Flexible working from more than one location has been around for decades – initially facilitated by the emergence of connecting to networks remotely via VPN technology, and, more recently, via a multitude of cloud-based applications.
Yet, despite this, many organisational leaders have never given the term ‘hybrid working’ a second thought during their daily commute.
This is because, for years, it’s long been accepted that the vast majority of work must be conducted in a physical office space with colleagues sat side-by-side and only having to utilise digital tools when they need to complete specific tasks. Departments such as sales and field-related project resources were exceptions of course, though far too often when they were away from the office that also meant there was an absence of connectivity beyond phone and email.
Companies such as Salesforce were great proponents of educating leaders as to just how sales teams could work remotely, yet still be connected with the CRM ‘in the office’, because whatever they required was in the cloud. Though, no matter how it permeated across various elements of the organisation, it wasn’t on the horizon, in the same way, for the finance department.
However, fast forward to 2022 and the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the idea that the ‘new normal’ should in fact feature hybrid working at its core. Employees are becoming more confident when speaking up about the way in which they now want to work on a day-to-day basis and, the majority of staff members, including those in the finance function, no longer see full-time hours in an office as desirable or a necessity.
Being able to have the choice about where to work from, is empowering workforce change because teams have proved – over the past two years in particular – that they can still do their jobs effectively, as long as they have access to the internet and a browser.
The statistics are evidencing this shift towards a preferred blended approach to work too. For example, a recent Chartered Institute of Management study revealed that 84% of their firms had adopted to hybrid working, with many accelerating this in light of the global crisis. A further report suggested that while commuter numbers have increased following the easing of the Covid restrictions this year, more than a fifth of train services that were running pre-pandemic, haven’t returned because the demand simply isn’t there anymore.
The importance of FDs adapting to the future of work
Hybrid working is here to stay and it’s proving to be one of the most prevalent areas of business that leaders have to not only get to grips with, but master, if they’re to retain their top talent. And the message is clear – staff want flexibility and choice, otherwise they’re prepared to look elsewhere.
For employers who aren’t listening to what their teams are telling them, not only will they potentially lose their existing staff to competitors – especially those who are offering more of a work-life balance – but their talent acquisition pool will reduce immeasurably if they’re unable or unwilling to offer a blended approach.
However, while everything points to hybrid working being ‘the future of work’, it’s likely been an easier transition for specific departments that were already set up to operate away from the office compared to others. As an example, sales and marketing teams won’t give it another thought about having to get into their cars to visit a client and using their mobile devices to complete specific tasks.
For many finance professionals, it has been – and will continue to be – a different story altogether.
Because, truth being told, hybrid working is still a relatively new concept for this industry. For years, FDs and CFOs have commuted to their company’s office, used physical filing cabinets to store vast amounts of critical information and relied on post-it notes as helpful reminders to approve paper-based documentation.
That was until the Covid-19 pandemic struck. The global crisis forced offices to temporarily shut and adopt a new way of working. What that meant for finance leaders was they either had to remotely access documents via a VPN or visit the office when no-one else was there, in order to get relevant paperwork so they could sign-off specific tasks.
Opportunities to move to the cloud
Overall, these past two years have presented an added pressure on finance to not only adopt a completely different mindset but come to terms with the idea of stabilised and effective hybrid working being their ‘new norm’ too.
While challenges have been felt, there have also been opportunities. In particular, the pandemic has been an irresistible stimulus for many FDs to review existing systems they had in place in their organisations – and identify where improvements were required.
For several leaders, this has involved making a crucial decision as to the future of their on-premise technology. Decades ago, these server-based systems would’ve been a major part of a business and been as much a part of the furniture as the filing cabinet.
Now, however, modern-day software is affording workforces the opportunity to be flexible in the hours they work, and from whatever location, and yet still have full visibility of their entire organisation’s financial situation – in real-time, and at the touch of a button. And it can all be done without physically being in the office 9-5, Monday to Friday.
There are of course software innovations – including the likes of Adobe Sign and DocuSign – that have, for years, offered greater flexibility for the FD approvals process. But those leaders that are still as over-reliant on post-it note reminders and filing cabinets as they are their existing, legacy, on-premise technology, will soon find themselves falling behind those with cloud-native software in place.
There’s never been a better time for FDs to respond to the shift towards hybrid working – and it starts by moving everything securely in the cloud. If they leave it too late and fail to adopt a digital process, their competitors will have a competitive advantage through both recruitment and efficiency, operating from a significantly reduced cost base – by having everything in one platform – and enjoying a highly flexible, paperless and commuter-less way of working.
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