Over the past decade, remote work has emerged as an increasingly attractive option for employers and employees. With the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has become an immediate, unplanned necessity that finance departments the world over are scrambling to enable.
This sudden, forced change does beg some questions:
- Why did it take this crisis to get finance to adopt remote work?
- How can finance utilize tools and techniques already at the organization's disposal to enable working remotely?
- How can finance bolster remote work environments and use this as an opportunity to make their business processes more efficient, effective, and reliable?
In this blog series, we'll explore these questions in depth. We start with understanding the barriers to remote work as addressing them head-on will be essential if we are to make the most of our remote work environments in the weeks and months ahead.
Public sector finance, in particular, has been slow to provide staff with remote work options. Sure they can take their laptop home occasionally, but they are not encouraging working outside of the office. This reluctance is despite organizations often having access to advanced applications that facilitate remote work. So why the hesitation?
First and foremost, I suspect that the initial reaction to any discussion of setting up finance to take advantage of remote work is, "We have too much to do right now to even think about a luxury like remote work." When you are dashing day in and out to get ready for the audit, get the budget approved, and 900 other things in between, it can seem like an easy decision to defer. The current crisis has forced remote enablement to the top of the priority list. To a large degree, this barrier has been toppled out of pure necessity.
2) The Bias of Senior Management
Often the heads of finance are the most experienced team members, with decades of experience. In short, these highly qualified, skilled, and experienced individuals often predate the remote work movement. For much of their career, the technological advancements required to facilitate efficient remote work were not available. If these senior managers were early adopters, experimenting with remote work environments before the technology was truly ready, they would have been left skeptical. Finally, those with decades of success in traditional office environments may not have seen a need for change, 'if it's not broken, why fix it?'. Once again, current events have interceded to illustrate the need clearly .
3) Paper Dependence
Many organizations drive all their business processes via paper. Every form must be physically signed, routed, approved, and then filed. Processing payroll involves physical time cards, reconciling bank accounts, and physical statements. So paper-dependent are these environments that remote work does not seem like an option. Paper dependence is still a significant hurdle to effective and efficient remote work and one that needs to be tackled head-on. If there is a ray of light to the scramble into remote work, it is that we anticipate it will provide an opportunity (if you elect to seize it) to improve business processes to the ultimate and considerable long-term benefit of the organization. We will provide suggestions for this in our subsequent articles.
Working remotely definitely adds additional security concerns that have to be addressed. The workstations/laptops that are fully managed and locked down at the office are now connected to users’ home networks that are insecure and have not seen any security best practices applied. This naturally makes IT very nervous. For those organizations that rarely if ever work remotely, chances are that no VPN has been configured thereby further complicating remote work. All these issues are real, however they are not insurmountable hurdles. Assuming your organization’s IT department is currently following security best practices, working remotely can be done securely if a couple of additional measures are taken.
If you are uncertain about your readiness for remote work, here is a list of 10 items (plus one bonus!) to begin your conversations with IT:
- Ensure a secure VPN is configured both on the network edge as well as remote user’s laptops, and that they are trained on how to use it. We wrote an article for finance officers who need to learn more about the basics of VPNs.
- Ensure strong passwords are used, and ensure passwords are set to never expire. We wrote an article for finance officers who need to learn more about the basics of passwords too!
- Make sure RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) is not passed through on the edge network – either use VPN or make use of remote desktop gateway.
- Ensure all computers are set to automatically download and install software patches daily.
- Perform full disk encryption on all computers (using BitLocker).
- Enable the built-in Windows Firewall on all computers (or deploy the IT recommended firewall) and ensure proper rules are configured.
- Make sure only office traffic flows through the VPN and all other traffic flows through the end user’s network (split DNS configuration on the VPN). We discuss this in some depth in the article for finance officers who need to learn more about the basics of VPNs.
- Ensure all work sites accessed by users are using HTTPS.
- Enable anti virus on all computers and make sure they are set to auto-update.
- Ensure VPN connections only have access to subnets required for the user to perform their functions.
- Make sure important documents are either stored on the office network, or on a cloud storage provided by the organization as computers are certainly not being backed-up when remote.
5) Productivity Concerns
If your organization does not support remote work typically, a significant concern may be, "How do I know if my team is working?" In recent weeks we have even seen articles of managers deploying spyware to monitor staff while they work remotely. In our nearly decade of working in a 100% remote work environment, this has never been a problem. Our experience is the opposite, and the major benefits easily justify the investment. The flexibility for our team to work remotely means that we're never late and have increased capacity to work through minor illness or meet constrained deadlines. We will continue to share best practices on how to proactively encourage good habits and monitor productivity as we progress in our subsequent articles.
Having explored the common barriers to remote work in public sector finance, our next article will discuss the second question, how to utilize tools you have today to enable remote work. We'll examine the tools already available to many public sector finance departments and analyze how they can be used to implement a secure and functional remote work environment.