It’s no secret that telecommuting or working from home has been on the rise over the last ten years, particularly as high-speed Internet connections have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. Everyone knew that this was the way of the future – thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, “the future” arrived quite a bit faster than most people probably expected.
According to one recent study, at the highest point of the pandemic in May of 2020 roughly 35% of people found themselves working from home indefinitely. A significant percentage of them are expected to continue to do so long after the pandemic has passed us by.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Another study estimated that working from home has the potential to increase productivity by as much as 13%. About 77% of respondents to one Stanford study said that working from home at least a few times per month increased their productivity, allowing them to do more work in less time. It also improved employee satisfaction, while cutting attrition rates by as much as 50%.
Working from home does bring with it its fair share of challenges, too – especially for organizations dealing with inherently sensitive information like accounting firms. All the productivity and performance benefits in the world ultimately won’t mean a thing if employees are suddenly sharing and working with confidential information in an insecure environment.
Recently, the team at M-Files did a survey with Accountancy Age on data security-related issues that accounting firms in particular face when having employees work remotely. The survey’s findings paint a vivid and important picture about how far telecommuting has come, where it all might be headed, and the challenges we’ll need to face along the way.
The Issue With the “Old School” Methods of Communication and Collaboration
Obviously, it’s critically important that accounting professionals have the ability to create, share and collaborate on data with one another – regardless of where they happen to be. When everything shut down and people suddenly found themselves working from home indefinitely during the onset of the pandemic, firms turned to a number of “solutions” to help make this possible – with mixed results along the way.
According to the aforementioned study, some firms took to sending important documents and other pieces of information through the postal service to get it all into the hands of the people who needed it the most. The issue here is that it simply takes too long to get items to employees who depend on it to do their jobs – to say nothing of how this method makes collaboration essentially impossible.
Not only that, but a sudden delay in postal deliveries – like the ones experienced during the last half of 2020 – could grind productivity to a stop. Early on in 2020, three-day USPS mail service was already taking an additional four or five days to reach 99% of recipients. Flash forward to the end of the year, and it was taking an extra 14 days. This, coupled with the potential that a sensitive item could always be lost in the mail with no way to recover it, make this method essentially a non-starter.
Other firms turned to email – a tool that they’ve used successfully in the past. This, too, brings with it a number of issues – chief among them being confidentiality. It’s simply far too easy to click one wrong button or mistype a character and send sensitive client information to the wrong person.
If you’re trying to collaborate on a project with other employees, this too is less than ideal because it creates too many unnecessary steps. If three people need to sign off on a document before it can be approved, Person A has to send it to Person B – at which point the waiting begins. Maybe Person B gets to it today, maybe they don’t. Regardless, Person C literally can’t do anything because they’re waiting on someone to act on an item that this individual may or may not have even seen yet.
On top of it all, emails are inherently insecure. Unless you can guarantee that all remote employees are using advanced security methods like two-factor authentication – which you can’t – there is always the potential for an email account to be compromised, exposing all of the proprietary and sensitive information that has ever passed through it at the same time.
Finally, the working from home revolution has exposed a major issue at the very core of many accounting firms – namely that they’re using far too many applications or systems to manage and share business and client documents to begin with. According to the M-Files study, 23% of firms use at least three such systems on a daily basis. This can include things like email folders, files and folders across shared network drives, CRM and ERP systems, a dedicated accounting solution, file sharing applications like Dropbox and more.
At that point, simply knowing where to find an essential document becomes a uphill battle. Likewise, if something important is stored on a local shared network drive and you’re now working from home, how do you access it? The answer is clear:
Tearing Down the Old School to Build the New One
Thankfully, there are modern solutions built with this type of data security – not to mention communication and collaboration – in mind. It’s simply up for accounting firms to embrace them.
A document management solution like M-Files, for example, can consolidate all data across an enterprise into a single, easy-to-use system. It allows accounting firms to organize information based not on where it is, but on what it is – all while giving people the chance to access it through a single view without needing any expensive or time-consuming data migration.
