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.”

A new divide is making the workforce crisis worse

https://mailchi.mp/bfba3731d0e6/the-weekly-gist-july-2-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

How the Hybrid Workforce will Drive the Future of Work

Health system executives continue to tell us that the top issue now keeping them up at night is workforce engagement.

Exhausted from the COVID experience, facing renewed cost pressures, and in the midst of a once-in-a-generation rethink of work-life balance among employees, health systems are having increasing difficulty filling vacant positions, and holding on to key staff—particularly clinical talent. One flashpoint that has emerged recently, according to leaders we work with, is the growing divide between those working a “hybrid” schedule—part at home, part in the office—and those who must show up in person for work because of their roles. Largely this split has administrative staff on one side and clinical workers on the other, leading doctors, nurses, and other clinicians to complain that they have to come into work (and have throughout the pandemic), while their administrative colleagues can continue to “Zoom in”. There’s growing resentment among those who don’t have the flexibility to take a kid to baseball practice at 3 o’clock, or let the cable guy in at noon without scheduling time off, making the sense of burnout and malaise even more intense. Add to that the resurgence in COVID admissions in some markets, and the “help wanted” situation in the broader economy, and the health system workforce crisis looks worse and worse. Beyond raising wages, which is likely inevitable for most organizations, there is a need to rethink job design and work patterns, to allow a tired, frustrated, and—thanks to the in-person/WFH divide—envious workforce the chance to recover from an incredibly difficult year.

An “employee diaspora” is complicating network contracting

https://mailchi.mp/bade80e9bbb7/the-weekly-gist-june-18-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Home - Diaspora Dialogues

This week we caught up with a benefits consultant colleague to get her perspective on how employers are thinking about health benefits as they come out of the pandemic. “It seems like employers and health systems have switched places in their enthusiasm for direct contracting,” she shared.

Prior to the pandemic, employer interest in working directly with a health system around a narrow network product to deliver coordinated care was growing, but there were few systems offering attractive solutions. Now more health systems are ready, but the number of employees working remotely has created a new obstacle for direct contracting.

One chief people officer for a large employer noted that while some employees have relocated permanently, others are still hopping from one Airbnb to another: “It’s at the point where I have no idea where half of our people are living on any given day.” In this new “employee diaspora”, some firms are seeing ten percent or more of their formerly office-based workforce now located outside the market, creating challenges for a geographically concentrated network to meet their needs.

How many companies will allow permanent telework, and how many employees will take them up on it, remains to be seen (our colleague suggested we’ll know more in the fall, after the return to school anchors many families in place). But for now, the best employer partners for direct contracting efforts are likely mid-sized regional employers, who are more likely to retain a local workforce, and face fewer obstacles to making benefit design changes.

Advocate Aurora to make remote work permanent for 12,000 employees

Advocate Aurora keeping 12,000 employees on remote work assignment

Advocate Aurora Health is implementing a new work model that will move 12,000 non-clinical employee positions in finance, consumer experience and more departments to remote-first operations, according to a May 21 BizTimes report. 

Under the new work model, dubbed WorkForward, the 12,000 non-clinical employees who have been working remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to do so permanently; these employees will “no longer have dedicated workspaces” like cubicles or offices at the health system’s Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill.-based offices, the publication reports. 

Affected departments include finance and accounting, consumer experience and public affairs, strategy and business development, government relations and administration. Employees will be able to choose to work from home, at a coffee shop or other locations, Advocate Aurora Chief Human Resources Officer Kevin Brady told BizTimes

“For some departments, remote-first may come to mean monthly team meetings in the office, once-a-week collaboration sessions or a trip to an outside-the-box location that inspires the team,” he said. 

Advocate Aurora will “regularly evaluate” its real estate needs with the work model transition; the health system recently vacated non-headquarters office space when its lease ended at the end of 2020. Advocate Aurora is also reconfiguring its remaining facilities to create more “innovative and productive” work areas that employees can use for meetings or temporary office space, according to the report.

Teachers want the vaccine, but they’ll have to wait

https://www.axios.com/teachers-want-to-get-vaccinated-covid-51b9016e-1f2d-4e67-adc1-4928b1fc06bc.html

Some teachers don’t want to return to the classroom until they’ve been vaccinated — setting up potential clashes with state and local governments pushing to reopen schools.

Why it matters: Extended virtual learning is taking a toll on kids, and the Biden administration is pushing to get them back in the classroom quickly. But that will only be feasible if teachers are on board.

Where it stands: Although the rise of new, more contagious variants has scrambled the calculus on school reopening, for now the expert consensus is that vaccinations aren’t essential to safely reopening schools.

  • A pair of studies from the CDC this week reiterated the agency’s stance that schools can operate safely with the proper precautions, along with other mitigation measures in the broader community.
  • Most states haven’t put teachers at the front of the line for vaccines. Only 18 have included teachers in the early priority groups that can get vaccinated now, and in all but four of those states, teachers are competing for shots with other higher-risk populations, including the elderly.

Yes, but: Teachers in some large school districts don’t want to return to the classroom without being vaccinated — which could mean several more months of virtual classes.

  • The Chicago teachers union has asked to delay reopening until teachers receive at least the first dose of the vaccine, but the city’s public health commissioner has said it could take months for teachers to be vaccinated, the Chicago Tribune reports.
  • “If you are required to work with students in person — which thousands of educators have been doing for months now — you should be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in statement after teachers were bumped behind the elderly in the state’s priority line, per Boston.com.

What they’re saying: “The issue is that we should be aligning vaccination with school opening. That doesn’t mean every single teacher has to be vaccinated before you open one school, it means there has to be that alignment,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told ABC News.

  • Teachers should be eligible for vaccination by “late January,” she wrote in a USA Today op-ed over the weekend.

The other side: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said school staff will be prioritized for vaccination, with the goal of having students return to classrooms by March 1.

  • But prioritizing teachers can be controversial. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has been criticized for the decision to vaccinate teachers ahead of the elderly, high-risk essential workers and other vulnerable communities.
  • In a rural county in Georgia and at a private school in Philadelphia, teacher vaccine clinics were shut down by their state health departments, which said that educators were not yet eligible.

The bottom line: “It’s challenging to make those decisions about how to prioritize different populations, all of whom are at significant risk,” the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Jennifer Tolbert said.

Go deeper: Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic