One thing I’m fortunate to have in my role is almost constant contact with other people. After all it’s my job is to talk to Finance Professionals in the market. It’s through conversations with these individuals that I have gained a real insight into the impact the pandemic has had on Finance Teams, and the challenges and adjustments they have faced to ensure a continued level of service.
The common theme amongst the businesses I’ve spoken to is that whilst challenging, Finance functions have adapted incredibly quickly to the sharp switch to remote working and have utilised video conferencing technologies to continue to operate efficiently. Whether for work or catching up with colleagues at the end of the week for a virtual wine, it’s become part of daily life. It’s clear though, that home working is not without its risks.
One concern for Managers and new hires alike has been recruiting and onboarding during lockdown. I was told that at the beginning of lockdown some businesses simply didn’t have the resources to onboard remotely but have found that by re-engineering their processes they actually now find it better than before. “A video conference (VC) will never replace a face to face but you can make it work and it can be very effective” said a Finance Manager for a large retail bank, whose main concern was being able to provide support to new starters. “[In the office] you’re always near someone who can help you or provide support and I was concerned that we might not be able to offer the level of support we normally would through VC’s”. This led to her ‘Open Zoom’ policy where any of her team could call her at any time and talk through any issue (big or small). “[Again], it’s not quite the same as being able to sit next to someone but it encourages each of us to try and work out problems together and it builds camaraderie”.
A video conference (VC) will never replace a face to face but you can make it work and it can be very effective
I wanted to explore the other side of the coin, so I spoke with a recently employed Financial Accountant who had been onboarded in April. She told me that she had struggled joining a new company during lockdown. “My manager is great but it’s just not the same, I need the facetime. I feel like a pain calling my manager five times a day. The social side is also tough, and I did worry about fitting in virtually over Zoom”.
While home working generally receives a thumbs up from the Finance professionals I’ve spoken with, one Head of Finance for a National Bank told me that concern around burnout of employees was high on the agenda for them. When lockdown kicked in, their trades trebled overnight and in addition to learning to work from home, it was a perfect storm. This led to very long hours for his Finance Team. Speaking with his team he found that like himself, his team were also allocating their morning commute time to work as well as their evening commute. Already that’s two extra hours in the virtual office every day. “So what?” some people will say, or “that’s only an extra couple of hours, that’s nothing!”. However, people by nature need a change of scene every so often and when you’re staring at the same four walls for twenty-four hours a day it can be tough mentally.
My manager is great but it’s just not the same, I need the facetime. I feel like a pain calling my manager five times a day
Though people may approach their day differently, chances are you need that transition period between home, coffee shop and work to wind down or gear up. People use the time to reflect on challenges, take a step back and to be able to view things holistically that can then present solutions you may not have thought of. Furthermore, going out to grab a coffee or heading to the work kitchen can be hugely beneficial to someone’s own wellbeing and motivation. The same Head of Finance also told me that employees haven’t been taking holidays because “there is nowhere they can realistically go”. A holiday is not just about the travel but the mental break, so with many people not taking breaks, this is where burnout is occurring. As a solution, he was keen to make sure his team were strict about the hours they worked and that team members could finish early or take half days as needed to ensure they were rested and motivated. “There is a huge intensity of working from home” he told me, which is something that I resonate with.
I spoke with a CFO of a Brokerage who said that home working, had been largely successful but was quick to point out that not everyone’s situation is the same. “Some may own their own home; others may be in flat shares or have children. We have to be very sensitive to people’s needs”. This led to the business offering office space set-ups for people locally and paying for travel should employees wish to temporarily relocate or if younger staff members wanted to move back home with their parents. In one case the business paid for flights to fly one of their recently joined Accountants back to Australia where she could work remotely. Providing this for their staff, they saw no loss in quality or productivity but quite the opposite, they witnessed an increase in quality and productivity as well as an increase in engagement. Another Finance Director I spoke with mentioned that they had kept their offices open specifically for employees who lived in flat shares.
Some may own their own home; others may be in flat shares or have children. We have to be very sensitive to people’s needs
One of the CFOs of a start-up I spoke with had actually just cancelled the lease on their office “We’re only a small brokerage and we can’t see the possibility returning to the office until the end of 2021 so we paid the exit clause.” This has been common amongst London businesses as according to a survey conducted by CBI and PwC, 74% of Financial Services firms are reviewing their office space needs. Most organisations are looking to either use space differently, get rid of it, or both. And according to a report led by Professor Alan Felstead of Cardiff University most “people are as productive working from home, if not more so”. This of course has an adverse reaction on the local economies but I’m not here to talk about that – see the BBC article here that references this.
While this is only a small sample of some of the conversations I have had, the themes have been consistent, it seems evident that home working can be successful if organisations are mindful of potential pitfalls and maybe office working has changed forever? My clients have been able to adapt with some teething problems but like me, every single person I have spoken with is still ideally looking for some form of presence in a physical office, just maybe not on a 5 day per week basis. After all we are social beings by nature and whether we’re introverts or extroverts we all need some degree of human interaction.
Principal Consultant - Finance & Audit Recruitment
McGregor Boyall Associates Ltd
t: +44 (0)20 7422 9076