How should corporate finance and treasury roles adjust to extended remote work and further delay of in-person team interaction?
By Joseph Neu
NeuGroup exchanges with members about team (aka labor) performance during the Covid-19-induced work from home (WFH) period have been generally positive.
- Productivity has been good, even up, as team members take back time lost to commuting as they give up spontaneous communication and collaborative teaching moments.
- Sustainability is a concern, though, as WFH requires balancing work and home priorities including childcare and homeschooling, for women especially.
WFH works because teams used to be together. There is also a consensus that teams accustomed to working together in the office have made it easier to transition to remote work. This begs the question, then, what happens to teams that are put together with people who have not worked together in real life before?
- The long-term viability of remote work, in finance roles and others, will depend on the success of building high-performing teams outside of an office.
- Everyone is scrambling to come up with viable hacks to maintain, renew and rebuild teams remotely.
- Meanwhile, the bias is toward keeping teams as they are. But as we close in on a year of WFH, this bias will eventually have to be overcome.
Offices should return as team-building centers. Offices should become places to identify and develop high-performing teams and be designed accordingly. One member cited the Steve Jobs Building at Pixar, having recently rewatched “The Pixar Story” documentary on Netflix.
- Steve Jobs designed the main building at Pixar HQ to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations among colleagues.
- Another Steve Jobs Pixar design tenet was to put all functional areas under one roof, with creative functions on the right and technical offices on the left, while allowing them to come together in a large central space, the Atrium.
- The design philosophy should carry over into team building, starting with virtual hacks and moving into return-to-office plans.
- Build encounters and unplanned collaborations that cut across functional silos (e.g., finance and business team collaboration) and promote diversity and inclusion (bring together people from different backgrounds and parts of the world).
Space and time. In the meantime, the idea of the office also needs to adapt to the digital, virtual opportunity. This is an ideal time to connect and rebuild teams virtually across the globe to transcend space and time.
- Maximize the hours of overlap in respective time zones to revitalize, if not reinvent the company culture, cross-fertilize best practices, strengthen governance and controls, and build resilience.
- Build global teams that follow the sun, oriented around global processes (e.g., cash forecasting), leveraging people at treasury, shared services and other centers of excellence worldwide.
- Rotate high-potential talent virtually, across silos, and later offer to send them to meet team members face-to- face for work abroad stints if that is what is needed for high-performing teams.
Continue to invest in technology. It is impossible to ignore that productivity in this pandemic has been made possible by technology enabling connectivity, starting with broadband internet. For this reason, business continuity planning scenarios where the internet goes down for sustained periods are getting a lot of attention now.
- Connectivity needs to be made resilient; however, it is not the only sustaining technology.
- Investing in technology to speed up work with data management, visualization, analytics, AI, machine learning, algos and smart bots is also critical.
- Pivot more processes and transactions to digital, limit human work to an exception basis and provide human factor analysis and judgment overlays.
- Then there is more time to invest in high-performing teams with virtual collaboration and foment unplanned encounters, as core work tasks get done in seconds vs. hours or days.
Reorient your labor. Along with using technology to shorten processing time and automating finance tasks comes the need to reorient labor, especially finance roles, toward things that humans do best.
- For starters, take the lessons of the last six months about your ability to access financing, success in generating cash flow, shifting to contactless points of sale, changes in investment portfolio diversification thinking and policy shifts of central banks.
- Then, apply them to the next six to 12 months so your business better serves humans—your customers, investors, team members and other stakeholders—for the remainder of this crisis and beyond.