Keep in mind that if information is being shared among employees with a private tool like Dropbox, firm leadership suddenly has no control over what it is and what is being done to it. It can easily be lost or compromised in some way and this is actually a major source of duplication and version issues. But with M-Files, you can leverage features like dynamic organizational permissions and permissions-based content and context to secure documents and folders based on who needs access to them to do their jobs. For the right person, that information is easier to find than ever. For the “wrong” person, they’re totally cut off from it – exactly as it should be.
In the end, working from home isn’t going away anytime soon – and that can very much be a good thing under the right conditions. Trying to manage sensitive accounting firm information using methods that were designed for a time when everyone was still in the office is only inviting disaster. Instead, true document and content management is needed and tools like M-Files can help bring it to accounting firms everywhere in the easiest and most cost-effective way possible.
According to figures, before COVID, only 7% of workers in the U.S. had access to a “flexible workplace” benefit or telework. Now, 64% of US employees are working from home now, according to research conducted by SHRM’s COVID-19 Business Index.
This swelling of remote work is spurring many organizations to reevaluate their suite of business applications and tech solutions. In a TechRepublic article this year, Mike Vance, VP of IT at KSM Consulting says:
“It means evaluating what systems you have and how you can potentially migrate to the cloud, even in this [remote] environment. Your IT professionals still have the access that they need to do that work. Streamlining their tech stack is also aligned with what your core business function is, the systems that support that, and ensuring they are resilient and ready to function as they need it to.”
Vance continues to lay out a simple process for IT organizations to right-size their tech stacks in these strange and unprecedented times — a process certainly worth recapping.
Step 1: Conduct an Audit of Your Tech Stack
The first suggestion and natural starting point is to assess which constituents of your tech stack are actually needed. Vance suggests deploying employee surveys to assess which solutions are most useful and most utilized.
“I’d be doing them probably the first couple of weeks… I would analyze the results, figure out what you need to dive into deeper to make sure they’re fully productive. Then move that to biweekly for a month and then monthly until we get out of this window,” Vance says. “You could uncover a lot of things in regard to preparedness in organizations that they didn’t know before.”
Step 2: Develop a Feasibility Matrix
The next step is to collect qualitative data from the IT staff and use that data to put together a feasibility matrix — which analyzes responses from the employee surveys to determine which tech solutions are critical. From there, define which of those are feasible to continue using in a remote work environment.
Again, Vance guides us to the most critical consideration in assessing software solutions in a remote work environment:
What is the feasibility and how does it balance with the ROI of that solution?
In other words… “What’s the return I get out of making this investment during this time? How hard is it to get it? Is it even feasible to have this while being remote?”
Vance goes on to highlight the importance of collaboration and communication solutions to a remote work tech stack, while balancing them with diligent information security practices to minimize the risk brought on by remote work.
Step 3: Eliminate Redundant, Unnecessary Applications and SaaS Licenses
An organization’s tech stack is an ever-evolving organism. Many organizations keep adding to their suite of tech solutions — which naturally means a bloating of data stores and information repositories. It also means that there are SaaS solutions that aren’t being used much anymore and licenses which can be cut from the budget.
With an audit and resulting feasibility matrix in tow, IT departments can start to execute on that information and retool their tech stacks, trimming the applications that are unnecessary and cutting down on redundant SaaS licenses.
The Glue that Binds the Enterprise Tech Stack: Information Management
As mentioned a moment ago, as the tech stack grows, so too does the amount of information, data, files and documents that are a natural by-product of doing business. Not only does the amount of information grow, usually the number of repositories grows, as well.
Think about it. If an organization standardizes and adds a communication tool, a collaboration tool, and a project management tool, for example, that’s three more silos where information will be housed.
To combat this information sprawl, organizations should consider an intelligent information management platform like M-Files. With M-Files, information and files can live wherever they need to live. M-Files connects to existing repositories, presenting information to users based on what it is, not where it is. It allows users to perform Google-like searches for critical information across the entire information ecosystem.
M-Files also helps enforce companywide information security and governance protocols, even in a remote work environment. By layering M-Files as an umbrella over the entire tech stack, compliance is preserved, and only authorized personnel have access to sensitive information.
Ultimately, intelligent information management underpins the enterprise tech stack and can be scaled along with it as companies right-size that tech stack.
