Over the past year we have all had to adapt to new ways of working, as we left our offices behind 12 months ago in favour of working remotely from home.
Forced to reassess and rework their processes, we’ve seen countless changes in the way the finance teams we work with are carrying out their day jobs. And despite the challenges remote working has brought, many of the changes we witnessed have been for the better.
With the roadmap out of lockdown laid down, your finance department's returns to the office may be in sight. But be careful to learn from all that you’ve accomplished this year, and not be too quick to slip into the old ways of working.
1. Stop printing reports
No doubt your monthly toner bill has vanished since lockdown began, but looking beyond that, what else have you saved?
How much time has your team saved printing and collating weekly and monthly reports? Of course if these days you’re simply ‘printing to PDF’ and attaching reports to an email, you really haven’t learned that much at all.
More of our customers than ever have been getting departmental users online, allowing them to help themselves to budget enquiry screens and easy to read dashboards. With working schedules becoming increasingly flexible, stakeholders around the business can get the information they need when they need it, all while freeing up the core finance team to focus on more strategic tasks.
2. Don’t put up with handwritten PO requests
Just last year this was still the biggest taboo we would come across in the finance departments we visited.
If you were one of them, don’t be ashamed, you certainly weren’t alone. No doubt this year forced you to find a way around it, either that or you stopped ordering anything altogether.
Get your non-finance folk keying their orders directly into the finance system, then authorising them electronically. Once again, freeing up you and your team to focus on their real jobs, rather than deciphering awful handwriting, or attempting to read minds.
3. The internal post has no place in finance
Far too often we saw businesses sending invoices out in the internal mail, getting a signature from Kate down the hall, and then waiting for it to come back again.
If these days you’ve simply substituted internal mail for Royal mail, then shame on you. I dread to think what your franking bill is like. Instead, I would hope your team is posting invoices directly to the purchase ledger where budget holders from around the business are receipting them.
As much as we all love receiving post, fingers crossed we’ve now seen the last of it in our accounting processes.
4. It’s OK to say no to ad-hoc time-wasting requests
How many times in the past have you received a “quick question” only to find yourself still working on it hours later, throwing your whole day down the drain?
Now you’re working from the comfort of your own home you’ve gained the luxury of being able to temporarily ignore emails, rather than blank your colleague directly to their face. So hopefully it’s been a little easier to say no to the time-wasting requests for “just a quick report.”
Chances are, once they don’t hear back from you in 0.3 seconds, they start digging around themselves and realise the answer lies within those pretty shapes they’ve just twigged is actually a financial dashboard.
5. Hand-signed POs should be a thing of the past
Back when we were able to go and meet with businesses face to face, we always came across a few who would proudly tell us their orders are all keyed directly into the finance system, thinking they’re already at the cutting edge of technology and should expect the call to help with the next SpaceX launch any moment.
Until we probe a little deeper that is. Yes, the orders are keyed in directly, only to then be printed out and jogged down to the marketing office to get signed off. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Marketing Manager Derek is a terrific guy, but I’m not sure his autograph is worth all that much.
These days, with the right user-friendly software in place, Authorisers should have got used to logging in online and signing POs electronically. No doubt they’ve found their orders arrive much sooner too!
6. There are always manual steps you can eliminate
How slick was your receipting process 12 months ago? If you were to count the manual steps from palm to posted, and onwards to the bank rec in your receipting system, would you able to count them on 1 hand? 2 hands? More?
But if I was to ask you to do this now for your current process, has it improved?
Some of our clients that had long drawn out processes a year ago were reluctant to change. “That’s just how we do things here” is something we would hear time and time again. But now, forced to reassess their processes while working remotely, they're directly entering receipts into the finance system and running an automatic bank rec down the line.
No matter how good you think your processes are, there’s always room for improvement, particularly with the right financial software in place. Choose an accounting system that’s simple and intuitive to use, and appealing for those non-finance users too. And if you’re not already, consider going cloud-based to streamline how your team access it while away from the office.
Despite all the challenges you may have faced working remotely this year, if there’s one thing we can learn it’s that we should be regularly putting our processes under the spotlight and reviewing how we do things. Almost all businesses have been forced to do just that, and the finance department should be no exception.
So when you get the nod to return to the office, don’t just slip back into old habits, but strive to keep some of these new ways of working going, taking onboard all the lessons learned and working more efficiently than ever before.