff working from home.
The prospect of implementing a digital transformation can be daunting, however, we found that 94% of CFO’s positioned digital transformation as critical for their organisation’s future success. In fact, a digital transformation will enable companies to thrive and increase their return on investment (ROI) as it will; reduce the cost of expense/AP processing by automating manual processes, provide deeper insight into spend patterns to increase compliance, minimise wasteful spend and optimise the timing of payments. Businesses are still trying to regain footing after what has been an incredibly rocky period, so it is essential CFOs act now to implement a full transformation whilst the world slowly recovers. Otherwise, embarking on the journey of digital optimisation post Covid-19 will be overwhelming and businesses risk being overtaken by competitors.
Not so omniscient
The dispersal of staff from offices into remote work also unearthed large weaknesses in the manual, 20th-century approach to control and internal audit. Abuses may have soared in some spending categories as transactions became harder to monitor. The added task of managing remote working resources has made this an increasingly confusing period for CFOs as workers request all kinds of expense claims such as the heating bill and tea supplies instead of client lunches. Remote working intensified anxieties surrounding disorganisation, which comes down to manual process documents, silo data, inefficient ways of communication and making work just about work.
When it comes to identifying fraudulent or out- of- policy spending activity, human error is an unnecessary stressor given the tools on offer for optimising such processes. Businesses should look to partner with trusted expense management and AP automation solutions that are able to prevent fraud and noncompliant spend from slipping through the cracks.
This will alleviate the burden of arduous administrative tasks for both CFOs and their finance teams, who will no longer have to pour hours into manually processing expenses when time could be better spent collaborating with colleagues, improving other areas of the business and enhancing the wider business product offering.
Reversing the culture deficit
Company culture is another business priority for finance executives that has come to the fore because of the pandemic. CFOs are acutely aware it blurred the boundary between work and rest. The shutdown of offices was a frenzy, as workers were faced with the difficulty of constructing home offices, managing home schooling, caring for relatives, conducting virtual meetings with colleagues and customers, or weeks of isolation for those living alone.
It’s imperative CFOs meet employee needs and plan for the upcoming hybrid transition, finding the best balance between office and remote work. Our recent survey showed that business leaders are seeking alternate ways of managing employees under the evolving hybrid conditions, with 69% of finance executives citing maintaining morale and 63% citing maintaining corporate culture among the biggest challenges they’ve faced in a work from home environment.
We are yet to see the full extent of the pandemic’s aftermath on businesses. As a priority, leaders are looking to nurture workplace cultures that employees can lean into and rely on. The way CFOs shape an employee-friendly, post-pandemic workplace will dictate the success of attracting and retaining talent. As part of this, investing in a digital transformation and digital tools will be important for freeing up valuable employee time and taking care of onerous tasks, leaving room for rest. Ultimately, digital transformation, AP automation and a new outlook on company culture are all pieces of the same puzzle – it’s all about humanising work and creating an empowering environment in the digital age.