In July, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) published a policy brief with some tremendous evidence-based information on potential productivity gains from teleworking in the post-COVID-19 era.
TL;DR Worker efficiency improves with low levels of telework but decreases with ‘excessive telework’, implying a ‘sweet spot’ where worker efficiency – and thus productivity – is maximized at intermediate levels of telework.
First, four key themes from the piece — supported by data and evidence — are:
Remote work may be a permanent fixture after COVID-19.
Remote work varies substantially across countries, sectors, occupations and firms.
In the long run, remote work has the potential to improve productivity and worker well-being but carries some ambiguity and risk in its overall impact.
To minimize risk of harming long-term innovation and worker well-being, remote work should be a choice and not “overdone”.
We wanted to take a moment to give you an abbreviated synopsis of some of the more interesting, actionable findings.
Remote Work Affects Productivity in These 2 Main Channels
Perhaps one of the most compelling sections of the report, it lays out the two main factors that shape the impact of telework on firms and staff.
Telework can improve or hamper firm performance, with its overall effect depending importantly on two main channels:
A direct channel affects firm performance through changing the efficiency, motivation, and knowledge creation of the workforce.
An indirect channel is for telework to facilitate cost reductions that free up resources for productivity enhancing innovation and reorganization.
Will Remote Work Improve or Harm Your Firm? These are the 4 Determining Factors
According to the model above, there are four main factors that will determine whether remote work will help or hurt your firm’s productivity:
1 | Worker Satisfaction
This one can break two different ways. “Telework can improve firm performance by raising worker satisfaction and thus worker efficiency, e.g. through better work-life balance, less commuting or fewer distractions leading to more focused work or less absenteeism. It is, however, also possible that worker satisfaction decreases with telework, e.g. due to solitude, hidden overtime and a fusing of private and work life, or an inappropriate working environment at home.”
Thus, it is important to give workers the choice to work remotely and offer a flexible work environment where employees can choose what’s best for themselves.
2 | Cost Reductions
Telework can also improve firm performance through facilitating cost reductions. A few ways this happens:
Lower capital costs by reducing office space and equipment required by the company
Labor costs can be reduced as telework enlarges the pool of workers firms can choose from
Hiring costs may decrease if higher worker satisfaction reduces voluntary quits and turnover
Potentially attract workers at lower wages than would otherwise be the case – in particular if combined with other measures that improve work-life-balance such as flexible hours – to the extent workers are willing to give up a higher salary in return for these amenities
3 | Communication
The report points out that the reduction in in-person interactions — and communication quality, in general — can hamper productivity. “A wide range of evidence supports the notion that personal meetings allow for more effective communication than more remote forms such as emails, chat, or phone calls. For instance, personal communication has been shown to be more convincing, to attract more attention, or to better allow observing social clues. Disruptive forms of communication may surge to compensate for the lack of personal communication, e.g. increased email traffic or virtual meetings.”
4 | Knowledge Flows
This factor is near and dear to us here at M-Files. The lack of personal interaction can decrease knowledge flows among employees. At M-Files, a few cornerstones of our information management solution are:
The ability to share information easily with colleagues
Improving the discoverability of critical, helpful information
The flow of information between individuals, departments, business units and external parties
Workers learn from in-person encounters with colleagues — water cooler chats, dropping by a teammate’s office — and that interaction cannot be understated. The report says: “Innovation depends importantly on the sharing of knowledge: ‘What each individual knows is less important. What counts is collective knowledge.’”
To compensate in a remote work environment, firms should realign their digitization efforts to promote knowledge sharing in the absence of interpersonal engagement. And to that end, information management tools like M-Files are absolutely critical to ensure a healthy knowledge flow.
In Remote Work Environments, there is a Point of Diminishing Returns
The report goes on to explain that there is indeed a point of diminishing returns with teleworking. In summary, worker satisfaction increases in a remote work environment — enough to offset potentially negative effects on communication, knowledge flows and managerial oversight.
“The relative strength of these channels in turn is likely to depend on the intensity of telework: the negative effect due to the lack of personal interactions likely becomes stronger with telework intensity, as opportunities for in-person communication diminish, while worker satisfaction improves with low levels of telework but may suffer from ‘excessive’ teleworking, e.g. due to solitude or a fusing of private and professional life.”
