The Impact of Remote Working on Managing a Finance Department

Last week Rutherford Cross’ Jonathan Donnelly hosted a webinar with finance leaders from some of Scotland’s most reputable businesses to share their experience and challenges of managing a finance department during this sustained period of remote working. Our participants were:

Irene Wilson, Group Finance Director, Robertson Group (Construction)

John Walker, Group Accounting Manager, ScottishPower (Energy)

Neville Wood, Head of Finance, City Facilities Management UK (FM)

Over the last few months the impact of the health crisis has varied from sector to sector. With construction grinding to halt at the beginning of the outbreak, Robertson Group made changes to adapt to a changed market.

City Facilities Management’s main client is a leading UK supermarket and as you would expect this has meant activity levels have remained high throughout 2020. Likewise, ScottishPower have continued to perform strongly as they invest in renewable technologies, promoting a ‘green recovery’.

When discussing formal 121 reviews most of our participants indicated that these had carried on as normal over the lockdown period. John Walker from ScottishPower suggested that in some ways working from home has allowed these to be conducted in a more productive and disciplined manner without the distraction of the office environment. All our participants have embraced the use of video calls and are understanding of the differing needs of certain team members depending on individual circumstances. The consensus is that it is now proven that working from home is effective and that it is extremely unlikely that their finance teams will return to all staff in the office Monday-Friday 9-5.

The “water cooler chat” has been missed and having a spontaneous catch-up with a colleague from another department is simply not happening. However all of our participants discussed the benefits of arranging video calls with colleagues to talk about things other than work, be that holding quizzes, having a Friday afternoon catch up over a beer or wine, or simply a lunchtime call about plans for the weekend and how they are dealing with the restrictions we now live with. Irene Wilson highlighted that in some ways liaising by video call rather than face to face has brought her closer to team members.

It is now accepted that there might be some background noise from other family members during virtual meetings, which in many cases allows us to get to know our colleagues’ family members and develop a better understanding of each other’s lives outside of work. Work and home life are no longer in completely separate compartments.

Neville Wood discussed how his department has onboarded a new team member during the lockdown period. This transition has been positive, with the new start performing well and building relationships with colleagues.  Neville has actively encouraged his teams to contact the new start so that they feel part of a team and not simply an individual reporting to a manager.  Despite the positive integration he is keen for the new start to meet their colleagues face to face whenever it’s safe to do so. He would also like the individual to have a night out with their new team-mates and more importantly gain an opportunity to experience how the wider business operates.

John Walker of ScottishPower explained that his team are now more invested in the systems they use and as a result processes are becoming more efficient. He also highlighted that group training sessions are easier to operate by video call. In an office setting it could be a laborious process to get a time that suited everyone and even then, there would often be last minute diary clashes. Now these sessions are simply scheduled and those available take part, and the session is recorded for those who are unavailable, to use another time.

With all in agreement that it is unlikely that their teams will be in the office more than three days per week going forward, Irene Wilson spoke of the benefit in attracting talent this may bring to an employer like Robertson Group based in Stirling. When hiring pre-lockdown, a business may have been wary about appointing an individual who lived further than 20 miles from the office, as after a period they may have become overwhelmed by the daily commute and seek another job closer to home.  It now seems likely our roads will be quieter and that the travelling to work will not be a daily hardship. Therefore an employer like Robertson Group will be a more viable option to an individual living in Glasgow or Edinburgh, giving the business a wider pool to hire from.

What was taken from this webinar was that employee engagement and performance has remained high for these finance teams working remotely.  Video calls have facilitated a different type of team management and development that has been effective and much like in the physical workplace an effort to connect on a human level, not simply work matters, is still very important. At present there has only been a small number of new starters for these departments and the real challenge may be in onboarding larger numbers remotely.  From discussion with other Rutherford Cross clients it is likely that as employers begin to hire in larger volumes there will be a need for a blend of remote and office based inductions and working.

To discuss your senior finance recruitment needs, or to find out more about Rutherford Cross events contact [email protected] .