The following is sponsored content brought to you by BlackLine, an enterprise software company that develops cloud-based solutions designed to automate and control the financial close process from end to end.

A recent poll by Gartner found that 91% of HR leaders have implemented work-from-home policies because of current events. All of the associated challenges are now coming to the forefront, as distributed finance and accounting teams continue to struggle with spreadsheets, desktop tools, and paper-based processes that were hard enough to manage in the office.

In this article, we’re providing practical advice for how to adjust accounting operations to work smarter and with more flexibility. Here are three of the ground rules for building a resilient, collaborative, work-from-anywhere accounting organization.

Document All Data: Role-By-Role, Task-By-Task 

One of the biggest challenges to working from home is access to data. For example, if performing detailed reconciliations for credit cards, intercompany transactions, invoices, and purchase orders repeatedly requires manually downloading large data extracts from the ERP, this can be problematic, especially if there are dependencies on IT or other personnel to get it done. 

Or, if data is buried on individuals’ laptops and is hard to securely share, that can also create a barrier. 

Here’s how you can take action:

  • Evaluate technology solutions that are purpose-built for accounting and finance
  • With process automation, your financial data and its documentation are always visible, so you can view that data and the accompanying documentation at any time during the month
  • A task management solution provides visibility and enables better communication, with the ability to assign tasks, manage timelines, and iterate as things evolve and change

Identify Tools That May Throttle WFH Productivity 

Many legacy ERP user interfaces or tools that were developed in-house were never designed to run efficiently over the internet, whether it is running a transactional report, performing an accrual, or managing intercompany accounting. The user experience may be slow, patchy, or in some cases, unusable. 

These bottlenecks can drain productivity from accounting staff like reviewers and preparers—turning something that would typically take minutes into an hours-long battle to complete.

Here’s how you can take action:

  • Examine each line on your close checklist 
  • Minimize desktop/laptop data silos 
  • Securely centralize accounting data, reconciliations, transactional details, and supporting documentation in the cloud 
  • Understand if there is a heavy reliance on IT infrastructure that may be strained and develop contingencies

Reduce Reliance on Critical Staff and “Tribal Knowledge”

Some organizations still find that the knowledge of how to sequence, perform, review, or approve critical financial close tasks is often owned by a few employees. Or perhaps it’s not documented at all and instead reliant on “tribal knowledge.” 

This makes it hard to ramp up new owners, and spreadsheet-based checklists make it difficult to assign new task owners on the fly when the need arises.

Here’s how you can take action:

  • Evaluate each close task, how well it is documented, who is tasked with it, and who can act as a proxy in case of an absence 
  • Ideally, shift SOX/internal controls information, all undocumented knowledge, and best practices into a shared, centralized, and accessible repository that can ensure smooth reassignment of tasks in case of absence 
  • Celebrating period-end milestones and ensuring employee recognition online is also equally important

By now, it should be clear that for the accounting team, the biggest obstacle to adapt remains manual accounting, which crushes efficiency and collaboration and creates roadblocks to workforce flexibility. And there has never been a better time for accounting to step up, be more strategic, and lead with data. 

Accounting organizations that successfully use this season to transform how they work will be more productive, resilient, and better positioned to engage, retain, and attract talent—so they can succeed throughout and beyond this period of uncertainty.

Visit BlackLine’s Virtual Close Hub for more resources to help you adapt to working with a distributed workforce in these unprecedented times.