With much of the U.S. starting to ease restrictions and remove stay-at-home orders many are asking when they will return to work.
As some start to do so others have chosen to go in the opposite direction. Many large tech firms have made news headlines with working from home policies until the end of the year and even in perpetuity. Twitter announced the latter for employees who want to continue remote working when cities reopen. Companies like Facebook plan to shift to a largely remote workforce over the next 5-10 years and we have already seen organizations like Dell, IBM and Microsoft move large amount employees to remote working in such a short space of time. Many of them plan to continue a large part of their workforce remote moving forward.
What does this mean for tax and finance departments?
Remote working has often been frowned upon in many of these departments. Leaders have concerns about data security and employee productivity, and employees can feel like they aren’t trusted to work just as effectively as if they were in the office. But as this has become the new norm I have continued to hear from tax professionals about how all these worries and fears have subsided.
From the Tax or Finance leaders I have spoken to, not one has said that their departments have struggled with the shift, in fact the opposite. They have been surprised at how well it has gone. Initially, there were minor IT issues to fix when lockdown began but overall they now feel very confident about their remote operations. The concerns and fears that so many leaders have had previously highlighted now seem like a moot point.
Now some of the biggest challenges facing managers and leaders are: keeping their team engaged, keeping morale up and still encouraging collaboration. Lindsey Serrate the SVP and Global Tax Director for Alliance Bernstein believes “Working remotely is a more efficient way of business that we have been gravitating towards via paperless offices and improved communication technology. Our current achievable goal is to maintain/manage team collaboration and corroboration stickiness without being in the same room.”
What does this mean for the future of these tax and finance departments?
- Remote teams: As a minimum, a more balanced mix of office and remote team members. This will become the norm and even expectation of employees.
- A more fluid and competitive job market: As more positions become remote, Tax professionals can look further afield than their current location. Equally, employers have access to more talent.
- Cost reduction through geographic arbitrage: We all know how high salaries are in places like New York and California. If tax leaders can get the best talent and not break the bank by hiring talent in lower-cost states/cities, they will! Plus, companies may not need the real estate they once needed and can save money by reducing the size of their buildings and increasing work from home options for their employees.
As great as remote working sounds there will always be challenges and transition pains. In speaking with Charles Colby, the Global Head of Tax at Acelity, he said “The remote working part will be the easiest. Adapting tools, technologies and processes to make remote working effective is all very doable. But at the same time, this will place even more responsibility on the employee for their own career progression and development.” In our discussion, Charles proposed the following questions:
- “How will you stay front of mind for key assignments or promotions?”
- “How will you learn and network to grow your role and career?”
- “How will you become a trusted advisor and resource to the business without that personal interaction?”
- “Will there be a career advantage for those fortunate enough to be working in the office?”
As we continue with challenges from the pandemic these questions will not be a priority but as we move towards a new norm and embark on this transformation, willingly or not, these kinds of questions will need to be answered. Someone who has already experienced extensive remote working and having to manage a team overseas is Lionel Nobre the Vice President of Latin America Tax at Dell Technologies. Having teams based in several countries around Latin America, Lionel has needed to travel extensively so he knows how important it is to keep an open communication channel to help his team manage their career development plans making sure to visit them frequently and not just annually.
Lionel highlighted though that his biggest concern is for the hundreds and thousands of tax professionals either coming out of school and moving into a tax career or those who have just started in the last few years. Will these future leaders get the training they need, the same exposure to learning and mentors and just overall early career experience?. As part of his role at Dell he also has responsibility for Training & Development and supporting the largest portion of the Tax professional population is something he is passionate about.
No one knows with accuracy what the longer-term impact of Covid-19 will have on our working practices or organizational structures but one thing I know for sure is that the old stigma of not being in the office is fading fast. I believe those who embrace a new way of working will gain a competitive advantage, but tax leaders will have to be cognizant of the new questions this new way of working brings.
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