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Managing and Building Remote Finance Teams

By Paul McDonald
October 1, 2020
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The COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging for leaders to manage, hire, and train new employees while working remotely.

 

Using digital technology during the COVID-19 crisis to allow remote work has helped many financial professionals, enabled companies to continue serving customers, and made it possible for some businesses to expand. But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Managing teams that are 100% dispersed, hiring on a remote basis, and onboarding new employees in this environment–all while overseeing work such as Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and financial reporting–bring challenges most of us have never faced before. Here’s how many accounting and finance leaders are keeping their teams safe, maintaining high productivity levels, and further building remote teams.

 

MANAGING A DISPERSED TEAM

 

Your employees need your support now more than ever as they work remotely. They still have their jobs, but seeing friends and family members lose theirs can lead to feelings of job insecurity. Remote workers may also feel isolated or distracted and can easily find themselves prioritizing the wrong tasks.

 

Communicate more than ever before. No amount of communication is too much. Good remote management doesn’t involve telling workers how to do their jobs, but it does mean making sure they have all the information they need to be focused and productive. The better your communication habits, the better you’ll be able to support your people through this stressful time. Try to interact with employees two to three times more often than when you were in the office.

 

Lead with empathy. These are tough times for everyone. Employees’ lives have already been disrupted by shelter-in-place orders, and they may continue to be. Empathy is the most important quality a leader can display during these tough times. Talk to your staff, listen to their concerns, and give full and frank answers to their questions. For example, show your team that you understand their safety fears about returning to the office if your office is planning to reopen, and, if possible, let them know they can continue to work from home if they feel uncomfortable. Being open and authentic goes a long way toward easing worries and frustrations.

 

Offer flexibility. Recognize that everyone’s situation is different. Let your team members know they don’t have to worry if they need to alter their schedule to care for a family member or go out for any essential service during the workday. Explain how they can break down the time they work each day into individual windows separated by personal breaks. Most of these windows are likely to be taken during normal working hours, but some can occur before or after, depending on an employee’s personal preference.

 

Recognize technology’s critical role. Your ability to embrace technology is a key part of leading effectively during this time. Sophisticated communication technology, especially videoconferencing, is what makes remote work possible. Increased automation, which many companies are pursuing even more now to take on routine work, allows staff to focus on higher-priority initiatives.

 

HIRING REMOTE FINANCE WORKERS

 

As a result of the pandemic, millions of workers have filed for unemployment. But some companies are maintaining the hiring plans they had before the coronavirus outbreak, and others are adding employees due to business growth. Leaders must rise to the challenge of an all-remote recruiting process.

 

Tap all resources for candidates. Job boards aren’t the only places to find talent. Your current employees may have recommendations. You can also contact former employees who were great performers and who you know are capable of successfully working off-site. Some may be retired, while those employed elsewhere might be willing to boomerang back to you (see bit.ly/32CYdau). For expertise that isn’t needed year-round or to cover for employees who have fallen ill, interim staff who can work remotely can address skills gaps and supplement your full-time hiring efforts.

 

Adapt your interview strategy. Interviewing candidates using remote applications requires a good deal more prep work than in-person meetings. Avoid interview-day glitches by conducting a trial run of your videoconferencing platform a day or so in advance. Also be aware of what’s behind you when you make the call. Apps commonly have virtual or blurred backgrounds you can set beforehand.

 

Your interview strategy may need a little adjustment, too: Keep an eye out for people who are most likely to succeed in remote work—strong communicators, problem solvers, and independent workers.

 

Get staffing assistance. Today’s larger candidate pool can be a good thing for hiring managers, but having to sort through hundreds of applications isn’t. Besides the extra time this will take you, the people you need most may not be among those applying. Consider getting help from a specialized staffing agency that can handle all the details of the hiring process. The best of these companies have candidates in their database who are open to new opportunities even if they aren’t actively searching for one. Recruiters at these companies also have the experience to work closely with you to find the right match.

 

ONBOARDING REMOTE FINANCE WORKERS

 

When everyone is working remotely, your traditional onboarding process for new hires may seem like a luxury you can skip, but it’s even more necessary today. Without it, newcomers may feel even more isolated from the team and unsure whom to contact when different problems arise. With the right planning, you can make new staff feel welcome and help them hit the ground running.

 

Make sure they’re set up before their first day. Arrange logistics—email, company apps, and internal website credentials—ahead of time. If new hires or temporary workers will be using their own devices, make sure to send them instructions on how to access your systems and servers securely.

 

Give them an official welcome. A warm onboarding experience helps people get over their first-day jitters. Set up a videoconference and introduce new staff to current employees, who should say something about themselves and briefly describe their role in the group. Touch on work-related as well as nonwork topics to help everybody get to know each other.

 

Pair them with a work buddy. Even with virtual onboarding, give new hires ongoing support by pairing them with a current staff member who can help them through their first weeks in their new role. The arrangement should be more mentorship-like than a substitute for formal on-the-job training.

 

Be available. Your new staff members likely need your help even more than your existing team because their sense of isolation will be greater—they don’t yet know your style and the organizational culture. Make sure they feel comfortable asking for help. They need to know that you and the rest of the team are there for them if they need anything.

 

Directing a team and cultivating camaraderie look very different now. Likewise, bringing new talent into the fold requires flexibility and creativity. If you decide to adopt these practices, your efforts won’t go to waste, and you’ll set the stage for achieving the additional dexterity you’ll need as the workplace continues to undergo change.

 

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half and an IMA® member. You can follow him on LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com/in/paulcmcdonald1.
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