As CEOs push for office returns, CFOs don’t mind staying put

The past year and a half has brought prolonged hand-wringing from executives about whether working from home is sustainable over the long-term. 

Perhaps no voice on the issue has been louder than that of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, who is against working from home as a new standard. 

Remote work, Dimon has said, could hurt company culture and prevent some employees from advancement, especially younger bankers who may lose out on mentorship and training opportunities. 

Working from home “doesn’t work for those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work for spontaneous idea generation. It doesn’t work for culture,” Dimon said in May, according to Banking Dive.

David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, believes the same. Remotely onboarding new analysts is “an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible,” he said in February. “For a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal … and it’s not a new normal.”

No concerns 

The same sentiments have not held true on the finance side. CFO Dive has spoken with finance chiefs working at mid-size and large companies throughout the U.S., Canada and Oceania, who reported no problems with remote work, maintaining the trend has not materially impacted their bottom lines. 

With the advent of technology that allows for bridging the gap between remote and in-person work, most agile companies, particularly those who invested in digital before the pandemic made it an imperative, the finance team’s ability to accomplish tasks has remained largely uncompromised. 

Some CFOs have even said that the migration to digital-first has come as a welcome respite from unnecessary meetings or in-person commitments.

“I’m a convert to remote work,” Justin Coulombe, CFO of Momentive, formerly known as SurveyMonkey, said. “Pre-pandemic, I believed teams worked best in the office, but I’ve come to realize that point of view was more shaped by my preferences and leadership style [rather than] our team’s actual ability to work effectively.”

Flexible working arrangements bring great value to Coulombe’s finance team, which spans beyond the company’s traditional geographic hubs. 

“My current working theory: generally, the teams that may find in-office work more effective are those with heavy business partnering roles, like procurement and FP&A,” he said. “We’re a service function, so many times we’ll align to where our partners are and how they work.” 

The world’s largest brewery, AB InBev, which owns Corona, Modelo, Stella Artois and Budweiser, currently operates in a flexible hybrid environment, its CFO, Fernando Tennenbaum, said, but he sees pros and cons to all approaches. 

“Probably, in the future, there will be some combination of remote and in-person work,” he said. “Definitely, sometimes meeting in person is valuable, but it’s also possible to work remotely.”

At the start of the pandemic, when AB InBev was forced to close the books remotely for the first time, Tennenbaum was worried about everything coming together. But because his team paid a great deal of attention to the quarterly close process, on account of it being the first time they’d done it, everything went smoothly, which he took as “a great sign.”

Even so, Tennenbaum wouldn’t be able to pinpoint one role over another that would be best suited to return to in-person work permanently. “It’s more about maintaining people’s interactions than about any specific task,” he said. 

“If anything, the pandemic proved remote work is essentially just as good as in-person; all jobs got done on time without sacrificing quality,” Kirsty Godfrey-Billy, CFO of New Zealand-based cloud accounting company Xero said. “Cloud accounting [allows for] pretty much all finance-related tasks to be done anywhere, anytime on a single, up-to-date general ledger.” 

But in order to keep evolving and thriving as a profession, accountants must truly embrace technology and the changes that come with it, Godfrey-Billy added.

Laura Mineo says the longtime-distributed workforce at Rokt, an ecommerce tech company where she is CFO, positioned it well for the hybrid mode it currently uses.

“In my view, the importance of in-person work isn’t necessarily related to completing certain tasks, but to everything that surrounds those tasks and allows us to complete them more effectively and efficiently as we scale,” she said. “Things like knowledge sharing across functions, onboarding new employees, supporting other departments throughout our organization and maintaining the apprenticeship culture we prioritize are all easier and more effective in person.”

In-person potential

Marten Abrahamsen, CFO of financial services platform Fundbox, agrees. “As a whole, our finance team functions very well remotely,” he said. 

However, Abrahamsen, who joined Fundbox weeks before the pandemic, has found the company’s strategic finance and corporate development teams stand to benefit most from in-person collaboration and discussion. 

