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How to keep your finance team engaged and effective while working remotely

Author: Cara Turtington, Partner at Saffery Champness LLP

Published: 01 Mar 2021

Facing the challenges of communication and integration.

An engaged team is one that feels trusted and respected and understands the overall strategy of a charity.  In order to contribute effectively, a team needs to understand how it contributes to the success of an organisation. When people are working remotely there are many additional challenges to keeping teams engaged and therefore maximising their effectiveness. An empowered team is more than a well-trained team, each individual will have increased levels of ownership of their workload and therefore should be maximising their contribution not only to their immediate team but to the charity as a whole. In a period where remote working has become the norm there is a risk that finance teams are less integrated in the strategic goals of their charities than they once were. Over the next few years many charities will face challenging decisions regarding their services and costs and having an engaged and empowered finance team should support a charity through any difficult decisions to come.

How do you empower a finance team?

It’s true that what accountants do is often quite different to the rest of their colleagues in the wider charity. However, there is significant potential value in finance professionals that extends beyond their number crunching skills. Unlocking this potential and understanding the people within the team needs investment not only by senior leaders but also a commitment by the finance team members to engage and push themselves forward.

In moving towards empowerment, information needs to be shared and responsibility delegated.  Over the past year trust has been built across many teams as the responsibility of working from home became an essential and not a choice. Teams may feel that they have additional control of their own workloads and are proud of their achievements as they have developed systems and controls to manage the “new normal.” This sense of achievement is something that can be used to drive further change and efficiency.

Finance teams as business partners

A team that can engage with the organisation will be better placed to make suggestions as to its efficiency and effectiveness. There is a good chance that the best decisions for the overall health of the business won’t be made when one person is only looking at the numbers and another is looking at the human cost.

Finance professionals are often also strong communicators and problem solvers, amongst other things. It’s important to understand these skills and use them to support the wider organisation. Numerous studies have shown that finance professionals often downplay these skills, and it is important that people are valued for more than their technical know-how if they are going to contribute most effectively to supporting the future development of a charity.

The challenges of remote working

No one has been surprised by studies stating that what people miss most through these periods of remote working is the people that they work with. People have become well-adapted to video chats with their immediate teams and formal meetings. However, what has been lost over the last year are those casual chats by the kettle or in the lift and these cannot be easily replaced. For many accountants the chance to work on more complex figures in the relative peace of their own home (home-schooling aside) has led to them feeling more productive. The work on the to do list gets done.

However, the separation from the wider organisation can be seriously detrimental to their ability to become that business partner and truly add the maximum value to their charity. This might be simply by missing the chatter on the stairs when a new fundraising idea is mentioned that has VAT implications. A disconnection between the finance team and the wider organisation can impact the ability to model and budget effectively as the engagement has reduced.  

An empowered and engaged finance team will be best placed to add value to the charity’s recovery from COVID-19. They should be able to bring ideas and perspective to develop future plans, rather than simply modelling the financial projections. Finance professionals should continue to develop their non-technical skills in this period and make sure that they ask for the information and engagement that they believe will make them most effective, rather than simply getting on with the tasks at hand.

*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.