Accounting with a Distributed Workforce: How to Make It Work

5-minute read

It’s no surprise that, for Accounting and Finance, one of the hottest topics today is accounting in a remote, distributed fashion. Cloud technology is key to establishing accounting processes that can be completed virtually, making general ledger data and other financial files available to accountants from wherever they’re working.

74% of CFOs Intend to Shift to Remote Work

What many companies are finding is that a distributed F&A organization can, in fact, deliver what may turn out to be long-term benefits to the business. In a recent study, Gartner found that 74% of CFOs intend to shift some employees to remote work permanently, while 35% of CFOs intend to reduce investments in on-premise technology, either immediately or in the future.

But before we can get there, the present reality of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing finance and accounting teams to face substantial real-life challenges, and this is especially true—and difficult—for organizations that are still heavily reliant on spreadsheets and manual processes.

For many, it’s no longer feasible to pass binders back and forth in a meeting or host the auditors onsite. Yet F&A teams are now being asked to move to a remote accounting paradigm.

Remote Accounting Challenges

Accounting teams who are still using manual processes, especially for the close, face several critical challenges while working with a distributed workforce.

Accessing Data

Detailed reconciliations often require large ERP downloads. In a manual environment, these may be delayed for accountants working from home, especially if the transactions depend on over-worked IT or operations people.

Also, home-bound accountants may find that the VPN connections they require for secure transfers are also overworked and degraded.

Handling Documents

The need for paper-based documentation can slow performance and ramp up risk, since paper and electronic files must now be copied or scanned and sent as attachments. This may be feasible in a small company, but it adds dangerous layers of complexity in medium- or large-scale finance operations.

What’s in the Cloud?

A cloud-based accounting automation system can address all these challenges, even in a modest, start-up implementation.

For instance, a spreadsheet-based accounting team can ease deadline pressure by starting with BlackLine Task Management. Once the group’s Excel checklist is entered into the solution, Task Management will monitor all close activities with browser dashboards and streamlined workflow steps. Accountants can now apply controls to auditor requests and other tasks as well.

Task Management integrates with other BlackLine solutions, like Account Reconciliations and Transaction Matching, making it easy for organizations to add to its virtual close repertoire.

These and other solutions, such as Automated Journal Entry and Variance Analysis, further help streamline the remote accounting experience while reducing risks of error through process workflows that operate on a visible, up-to-date pool of data and documentation.

The Benefits of Automation for Accounting & Audit

In addition to boosting accounting performance and extending controls, an automated accounting environment can help maintain virtual-close efficiency and accuracy. For one, it supports a shift to auditor self-service by giving auditors secure, online access to appropriate files and documentation.

“During normal times, for public companies, the auditors would come out and meet with people—the CFO, the controller, other finance and accounting professionals—to plan the audit,” says Michael Shultz, BlackLine’s director of strategic accounting. “Also, the auditors would be picking up documents: binders, work papers, and so on.

“Now they can’t do that. And it’s risky for accountants to do things like put binders in the mail or give out employee phone numbers to help with auditor follow up. It adds massive headaches for companies with manual accounting processes.”

With unified, cloud-based automation, internal and external auditors can access accounting tasks, like reconciliations and journal entries, and check controls and documentation online, without having to visit company sites or disrupt ongoing accounting processes. Using auditor access rights, they can see that controls are working and documentation is intact and complete, and they can know that the data they’re looking at is up to date and consistent across the entire accounting spectrum.

Security Concerns

Closely related to auditor self-service is security. Before COVID, binders and other documents used in manual environments were typically stored in safe, central locations. That’s extremely risky today, with so many finance and accounting personnel working from home.

An end-to-end automated system protects files and documentation by storing them centrally and administering access rights to accountants and auditors on as-needed bases. This eliminates the need to pass data and documents from laptop to laptop via email or other unsecured processes.

“What COVID has shown us is that we can work remotely,” says Shultz. “If this had hit 20 years ago, it might have been catastrophic for Finance, Accounting, and business in general.

“Thankfully, we’ve got the technology in place today to keep businesses running, and thanks to the ability to perform accounting tasks remotely with technology, accountants and other finance professionals can keep contributing to their organizations.”

Read our new issue of BlackLine Quarterly for more stories like this, including: