Future of Accounting

Why the Return to a “Hybrid” Office is a Good Sign for Finance Teams

September 2, 2021

Hybrid office

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

From hot desks and Zoom rooms to holographic-style meetings, big changes in the workplace are on the way.

Data from Google suggests that workplace activity in major cities including London, New York and San Francisco is 50% below its pre-pandemic level. With over 15 months spent working from home, the global workforce is calling for a solid work-life balance, as companies adjust to the new landscape.

And why not? If anything, the past year has proved that the majority of work can be done from anywhere, minus the long commute.

What is hybrid work?

The hybrid work model blends remote work with on-premises working. It means, staff can mostly decide what days they want to work from home and when they want to be in the office. One of the benefits of hybrid working is that it can lower the degree of isolation that remote workers might feel. It works best for professionals that want the flexibility of remote working as well as the collaboration, and culture of a physical office space.

In the finance industry, the transition to a hybrid office has fast-tracked the road to automation, giving accountants better tools to complete tasks from the comfort of their homes. It has eliminated previous fears about the role of AI and automation (such as loss of jobs), highlighting areas that could save finance professionals more time, for example approving and processing payments online through virtual credit cards and ACH/EFT.

Building on the benefits made from remote work

Despite the discomfort and uncertainty, finance leaders are positive about what lies ahead, emerging from the pandemic with a different mindset. When asked about the outlook of their firms, the CFO Survey found that on a scale of 0 to 100, the average level of optimism amongst CFOs was just over 73.

One survey found that a vast majority, 78% of accountants, agree that remote work has boosted productivity. 58% say this is because of fewer distractions.

Finance teams are often bogged down by manual tasks such as approvals, follow-ups and data entry. With the remote work limitations, companies had to adopt alternatives to keep workflows moving in all departments. Automation was the popular alternative benefiting all areas of finance, including risk assessments and audits.

Enhancing growth with automation

Managing accounting workflows for a distributed workforce becomes easier with automation. It speeds up routine or rule-based processes, freeing accountants from repetitive and time-consuming work. Tasks that don’t require physical presence or a high-level in-person collaboration are also prime candidates for automation. For example, organizations can move to electronic invoices and payments to process them without physically going into the office. Enhancements like these benefit all branches of accounting:

  • Reduces data entry and costs in accounts payable (AP): in a manual setting an invoice will have to be sorted, routed for review, approved, validated and then finally paid. An AP software such as Beanworks automates the entire process by replacing data entry with AI-powered tech and offering cost and time savings of up to 60-80%.
  • Improves DSO in accounts receivable (AR): Companies using manual AR systems take 67% more time to follow-up on overdue payments. According to one estimate, the DSO of a firm without any level of tech implementation is 52 days, which is 12 days higher than the DSO for firms with at least some basic level of automation.
  • Prevents compliance risk in payroll: Companies accomplish better compliance with digitization. They are able to identify and investigate outliers, and rely on sophisticated dashboards for critical, up-to-the-minute decision-making. As a record number of people are leaving their jobs, the digital upgrade also enhances the employee-employer relationship.
  • Provides a detailed audit trail: Preparing for an annual audit is tough when your documents are stored in a physical space such as storage rooms or filing cabinets. But when financial documents are digitized, everything from audits to annual compliance reviews are a lot easier to manage.

“Automated AP really helps a lot during the audit season. We created a user ID for the auditor. They can just go into the platform. I think right now we’re about 90% paperless across the company.” – Jesusa Agustin, Senior Accountant, Everest

When automation is implemented, it adds pivotal support to free up much needed resources and time. As these technologies cover more ground and offer real-time analytics of company financials, many organizations are finding that automation is actively improving their bottom line, while also adding an enhanced tool kit to identify and prevent fraud.

Working smarter, not harder

One in three professional accountants feels stressed daily. In fact, in one survey, only 2% of financial professionals reported no stress at all. There are several issues that contribute to the high-stress levels of accountants, including:

  • Being overworked (41%)
  • Feeling undervalued (29%)
  • Failing to achieve a pay increase or rewards (29%)
  • Having to attend too many meetings (28%)

Between agonizing over closing a month or getting financial reports ready before a presentation, accountants have several reasons for working overtime. As one study suggests, 47% of accountants end up taking work home every week, and 25% work overtime every day. This includes time spent on tasks such as employee expense management, which takes up to eight days or more to process. Automation can help save 69% of that time. It’s why more CFOs are turning to technology. With the right tools, accounting staff accomplish more tasks in a lot less time. Here are some practices that businesses can implement to reduce overtime and support finance leaders in designing a hybrid office:

  • Invest in technology that works for the team: Something that companies don’t often think about is how well do their existing pieces talk to each other? How does data flow between them? Isolated systems can be just as hard to manage and update as manual systems. This could be the case of automating AP with a document management system but handling approvals on paper or email. An automated AP software will streamline all workflows on a central platform and integrate data into your main financial system.
  • Upskill staff to use the latest tech: whether it’s an AP software such as Beanworks or a project management tool like Monday and Trello – upskilling staff will remain a key strategy for companies. A thorough understanding of the different features will help boost productivity across different departments.

Going digital

During COVID-19, cash flow management became a top priority for vendors. But the challenge of timely payment has always been a pain point for vendors. Before the pandemic hit, 79% of US businesses still paid at least some bills using paper checks. New digital alternatives made it easier, and more convenient to handle payments, both from the hybrid office and remote work locations.

On average, it takes 30 days to complete a single payment, and around 47% of suppliers are paid late. This is why one in four companies in North America switched to electronic invoices last year. Unlike paper checks that have a longer processing cycle, digital payments are fast and easy to process.

New payment patterns are beginning to emerge as more vendors and suppliers turn to cloud technology

Driving transformation

Hybrid working isn’t going away. The past year proved that remote working isn’t as inefficient as previously thought – in fact, it is the best way forward. If you’re ready to take advantage of the benefits of AP automation, read our guide on How to Build a Case for AP Automation.

In the hybrid world, finance professionals are at the table when it comes to strategy and decision-making. They are thinking ahead and not only reporting on past numbers but also using financial expertise to recommend how their business can become more competitive and prepare for the future.

Discover how other finance leaders enabled long-term remote and hybrid work with AP automation

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* 78% of accountants, agree that remote work has boosted productivity
* 58% say this is because of fewer distractions
* Companies with cloud-based accounting can generate 15% more revenue
* 87% of the surveyed companies confirmed that using a cloud-based platform helped speed up the accounting processes

 


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