COVID-19 » Finance professionals more productive in the office, new research finds

Finance professionals more productive in the office, new research finds

How to adapt to hybrid working when the top three challenges faced by finance professionals in their daily roles are distractions at work, access to accurate data and access to systems

Finance professionals are more productive when working in the office, according to Advanced’s latest Business Trends Report. This is largely due to trouble accessing software remotely.

The Advanced Business Trends Report is an annual survey which assesses the key challenges businesses face. It helps to identify the ways they have been working, the technology they have used, and how these processes have evolved.

This year Advanced surveyed 5,014 senior decision makers in the UK between April 14 – May 5, 2022, making it one of the biggest reports of its kind. Of the participants, 673 (13.4%) were finance professionals. Both general and sector-specific questions were asked. The survey was conducted by Research Without Barriers.

The survey showed hybrid working remains a central theme for businesses, with 45% of respondents noting they are equally productive when working at home or in the office. A further 40% said hybrid working has allowed them to work at a more productive time of day. Finance professionals buck this trend.

In terms of their top challenges, 27% of respondents from financial institutions said distractions during the working day are the primary issue they face, 26% said it is access to accurate data, and for 19% it is access to systems. In addition, a huge 80% of finance workers said they are more effective when working in the office, with 60% saying they have trouble accessing finance software remotely. This could be because only 20% of the finance teams we surveyed have adopted cloud-based technology.

But technology challenges are not isolated to the finance sector. The survey showed that 60% of all respondents note their current technology has limitations with supporting remote working, and 58% believe hybrid working has put them at greater risk of cyber-attack.

General trends

One of the key takeaways of this year’s survey was that businesses are thinking about the cost-of-living crisis, with 78% saying they are concerned their organisation will be impacted over the next year. Businesses also understand the role of technology in helping to overcome this, with 94% of respondents noting technology supports their organisations’ profitability.

Looking forward, the top priorities for businesses this year are growth, cybersecurity and employee retention, according to the survey. These have not changed drastically from last year, even though the survey was expanded from 1,000 to 5,000 respondents.

For financial professionals specifically, 50% noted they want to provide a higher quality of data to the board, and 25% want to get more involved with strategy. Almost 50% reported they struggle with maverick spend in their company, and 27% think the data in their finance / ERP system isn’t completely accurate.

When asked about their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, 85% of all respondents said their business has measures to reduce unconscious bias when recruiting, and 72% said their organisation could provide tangible evidence of their environmental, social and governance (ESG) achievements.

Disseminating the data: a Q&A with Richard Kerr, CFO at Advanced

Many finance teams can only do their job effectively when working in the office (77%) and over 60% have issues accessing their systems when working remotely. Yet only 27% see cloud adoption as a priority over the next year. Why is this?

Perhaps many finance teams have long-standing processes they’re unwilling to change. Or they may feel financial activity is better suited to the office. But the fact only 20% of finance teams have adopted Cloud software appears to explain the accessibility issues many are facing. And it’s even more surprising that such a low number see Cloud technology as a priority considering the benefits it would bring them, such as stable remote access, a higher quality of data, better cybersecurity, and a reduced carbon footprint.

The report states that the top three priorities for businesses over the next 12 months are growth and development (60%), cybersecurity (41%) and employee retention / development (41%). Do you agree with these?

In terms of employee retention, there has been a drastic shift in employee expectations since the pandemic, so businesses must contend with this. They’re having to take proactive measures to keep hold of their best people. With regards to business growth, this is perhaps the most surprising priority given the economic climate. But growth can often lead to positive outcomes if done sustainably.

The top three challenges faced by finance professionals in their daily roles are distractions at work, access to accurate data and access to systems. Why do you think these were chosen?

Increasingly, businesses are aware of the importance of data as a valuable resource. If it’s not accurate, or they’re not using it in the right ways, there’s a good chance they could be left behind by competitors. Especially in finance, where understanding income / expenditure is everything. The challenge of distractions is an interesting one. It could be distractions from colleagues, but it’s most likely related to unwanted downtime caused by inefficient processes.

Did you notice any differences in the report from the younger working generation and the more senior generation in finance teams?

When looking at the age demographic of responses, there doesn’t appear to be a substantial difference in opinion, suggesting the divide across generations isn’t as big as some assume. One standout is that a slightly higher percentage of younger respondents are more productive in the office and have trouble accessing finance software remotely. This may be surprising if you subscribe to the stereotype that these people are more tech-savvy. But the result could also be because this group have a higher expectation of what remote access should be like. Then there’s the idea that the older generation perhaps have better facilities at home (such as a stronger Wi-Fi connection) due to greater financial stability.

Be sure to download the Business Trends Report in full to gain even more insights from the 2022 survey.

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