Productivity and people – why finance is so much more than balancing the books

Advanced CFO Andrew Hicks discusses insights and statistics that have come from the Advanced Workforce Trends Survey. The article analyses key take-outs from a finance perspective.

The past 18 months completely changed the way finance teams operate. Typically an office-based function, the move to remote working combined with new expectations and priorities from the wider business certainly flipped things on their head. 

Our finance teams rose to the challenge and steered the ship with strategy, analysis and foresight. However, this changing world of work required new ways of doing things. 

Being agile and delivering real-time insight, alongside high levels of productivity, has been key for weathering the storms of the pandemic. However, I would be the first to admit that overcoming the distractions of these new working environments while reporting daily on figures has not been easy. 

In June 2021, Advanced commissioned its first Workforce Trends Survey with over 1,000 UK business professionals and leaders having their say on important topics affecting work productivity since the start of the pandemic. Our survey examines how challenging it has been for finance teams and shares some food for thought for finance leaders on how to improve productivity for their teams moving forward.


What it means to be productive

Workplace productivity is all about how everyone in the organisation can deliver maximum value to the business in their role. It’s about working smarter, not harder, to meet objectives and targets. 

However, the journey to a truly productive workplace continues to be an ongoing challenge. The idea of ‘being productive’ was, and still is, commonly mistaken for multitasking, taking on more than you can handle and working overtime. 

Our Workforce Trends Survey found that over 60 percent of finance professionals have received urgent work requests from their bosses to be completed outside of working hours. 

Over 60% of finance professionals have received urgent work requests from their boss to be completed outside of working hours

Over a quarter of finance professionals feel they have so many distractions that their working day is impacted and never fully spent on actual work. Concerningly, almost 40 percent of people have taken less sick leave in the last 12 months – perhaps partly because they felt they were able to continue working despite being unwell as they were based at home. 

It’s clear that productivity needs to remain a visible business matter, and every employee within the organisation should understand what productivity actually is and how it’s measured. 

40% of people had taken less sick leave in the last 12 months

Steering the ship with cloud technology

The pandemic shook up the status quo of the 9-5 office overnight. Many finance teams quickly made significant strides to enable remote working and boost productivity through the adoption of cloud technology. For finance teams using cloud technology today, it has enabled a stronger understanding of cash flow, a clearer overview of business activity, opportunity for real-time reporting and the automation of low-value tasks that previously held finance teams back. 

The automation and digitalisation of day-to-day mundane tasks has given finance teams the opportunity to work on more value-adding projects such as scenario planning to ensure business stability and continuity. This in turn has boosted agility and efficiency without compromising any delivery of work from the finance function.

Digital transformation in the workplace was always going to be inevitable. However, the pandemic fast-forwarded what was once considered a one to three year IT integration plan into a one-month implementation of cloud software.

Our Workforce Trends Survey results showed that 44 percent of finance professionals agreed that the cloud had supported them to work from home, with a further 48 percent seeing an increase in flexibility during their working day. 

44% of finance professionals agreed that the cloud had supported them to work from home

Maximising productivity with cloud technology

On the other hand, the survey results also highlighted that almost 50 percent of finance professionals felt that the introduction of new software platforms and apps has hindered their productivity. Some of the contributing factors included too many notifications from messaging tools like Microsoft Teams and Skype (32 percent) and not being able to switch off (75 percent).

Technology is very much a part of increasing productivity in the workplace. However, having too many separate applications at hand to fulfil day-to-day tasks is counterproductive. 

By using a single sign-on platform, employees can access all the information they need from a single, unified source. It also reduces the amount of notifications received from separate applications which can be difficult to keep track of. By ensuring your employees only receive notifications for what they need, focus increases and more time is spent on value-adding tasks rather than facing ongoing interruptions. 

CFOs and finance directors should also consider a digital upskilling programme to familiarise employees with new systems so they hit the ground running. Ideally this would feature personalised training modules based on preferred ways of learning and regular technology onboarding reviews to ensure their finance teams are getting maximum benefits and efficiency gains from the software at their disposal.


Maintaining work/life balance

Understanding what helps and what hinders work productivity has been of paramount importance to me when leading my team over the last 18 months. Team culture and connection in the remote workplace have been essential.

Giving regular feedback and reinforcing the positive impact of work and completed projects has helped my team members recognise that their time and effort is valued. To support this, we introduced Clear Review performance management software to the team. The platform ensures that your employees are engaged, supports their wellbeing and improves their performance at work.

Using Clear Review provided the opportunity for my team and I to set and track clear and short-term goals, as well as schedule ongoing conversations to discuss individual targets and ambitions for career growth. Eliminating the annual personal development review session with each team member in exchange for regular catchups and setting monthly/quarterly goals has helped motivate each individual member through clear purpose and direction.

Maintaining a healthy work/life balance throughout the pandemic has also played a key role in productivity amongst my team. As we navigated multiple lockdowns, we found ourselves evaluating the different elements of our lives and really taking into account what makes us happy and brings value to our lives. 

Ensuring that people were having regular breaks, working within work hours only and perhaps taking the time to go for lunchtime walks are some of the ways we have found make for a healthier and more productive relationship with work. With this in mind we rewarded our teams with ‘Summer Fridays’ which entitles all staff to half-a-day off work per week throughout July and August 2021. The improved flexibility offered by Summer Fridays has allowed my team to be one step closer to achieving a healthy work/life balance.


Staying connected with your finance team

Being empathetic is a soft skill that CFOs and finance directors have had to develop further over the past 18 months. Fear, uncertainty about the future, keeping up to date with the latest lockdown rules and adapting to working remotely are all factors that have understandably hindered focus and work productivity. Good mental health and wellbeing are now more important than ever, with the human crisis of the pandemic requiring a human response from CFOs and finance directors.

Invest time in understanding your finance team’s needs and realise that every individual will have different priorities and requirements. Listen to your people and make sure they know that you are available for them with open communication channels. Whichever way works best to motivate and assist those in your team, do it with purpose and authenticity.

67% of finance professionals wanted to play an active part in the decisions to adopt new technologies

Use technology to support your people, wherever they are working. Monitor wellbeing with effective software, share powerful communication channels and provide tools that help people get their work done in the most efficient ways. The Workforce Trends Survey found that 67 percent of finance professionals want to play an active part in the decisions to adopt new technologies – involve your team in the digital transformation journey so they can reap benefits that will make a difference in their lives.


Knowledge is power 

Access the eight secrets to workforce productivity in the Advanced 2021 Workforce Trends Survey Report. Based on independent research and influencer insights into the changing face of business productivity as we get ready for a new era of hybrid working, it reveals urgent trends for leaders.