“These teams, in particular, engage in frequent white boarding sessions and healthy, back-and-forth debates that are best done in person,” he said.

Vanessa Kanu joined Canadian telecom giant TELUS International as CFO one year ago. In that time, completely virtually, TELUS pulled off the largest technology IPO in the history of the Toronto Stock Exchange, participated in investor roadshows and hosted its first two earnings calls. 

She credits the company’s carrier-grade infrastructure, backed by cloud technologies, with allowing her and her team to simulate an in-office experience from home. 

“That said, I do believe in-person meetings and events are valuable and offer unique moments for team-building and establishing more personal connections,” Kanu added. “Those interactions are especially helpful for new team member onboarding, training, and reinforcing a company’s culture.”

Is it time to take Physicians off the Hamster Wheel?

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7 Smart Strategies for Paying Off Medical School Debt | Student Loan Hero

In theory, the idea of salaried compensation for employed physicians makes a lot of sense. For one thing, it’s blessedly simple, with the potential to remove the tensions that arise in shifting to value-based payment or implementing lower-cost (but lower-reimbursement) care models like telemedicine.

However, medical group leaders have long feared that productivity would tank if doctors were put on salary. (As a consulting colleague said recently, the switch to salary would cause a 20+ percent drop in productivity in the medical group, creating a challenge akin to keeping an airline profitable after removing a quarter of the seats on its planes). We’ve been expecting that more doctors might seek stable compensation models in the wake of the pandemic, and so weren’t entirely surprised when the question of moving to straight salary came up in three conversations over the past two weeks.
 
In all three cases, leaders are hoping to create more predictability, and to decrease the resources and effort needed to execute against a menu of complex plans. They believe that a move to salary is inevitable, and their questions have more to do with timing. 

Gauging when to make the move should be determined not by external market shifts, but by internal cultural and operational readiness. Are the systems in place to enable doctors to work at a high level of efficiency? And do we have the group collaboration needed to maintain high performance without paying doctors as if they are salesmen on commission?

Another wrinkle has popped up for groups who might be ready now: the past year has upended the benchmarks that groups might otherwise use to inform decisions on where to set salaries. Nevertheless, over time we expect more groups to move in this direction, with the hope of getting off the “hamster wheel” of compensation committee meetings and ever more exotic permutations of bonus plans, in search of a more stable model.

Michael Dowling: No one said it would be easy

Five suggestions for technology companies, venture capitalists | Northwell  Health

Hardly one month into 2021, the pressing priorities facing healthcare leaders are abundantly clear. 

First, we will be living in a world preoccupied by COVID-19 and vaccination for many months to come. Remember: this is a marathon, not a sprint. And the stark reality is that the vaccination rollout will continue well into the summer, if not longer, while at the same time we continue to care for hundreds of thousands of Americans sickened by the virus. Despite the challenges we face now and in the coming months in treating the disease and vaccinating a U.S. population of 330 million, none of us should doubt that we will prevail. Despite the federal government’s missteps over the past year in managing and responding to this unprecedented public health crisis, historians will recognize the critical role of the nation’s healthcare community in enabling us to conquer this once-in-a-generation pandemic.

While there has been an overwhelming public demand for the vaccine during the past couple of weeks, there remains some skepticism within the communities we serve, including some of the most-vulnerable populations, so healthcare leaders will find themselves spending time and energy communicating the safety and efficacy of vaccines to those who may be hesitant. This is a good thing. It is our responsibility to share facts, further public education and influence public policy. COVID-19 has enhanced public trust in healthcare professionals, and we can maintain that trust if we keep our focus on the right things — namely, how we improve the health of our communities.

And as healthcare leaders diligently balance this work, we also have a great opportunity to reimagine what our hospitals and health systems can be as we emerge from the most trying year of our professional lifetimes. How do you want your hospital or system organized? What kind of structural changes are needed to achieve the desired results? What do you really want to focus on? Amid the pressing priorities and urgent decision-making needed to survive, it is easy to overlook the great reimagination period in front of us. The key is to forget what we were like before COVID-19 and reflect upon what we want to be after.