Thus, there is a sweet spot for maximizing productivity. Not offering remote work is bad. Too much remote work is bad, also.
Ultimately, firms must ascertain for themselves where that point of diminishing returns is and aim to create a more flexible workplace where employees have the option to choose whichever volume of remote work suits them best.
And to maintain productivity, they need to be equipped with digital solutions like communication, collaboration and information management — at the very minimum.
Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, it is no longer business-as-usual, and most businesses are having to adapt and learn new ways of operating. For some, this means implementing advanced infection control measures in an effort to maintain status-quo production levels. Others are ramping up production or rapidly retooling to meet increased demand. While others still are turning down production or completely shutting down.
No matter what situation you find yourself in, there are ways your CMMS can help support these new ways of working.
Virtual communication is more important than ever before
Contractors and vendors who can no longer access your site
Workers from different departments or on staggered shift changes
CMMS features — like adding asset images, identifying equipment with QR or barcodes, adding files and media to work orders, reporting and shared dashboards — can all enhance your ability to virtually communicate important information.
Communicating new or evolving information quickly
Our collective knowledge of the coronavirus is evolving daily, as are the recommended precautions and impacts to our businesses. Therefore, it is important that business leaders have a way of quickly communicating these changes to workers to maintain their safety.
In Fiix, the task groups feature lets you quickly communicate changes to:
Highlight updated PPE required for tasks per advanced infection control measures along with instructions on wearing, inspecting, cleaning, and storage.
Make changes to sanitation procedures or frequency.
Increase ventilation rates and frequency of air filter changes.
Ensure detailed procedures and manuals are accessible on each work order in the event of the need to cross-train workers.
Install new engineered controls such as physical barriers.
In addition, using the available notifications options, you can configure how active and inactive users are automatically notified of changes and new work orders.
Discouraging the use of shared tools
A good workaround here is getting your team to use their mobile CMMS app on their own personal device, instead of relying on shared terminals. The Fiix app even facilitates access to your CMMS when the internet connection is unstable or unavailable.
Determining what is essential
By searching and tagging open work orders with the highest priority, you can quickly obtain a hit-list of the essential maintenance items for your facility. This critical information can be shared with business leaders to inform staffing adjustments and highlight any anticipated supply chain issues. This sort of itemized and prioritized communication with management demonstrates the critical role maintenance teams play in overall business continuity planning. In Fiix, you can build scheduled reports to automatically send an updated essential work order list to the appropriate people at whatever interval you want.
Taking the time now, to be faster later
Even if you’re working in a facility where production is currently slowing or shutting down, this may be a good opportunity to take time to sharpen the saw, as the old saying goes, to come back with the ability to cut down the tree much faster.
Reviewing backlogged maintenance tasks, brushing up on your own professional development, or implementing those additional CMMS modules you’ve been meaning to get to are all great ways to set yourself up for success down the road. Beyond the features we mentioned above, here is a great checklist to ensure you’re ready for when your plant starts operating again.
Lean on your Fiix community
We know that these are challenging times for many of our customers, partners, and community in production environments, and that adapting to uncertainty can be complicated. That being said, there is tremendous maintenance expertise within our growing Fiix community, so do not hesitate to reach out to explain other situations you are struggling with. We’re here to help you through.
The world has been forced into remote work. Each country has instituted its own brand of lockdown in an attempt to flatten the curve and a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article presented data on which nations were and weren’t prepared to deploy a remote workforce.
Researchers scored the social distance and remote operability of 42 countries across the globe. Scoring was based on three factors:
Robustness of key platforms — technology-mediated remote work, e-commerce, digital media and the country’s digital foundations — key to business continuity
Proliferation and resilience of digital payments options to facilitate transactions
Resilience of the internet infrastructure to traffic surges
Check out the results below. Note that higher scores represent better performance along each index.
Digital transformation has been the centerpiece of discussions in tech circles for years. But the coronavirus crisis really transformed “digital transformation” from just an overused buzzword. It became a real-life application of remote work tools. In 2018, 70% of companies had a digital transformation strategy in place or were working on one, and this unprecedented situation exposed just how far along companies — and in this case, countries — are in their digital transformation journey.
The author of the HBR article pointed out several key takeaways from the data:
“There is a divide between the resilient and the fragile: Advanced economies, at the top of the graph have more robust digital platforms, making them better prepared for the pivot to online work than developing economies in the bottom.”
“The United States is ready, but not ready enough: Despite some concerns, the United States is well poised for business continuity, with robust digital platforms and digital payment infrastructure. But with businesses asking employees to work from home, surges in digital traffic have stressed the internet infrastructure.”
“Much of Europe, with some exceptions, suffers from middling robustness of the platforms and vulnerable internet infrastructure. Speeds in much of Europe are much lower than in the U.S. overall, and the infrastructure is older.”
“Some Asian countries have proven to be innovative — and forced reconsideration of long-held assumptions: Being proximate to the origins of the outbreak, some have taken a markedly different approach to using digital technology. South Korea presents an interesting benchmark. Its internet resilience is among the best in the world, as is its use of digital payments, and its platforms are robust.”
How did your homeland fare?
Again, it’s interesting to see the data plotted, as it presents a yardstick by which digital transformation and readiness can be visualized. We contend that the cornerstone of digital transformation and remote work for every organization is information management. Intelligent information management platforms like M-Files allow users to access and manage business-critical information…
No matter where that information is stored — CRM, ERP, network folders, share drives, Salesforce
And no matter where on Earth the user is — home, office, hotel, airport, coffee shop
The pandemic has unsettled the world, leaving us all to navigate the uncertainty. I don’t need to elaborate. We all know and feel the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our economy, workplaces, and personal well-being.
However, at the time of writing this, restrictions around the world are starting to lift, little by little. And as the initial hurdle comes to a close, we are gradually shifting our attention from the panic of What now? and instead, shifting our focus to What’s next?
As a Product Marketing Manager for M-Files, I am in the game of figuring out what moves and shakes people to change, or more specifically what drives companies to invest in new technology. This pandemic has certainly offered a new driver to the mix.
COVID-19 has Forced Companies to Transform (and Transform Quickly)
Before this crisis, some common drivers across many industries included items like increasing efficiency in a competitive landscape, winning and retaining new business, and minimizing risk.
These drivers are still relevant. The pandemic, however, has presented a new driver — resilience. Namely, how can companies ensure and maintain operations in times of crisis? How can companies continue with business as usual in times when business is not usual?
While the initial hurdle of this pandemic seems to be coming to an end, there is no guarantee that the pandemic will not grow worse or that further restrictions will be enforced in the future (some news media portends the possibility of a second wave of cases globally). And as experts warned us of a possible pandemic before COVID-19, they are also insisting that we realize that other pandemics are just as possible in the future. We simply do not know. We used to operate with a false sense of certainty about the future, but this crisis has exposed just how uncertain things really are. Despite this, we are certain that the COVID-19 crisis has taught us that businesses need to transform. We can feel confident about that lesson. And when there’s need for great transformation, there’s need for great guidance.
Bring in the Consultants!
The reason I boldly claim that we need consultants now more than ever is because we’re in uncharted territory. Emotions are strong and it’s difficult, for both employees and business leaders, to wrap their minds over what to do next. Consultants, by and large, are transformation experts. We call on consultants to get us from one state to the next, because they have the expertise, experience, resources and know-how to pave a path to our objectives.
When it comes to the topic of resilience, businesses are plagued with questions around policy, leadership, technology, security, and change management while also grappling with the struggles of maintaining business today. This presents an interesting opportunity for people in the thinking industry.
The Driver: What’s driving or forcing companies to change?
The COVID-19 crisis has tested the resilience of the business world.
The Objective: What do companies need to do in response to this driver?
Companies have been forced to establish and maintain organizational resilience — to handle future crises.
Business Changes: What transformations must take place for companies to meet these objectives?
To establish and maintain organizational resilience, companies must:
Institute a flexible and secure work environment
Reduce costs to buffer current and potential decreases in revenue
Enable a remote, yet effective workforce that can work either from the office or at home
Establish policies and procedures for times of crisis and train staff on policies
Train leadership on managing and leading in times of crisis