Working From Home and the Chief Remote Officer

At the beginning of the pandemic there were those who were prepared, and those who weren’t. In reality how could any of us have foreseen what would happen to us all in March 2020? But, there is no doubt that we soon learnt how to negotiate all the hurdles that littered our paths as we were required to transfer operations, as of necessity, from office to home. Today, that remains for many an ongoing process of adapting, investing, training while managing staff remotely in their various home environments remains a challenge. By contrast I have clients in Africa and Europe where the entire work force is now back to being office based.

So almost everyone in and around accounting can agree regarding the massive impact that technology is having – and will continue to have – on the profession. However, notions about which innovations will ultimately break through and who will be behind them are not nearly as unanimous. 

The First Computer

For interest – In 1936, whilst studying for his Ph.D. at Princeton University, the English mathematician Alan Turing published a paper, “On Computable Numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem,” which became the foundation of computer science. In it Turing presented a theoretical machine that could solve any problem that could be described by simple instructions encoded on a paper tape. Wow! Have things come a long way since Alan’s early days foundational science.

By way of note – It is believed that as the one who broke the German Enigma code he saved over 10 million lives and reduced WW2 by 2 years.

Solutions are multiplying

Today, there is an ever growing eco system with literally hundreds and hundreds of providers ranging from those who have dominated the marketplace to date and an ever growing number of emerging tech companies. These are all focused on enabling everyone to work, deliver and file online. Many of them, including robotic process automatic will also enable business owners and accountants to go way beyond the compliance function with such features as management accounting, financial tools, KPI management, AI driven benchmarking, break even analysis, graphs, pie charts, histograms. For the accountant the opportunity to develop a bucketful of innovative services has never been more enticing – and challenging.

Working From Home (WFH)

In my last blog we started to look at the ever evolving approach to WFH. Here in the UK, KPMG, RSM, Moore Kingston Smith, BDO and Mazars are all saying that they intend to formalise their WFH hybrid models. WIO (Working in the office) will remain massively important in order to provide relief from home isolation and to continue to harmonise communication, culture, unity and to enable learning from others and the building of relationships.

Companies are now armouring the management of WFH by creating a new role, commonly entitled Chief Remote Officer (CRO).

The grand work-from-home experiment of 2020 has persuaded many companies to make remote work a permanent fixture. The pandemic may have accelerated a shift to remote work models, but progressive companies had been embracing the benefits of working remotely before the pandemic.

Instead of taking a hit on productivity—a risk that had long held many companies back from permitting widespread WFH—the majority of employees and managers have found that people were the same, if not more productive, working remotely during the pandemic than they had been at the office. 

WFH Challenges

But while overall satisfaction with WFH arrangements has generally been high, things were far from perfect: in many cases, employees report a lack of access to the right information to complete financial statements or audits. Some have reported challenges connecting and collaborating with colleagues, and feelings of disconnection from their firms and the partners, among other challenges. 

For firms of all sizes planning to continue to allow remote work moving forward, taking a proactive and strategic look at how to ease pain points, improve communication, and support distributed workforces is important for long-term success. 

In recent years, the increased importance of areas like employee experience and digital transformation have motivated many companies to create such roles as Chief People Officer and Chief Innovation Officer. So, now the dawn of this new role as firms are putting high on the agenda creating a CRO role in order to make work work.

The CRO role explored

So what will new chief remote work officers do? Ultimately, they’ll be responsible for developing strategies, processes, and tools to support successful remote work, ensuring that the needs of both the organisation and remote employees are met. 

As executives consider just how to do that, a few things have become clear:

  • Being able to wear comfy clothes all day works well for many
  • Businesses need to look beyond the current pandemic and create a comprehensive strategy for shifting to remote operations on a sustainable basis.
  • Companies need dedicated experts to help them optimise remote work policies.

CRO Mandate

The CRO mandate will most likely include things like:

  • Training managers in how to support, coach, and evaluate remote workers
  • Refining hiring processes, benefits packages, employee evaluations, and other programs. Being able to hire people from many locations makes it easier to build a diverse workforce.
  • End-to-end tool audits to ensure workers have everything they need to seamlessly and securely work from anywhere
  • Setting up frameworks for team and cross-functional collaboration
  • Defining plans for the ongoing assessment and evaluation of remote work
  • Development: Adapting learning and development initiatives for remote workers
  • Technology: Successful remote work environments require the right technology, ranging from webcams to project management software.
  • Cybersecurity: With increased technology comes increased risk. Businesses need to ensure that remote work does not jeopardize company secrets or intellectual property.

Appointing a CRO allows one person to tie all these functions together and make sure everything’s on the same page, even though not everyone is in the same office. But regardless of whether a company chooses to create a new C-suite position, management will still need to address the many issues that accompany increased reliance on remote work. For better or for worse, remote work is now a permanent part of the business landscape, and existing leaders need to walk the walk. They need to respect the boundaries of people who can’t work traditional hours; they need to take vacations; and they need to join videoconferences from home and laugh at themselves when their kids burst into the room.

Key Steps: Explore and determine your approach not only to hybrid working but also how you will manage remote working going forward.