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Remote Working: Does it Work for Accountants?

Written by: Ethan Cumming
Published on: 29 Sep 2020

Remote working accounting

As one of the UK’s leading specialist finance job boards, GAAPweb is well poised to explore the attitudes and opinions of high calibre professionals operating in practice and industry across a variety of sectors. With a large, active, diverse audience at our disposal, we decided to reach out to the GAAPweb community with a survey that asked about how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected their working lives.

Results from our survey reveal that the overwhelming majority (97%) of Accountants and other finance professionals have been working from home since the start of the UK Coronavirus lockdown in March. Since then, less than a third of those respondents have been told when they will return to office-based working, while 70% remain in the dark.

53% of our audience had the opportunity to work from home prior to the pandemic, meaning that although many had some idea of what to expect, there were also a significant number who had to make the transition to remote working without any real notion of what was to come.

In this report, we take a closer look at the experiences our audience has faced over the last six months, weighing up the pros and cons to determine whether remote working works for finance and accountancy professionals.

Remote rhythms

When asked to rate their own output at home versus at the office, the majority (78%) of respondents agree that remote working encourages more productive days. For the most part, those who feel more productive at home do so thanks to fewer distractions (58%) and fewer or more effective meetings taking place (17%). It appears that, given the opportunity to get on with their work alone and in peace, finance and accountancy professionals have thrived.

WFH stat

However, some job titles were more prone to feeling less productive while working from home, particularly those in lower level roles such as Accounts Assistants and Finance Assistants. Respectively, 45% and 54% of these professionals feel their output is impacted negatively while operating remotely, perhaps struggling without face-to-face direction or assistance from their managers or mentors.

Additionally, a relatively high number of some of the most senior finance professionals such as CFOs (36%) and Finance Directors (31%) also feel that working from home hinders their productivity. Their broad, high-level responsibilities combined with little opportunity for off the cuff conversations may mean that these senior professionals are not benefitting from the fewer or more effective meetings to which their teams refer and actually end up spending longer on telephone and video conferences than they would usually spend on face-to-face meetings.

These senior managers and their employers must work out how to increase productivity, both for themselves and their teams, if remote working is to continue in finance and accountancy. Meanwhile, the mid-level professionals who have quickly found their remote rhythm should take this opportunity to effectively ‘manage upwards’ and thus mark themselves for a potential future pay rise or promotion.

Risks and Rewards

Half of the members of the GAAPweb audience agree that the greatest benefit of remote working is dodging the daily commute. Meanwhile, 15% favour the increased flexibility in working hours and a further 12% are most enamoured with the money they have saved while working remotely.

WFH commute

Despite the fact that removal from the office environment has resulted in an uptick in productivity for finance professionals, these individuals still crave social interaction in the workplace, with 32% agreeing that not seeing colleagues in the office has been the biggest challenge of working from home.

Without the usual cues to switch off and go home, working remotely has also caused some finance professionals to work harder and for longer than they might in the office. 14% said that the greatest challenge they have faced is trying to work and live in the same place, while another 14% said they had been taking fewer breaks and were worse off for it.

Does remote working work for Accountants?

93% of respondents agree that they would like the opportunity to continue to work from home even once usual office work can resume, so they can continue to enjoy time and money saving benefits as well as their more productive professional lives.

Before the pandemic, 35% of those permitted to work from home did so once per month, while 28% worked remotely once per week. Post-Coronavirus, 47% would like to work remotely a few times per week, while 32% want the freedom to stay at home as often as they like and 16% want to be remote every day.

The overwhelming majority (93%) of respondents agree that, overall, their employer adapted to remote working with speed and success. However, 44% of respondents acknowledge that employers could have done a better job of supplying equipment and resources (25%) and communicating the latest developments (16%).

The success of future remote working in accountancy is dependent on the actions that employers now take in response to their employees needs and concerns. To continue benefiting from the increased productivity within their remote finance teams, employers must ensure that staff have effective, fully equipped workstations in their homes, that healthy work/life balance is encouraged and that opportunities for socialising and collaboration are enabled, virtually or otherwise. Considering that mid-level finance professionals have adapted to remote working with the most success, it would perhaps be wise for employers to consult these individuals and learn from their triumphs.

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