We work with finance & budget departments in organizations of all sizes. Even in very large organizations, these teams tend to be small (and getting smaller). The apparent trick for small groups is how to enable them to do more with less, do it better and do it faster. It can be challenging to think of creative ways to drive these efficiency gains.
Our firm feels this pressure too. Our whole company is small. The skills we require of our professionals are hard to find, develop, and maintain. It's a special combination of accounting, technology and extensive finance department business process understanding, earned by decades of experience working IN public sector finance.
We are always looking for ways to increase efficiency. Nearly a decade ago we implemented a remote work strategy for our company with this aim in mind. We invested heavily in technology to enable it:
- all meetings & training sessions are conducted online and recorded,
- we host the recordings of our meetings/training so clients can play them back at will,
- we use transcription services to facilitate easy searching of recorded meetings,
- we use online project management tools to keep our clients apprised of project status at all times,
- all of our systems (servers, phones, etc.) are remotely accessible.
Today we are a 100% remote work organization and our team is spread out across North America.
In the last few years we have seen articles about companies reversing the trend of allowing remote work (Yahoo, Bank of America, Aetna —and, most recently, IBM). For us, the last 10 years have only served to increase our belief in remote work. Why? Here are 4 big benefits.
Benefits for our Team: From spending a month at the beach in Mexico or Gulf Shores, Alabama to a few weeks in Japan, relocating temporarily does not necessarily mean you are eating into your vacation. As long as you have good office space and excellent internet, the world is your oyster.
Further, permanently relocating for your family (for example my wife recently took a new job on the other side of the country) does not mean having to leave a job you love.
We hear from our teammates regularly how much they appreciate the flexibility. Here are some pictures of what our teams work environments have looked like over the last year.
Benefits for our Clients: Being remotely enabled means we can quickly jump from helping one client in Florida at 9 am to one in Oregon at 11 am and then provide 4 hours of training to clients from Ontario in the afternoon.
Here's what our client, Washington County had to say about working remotely with us to automate their budget book:
Every organization cares about maximizing output. We REALLY care. It is what we help our clients do everyday after-all. Even though there's a lot of evidence for increased general productivity, with remote work, consider the time savings from commuting alone.
The average commute time to the office in Canada and the US is about 26 minutes. You could reasonably expect similar results on the trip home.
It's a waste to you personally as there are a lot better things you could be doing with 52 minutes a day (working out, walking the dog, playing with your kids, sleeping, we could go on forever here).
Further, it's a waste to the economy in general and the organization you work for in particular:
At an average of 26 minutes each way to work, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, that works out to something like a total of 1.8 trillion minutes Americans spent commuting in 2014. Or, if you prefer, call it 29.6 billion hours, 1.2 billion days, or a collective 3.4 million years. With that amount of time, we could have built nearly 300 Wikipedias or built the Great Pyramid of Giza 26 times -- all in 2014 alone. Washington Post February 25, 2016
Clearly not all the time savings from the commute are a gain for the organization. But if even 10% accrues to our company, that is an extra 20+ hours per person each year, and that is a great benefit.
Think of the frustration that traffic causes. The stress of being late and rushing. Rushing to work, rushing home to make dinner or take kids to after school sports. For example, as I write this' I am watching my kids jump through the sprinkler on our front lawn. This benefit is not just anecdotal either.
Longer commutes are linked with increased rates of obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, back and neck pain, divorce, depression and death. At the societal level, people who commute more are less likely to vote. They're more likely to be absent from work. They're less likely to escape poverty. They have kids who are more likely to have emotional problems.
Washington Post February 25, 2016
Now it should be said that there can be other challenges related to remote work. The primary ones being burnout and loneliness. For us, the loneliness component is partially mitigated as we are working together on projects for clients continuously. We have a full staff meeting online weekly with webcams turned on catching up, discussing requirements, deadlines, and providing training which results in lots of human interaction. Finally, we attend, speak and teach at a dozen or more conferences per year. Usually, several of us attend and have a chance to spend in-person time with clients and other teammates.
If we were a traditional, office-locked company, we would recruit in our city and be largely constrained by the talent pool available locally. Or we would need to convince a candidate to relocate. Unlike some of our competitors, we can avoid these twin constraints. We have the luxury of drawing from a much larger pool (the world) and have no need to upset anyone's life with relocation. The geographic constraints of hiring is an often overlooked problem and can lead to selecting less qualified candidates from a pool of neighbors, friends, or, god-forbid, family.
As we expected, the strategy has been paying off for years. This year alone we were approached by 2 CPAs with decades of experience in government and the auditing of governments who were looking for a change. One is located in a small town in Ontario. He loves where he lives but was looking for a more challenging, rewarding career. The other is located in the mid-west US with the very same goals. These new hires give our small company an out-sized competitive advantage that allows us to do better work for clients.
We understood that in order to grow and thrive, we needed to think differently. Remote work was one of our strategies and it continues to provide exceptional ROI for us, enabling us to stay far ahead of the competition and provide the best service to our clients.