It’s no secret that the personal and professional lives of most of us have undergone a major upheaval as of late. Most employees have had to adjust to a work-from-home (only) environment for the first time, and many of them have had to do so with their spouses and children in tow.
For finance, this new work environment, combined with a troubled economy is even trickier. I’d argue, therefore, that finance departments are doing some of the most critical and challenging remote work in order to keep the business humming. But their unique issues are often overlooked by how to make the business at large more productive and collaborative.
Although thought of as a backend function, Finance teams are on the front lines of the business now more than ever before. Along with customer service teams, they hear the financial distress of their customers firsthand. The effect that this alone can have on team morale can be significant.
As finance leaders continue to embrace their new normal, they not only need to lead a high-performing, remote finance function but also find ways to boost team morale.
To do so, here are five areas worth focusing on.
Empower your employees to be decision-makers
Giving your employees more authority, trust, and flexibility in their remote working environments can pay dividends. Start by evaluating key finance processes for common bottlenecks and find ways to streamline.
Payment extensions are a good example of this since they often go through an upstream approval process. In a situation like this, consider whether you can empower employees to become decision-makers during the negotiation process up until a designated threshold.
Not only will this remove unnecessary bottlenecks and save time, but it can also contribute to higher productivity, greater confidence, and professional growth for your team.
Look for creative ways to scale your team
For smaller, two-to-three person finance teams, bandwidth can feel challenging in traditional environments. In a remote environment, it can feel overwhelming.
As Chief Financial Officer, helping your team become more scalable is critical. Here are some ways you can build a more scalable remote team.
- Automate your dunning and reporting as much as possible. On average, one collector can handle over 300 accounts with a manual dunning process. If the process is automated, they can handle over 1,000.
- Develop more meaningful training resources. Look for ways you can build out more resources and training processes for your team. Video recordings and finance playbooks are great assets to make readily available to your team.
- Consider utilizing contractors for short-term goals. If budget allows, outsource smaller, more time-consuming projects to contractors. You’ll free up your team’s capacity to focus on higher-value, more rewarding work.
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Be a beacon of light in a dark time
During challenging times, finance teams have to have challenging conversations. You’re going to have to guide your team through some really tough situations. Avoiding surprises is generally a good thing, so give your team frequent updates about your bad debt expectations, DSO changes, and collections forecasts.
Spend more of your 1:1 time debriefing your employees and preparing them for what’s ahead and how to handle different scenarios. Consider building out a playbook for how to engage with customers and successfully navigate through different situations.
Feeling connected and rapid learning is important, so be sure to hold regular, virtual group meetings for the team to share experiences, insights, and best practices with each other.
Above all, make team morale your top priority. Now more than ever, CFOs need to be the finance team’s champion. Keep an eye on your team’s big wins, and find ways to call out individuals for their great work while celebrating the team as a whole.
Use data to gauge performance and morale
Take a closer look at the metrics you use to track the team’s performance, individual team members, and their productivity. Do they still make sense in the current environment, or do you need to make appropriate adjustments?
For example, right now many customers are struggling to pay their bills. This not only affects the performance of your company but also the performance of your finance team. Look at your portfolio as a whole, and then look at 30-plus days past due as a percentage of the portfolio. What number can you live with as a past-due percentage? Some folks even target the overall portfolio’s percentage of invoices past 60 or 90 days.
Then, update your team’s performance targets based on these adjusted percentages to better track individual performance against the new portfolio-wide target.
It’s also important to remember that during tougher times, regular 1:1’s and weekly meetings should remain your primary focus. These ongoing touchpoints and communication methods will allow finance leaders to gather the most reasonable data around their team’s performance and morale.
Remember that empathy matters most
Lastly and above all, empathy matters. Not only is your own business likely struggling right now, but so is your customer’s customer and their customer. As a CFO, your top priority is keeping attuned to the feelings, challenges, and circumstances that your team and customers are going through, and then looking for ways to guide them through the uncertainty.
As humans, we’re biologically wired for connection, which can make the remote life even more challenging. Make it a priority to look for ways to have fun and celebrate small wins or personal achievements with your team. Encourage them to take mental escape days or establish a weekly meeting-free afternoon to help them catch their breath.
One of the positive outcomes of this pandemic has been the great lengths that individuals and organizations have gone to in order to connect with one another. As a CFO, keep looking for ways you can help your employees and customers in the spirit of generosity—and not worry solely about ROI.
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