These changes won’t occur overnight. We’ll need patience, but here are my thoughts on five key questions we need to answer to get the right results.

1. How do you enhance productivity and become more efficient? Throughout 2021, most systems will be in recovery mode from COVID’s financial bruises. Hospitals saw double-digit declines in inpatient and outpatient volumes in 2020, and total losses for hospitals and health systems nationwide were estimated to total at least $323 billion. While federal relief offset some of our losses, most of us still took a major financial hit. As we move forward, we must reorganize to operate as efficiently as possible. Does reorganization sound daunting? If so, remember the amount of reorganization we mustered to work effectively in the early days of the pandemic. When faced with no alternative, healthcare moved heaven and earth to fulfill its mission. Crises bring with them great clarity. It’s up to leaders to keep that clarity as this tragic, exhausting and frustrating crisis gradually fades.

2. How do you accelerate digital care? COVID-19 changed our relationship with technology, personally and professionally. Look at what we accomplished and how connected we remain. We were reminded of how high-quality healthcare can go unhindered by distance, commutes and travel constraints with the right technology and telehealth programs in place. Health system leaders must decide how much of their business can be accommodated through virtual care so their organizations can best offer convenience while increasing access. Oftentimes, these conversations don’t get far before confronting doubts about reimbursement. Remember, policy change must happen before reimbursement catches up. If you wait for reimbursement before implementing progressive telehealth initiatives, you’ll fall behind. 

3. How will your organization confront healthcare inequities? In 2020, I pledged that Northwell would redouble its efforts and remain a leader in diversity and inclusion. I am taking this commitment further this year and, with the strength of our diverse workforce, will address healthcare inequities in our surrounding communities head-on. This requires new partnerships, operational changes and renewed commitments from our workforce. We need to look upstream and strengthen our reach into communities that have disparate access to healthcare, education and resources. We must push harder to transcend language barriers, and we need our physicians and medical professionals of color reinforcing key healthcare messages to the diverse communities we serve. COVID-19’s devastating effect on communities of color laid bare long-standing healthcare inequalities. They are no longer an ugly backdrop of American healthcare, but the central plot point that we can change. If more equitable healthcare is not a top priority, you may want to reconsider your mission. We need leaders whose vision, commitment and courage match this moment and the unmistakable challenge in front of us. 

4. How will you accommodate the growing portion of your workforce that will be remote? Ten to 15 percent of Northwell’s workforce will continue to work remotely this year. In the past, some managers may have correlated remote work and teams with a decline in productivity. The past year defied that assumption. Leaders now face decisions about what groups can function remotely, what groups must return on-site, and how those who continue to work from afar are overseen and managed. These decisions will affect your organizations’ culture, communications, real estate strategy and more. 

5. How do you vigorously hold onto your cultural values amid all of this change? This will remain a test through 2021 and beyond. Culture is the personality of your organization. Like many health systems and hospitals, much of Northwell’s culture of connectedness, awareness, respect and empathy was built through face-to-face interaction and relationships where we continually reinforced the organization’s mission, vision and values. With so many employees now working remotely, how can we continue to bring out the best in all of our people? We will work to answer that question every day. The work you put in to restore, strengthen and revitalize your culture this year will go a long way toward cementing how your employees, patients and community come to see your organization for years to come. Don’t underestimate the power of these seemingly simple decisions.

While we’ve been through hell and back over the past year, I’m convinced that the healthcare community can continue to strengthen the public trust and admiration we’ve built during this pandemic. However, as we slowly round the corner on COVID-19, our future success will hinge on what we as healthcare organizations do now to confront the questions above and others head-on. It won’t be quick or easy and progress will be a jagged line. Let’s resist the temptation to return to what healthcare was and instead work toward building what healthcare can be. After the crisis of a lifetime, here’s our opportunity of a lifetime. We can all be part of it.