THE VIRTUAL MONTH-END CLOSE

8 Ways Teams Outsmart Time, Space, and Deliver

A Guide for Remote Finance and Accounting Teams

Due to COVID-19, the majority of companies have been mandated to close head offices and send employees home to work. For most finance people, that’s easier said than done.

This is the busiest season for most accounting and finance professionals. We know you’re in the middle of month-end close, quarter-end close, audit preparation, and tax filings.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “companies that rely heavily on cloud-computing technology to automate accruals, adjustments and internal transactions may be in for a smoother close than those that use on-premise technology on virtual private networks or enter data into spreadsheets manually”.

This guide will help accounting, audit, tax, and finance teams eliminate the struggles of working from home so they can:

We know you’re busy. We know you want to just get on with your close, reporting, and personal tasks. So, we promise, the time you spend reading this will make your personal and professional life more efficient and less stressful.

Closing month-end during the COVID-19 pandemic

1. Prioritize getting a high quality VPN network

Most organizations still run on a private internal network (rather than on the cloud). Accounting and finance professionals need quick and easy access to internal networks to access a myriad of files and documents. This is why a high quality VPN (virtual private network) is so crucial.

A VPN gives distributed team members safe and secure access to an organization’s internal network and data. While this may seem like an easy fix, many VPNs are slow. Opening one spreadsheet with a handful of tabs and multiple formulas may feel like a century as you wait for everything to load. Inefficient technology causes employees to lose motivation and become frustrated.

Speak to your IT team to implement upgrades for improved VPN connectivity. Also, provide reimbursements to all team members to upgrade their personal internet connections to the highest speeds.

2. Invest in the right equipment

Do not underestimate the impact of an optimal workspace. Make sure team members have basic and adequate equipment to keep work processes functioning optimally. When someone is comfortable, they perform better.

In Procurify’s Working From Home Template Guide, we share the basic pieces of equipment that employees may need, including:

Depending on the position, some accounting and finance roles also require a scanner and printer. Financial reports and financial models contain a lot of information and numbers. It’s difficult to review these figures on a small laptop screen (it’s also not healthy to squint).

Ensure senior roles who are responsible for analyzing and approving financial reports have equipment to print documents for review, or access to a large monitor to review the numbers carefully.

Some companies we know provide a ‘work office stipend’ to ensure team members have all the equipment they need to work comfortably.

3. Move to the cloud

If your VPN network is still causing problems, consider moving essential files and documents onto a secure, encrypted cloud storage network. Your team will be able to access key files much faster meaning they can spend more time on strategic work processes rather than waiting for spreadsheets to load.

Working with confidential financial data means that security needs to be of utmost priority. Ensure you select the cloud sharing storage platform that aligns with your organization’s security policy.

One Drive (Microsoft) also offers extensive protection and Google Drive is another popular secure data center. For a list of other secure cloud storage options, click here.

4. Minimize email and switch to efficient real-time collaboration channels

There is a way to take back control and get out from the avalanche of emails in your inbox. We’re always shocked to learn that some finance teams still communicate solely through email rather than one of the real-time collaboration tools like Slack. In recent weeks, we’ve even been told that some teams have seen an increase in their emails by 4x!

Since remote working removes the ability of walking over to a colleague to ask a question, it’s natural for the level of email to increase. But there is a better way, we promise: team collaboration platforms. And frankly, we couldn’t function without them. These platforms enable quick chats with other individuals, group chats with a large number of people, and phone or video calling.

Why you need Slack

The most popular platform of choice (and what Procurify uses) is Slack. But don’t just take it from us. The Journal of Accountancy recommends Slack too. Think of Slack like a business version of a messaging app with additional features that fix the challenges from email.

On Slack, companies and teams can create ‘channels’ to organize conversations around specific topics and different team members are invited to certain channels based on their role. For instance, finance and accounting teams could create the following channels:

Team members join channels that are only relevant. People can even search each channel for topics so they can catch up on anything they’ve missed. This saves everyone time as nobody needs to retype repetitive information.

Other platforms like Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams (or Symphony as mentioned above) are other available options as team collaboration tools.

Pro Tip:

If you use both Slack and Zoom, quickly set up a Zoom meeting by typing /Zoom into Slack. Remember to integrate the two systems first.

5. Plan good communication flows

Most companies think the key to a smooth remote workflow are digital tools. We disagree and believe the communication flows are the key indicator to a successful remote process. Good communication enables effective long-distance collaboration and teamwork. Spend the time upfront to develop a clear and concise plan to avoid miscommunications down the road. 

As we recommend in our control spend guide, don’t be afraid to over-communicate during challenging times. We covered the importance of standup meetings in our work from guide. Here are a few more tips for finance and accounting teams:

Pro Tip:

Remind people to turn their video on during virtual meetings. Some companies even have a “camera-on-policy”. While we do not follow this policy, we agree that seeing a face is the best way to mimic in-person interaction to maintain connection. If you have a quick question that requires more explanation, call them quickly via the Slack calling feature. Another tool we love? Consider recording a video of your screen using Loom. Loom’s files are encrypted and stored on their database which can only be accessed by certain robots and engineers within the organization who have special access.

6. Streamline digital workflows

There are many different processes within the finance and accounting function and teams should use remote-friendly digital tools to establish and document processes so nothing slips through the cracks.

A few solutions we recommend:

Digital Project Management Tools

Try Trello, Asana (check out their Gantt chart tool), and Monday. The platform you select depends on the process and type of visibility you need. For instance, some platforms (like Google Drive and Dropbox) provide revision history, and keeping a good digital audit trail is vital for external and internal audit purposes.

Finance Specific Tools

We recognize that you may not be able to implement a cloud accounting software in the middle of month-end close — but we encourage you to keep this in the back of your mind. Depending on the size of your business, you may want to consider Xero, QuickBooks Online, and NetSuite. Now is the time to consider going paperless. For remote spend management control, procurement and AP processes, Procurify’s platform offers an audit trail, digital approvals, and efficient mobile workflows.

Legal Documentation

If sign-offs are required for any finance and legal documentation, we recommend HelloSign, Docusign, and Adobe Acrobat.

Pro Tip:

Standard naming convention for files and documents is a best practice even when working in an office, but this becomes even more important offline. When you can no longer turn around and ask “where’s the latest cash flow statement?”, ensuring everybody can find every file they need quickly leads to improved productivity.

7. Scan crucial documents and store them on a secure, encrypted drive

If your team is not set up for remote processes and relies heavily on paper documentation, your team will need an efficient way to access what they need. You may need access to copies of leases, vendor contracts, invoices, and prior period reports with marked up comments.

Since you cannot bring the entire invoice drawer home with you (unfortunately), designate a specific person that is responsible for physically retrieving paper documents at the office to scan to the rest of the team.

OCR (Optical Character Recognition Software) recognizes text in scanned documents and converts them to searchable and editable format. Learn about the most recommended OCR systems here.

8. Review and refine

Practice makes perfect. And the best way to improve a process is to learn from what happened and improve it. When this month’s reporting period is over, review this guide and prioritize making changes that could make the closing process even more efficient next time.

Pro Tip:

Like an emergency drill for earthquakes and fires, we recommend testing any kind of business continuity plans regularly. When it is safe for teams to return to the office, run a remote closing process every quarter as a practice run to continually test processes and systems. Make this a policy.

The bottom line

To develop this guide, we interviewed a variety of finance and accounting professionals who have worked remotely for a number of years. These are tried and tested practices and we hope you find value in them. 

Above all, remember to show empathy to your team. People experience challenges differently. Some individuals may find the transition to working remotely more difficult than others. 

“We can’t underestimate the impact that this is having on people. There are different levels of emotional stress and anxiety. You need to show as a leader a tremendous amount of empathy. You must talk through that. It’s not something you can skirt away from in the conversation,” says Mike Shekhtman, regional vice-president at Robert Half. Learn more about effective leadership for remote teams here.

Implementing best practices helps support employees going through new work challenges and gives companies more confidence that business can really continue as normal.

We’ll end with some good news. In the US, the SEC has deferred filing periods with 45 day extensions, and in Canada, the CRA has also extended the deadline to pay corporate taxes to July 31, 2020.

Visit our COVID-19 Resource Center for more guides and resources to help your teams navigate the challenges ahead.