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February 4, 2021

Benchmark survey shows smooth transition to distributed teams in 2020. Will it continue?

Written by
Laura Slauson
Laura Slauson
Benchmark survey shows smooth transition to distributed teams in 2020. Will it continue?Benchmark survey shows smooth transition to distributed teams in 2020. Will it continue?

When headlines like “Workers sent home for two weeks” first appeared last March, few people imagined that the lockdowns would continue off and on for almost a year — and counting. Fewer still imagined that it would usher in a whole new era in how and where we work when our physical presence is not required. 

Results from the Airbase Annual Benchmark Survey of Finance Professionals suggest that the prevailing message for companies might be: “You’ve got this.” The survey’s respondents demonstrate an overwhelming resilience in their ability to quickly adapt to a distributed workforce. In fact, some workplaces found the shift to remote work so successful that they are making permanent changes with regards to their work-at-home policies. The respondents also identified priorities that will help facilitate the adjustment to remote work by increasing efficiencies for finance teams. 

A smooth transition.

The comprehensive survey asked 745 finance professionals from small to midsize businesses how their team adjusted to remote work. Only 7% felt the transition didn’t go well, and 45% said they quickly adapted. 34% of respondents experienced a bit of a learning curve before adjusting. (The remaining 14% did not work remotely.) Those in larger companies (500–1,000 employees) had the toughest time, with 9.4% reporting that their team struggled with the transition. 

Perhaps not coincidentally, representatives from larger companies were also more likely to say that they didn’t have visibility or control over subscription spending with regards to duplicate charges or zombie spend. As companies grow, it becomes increasingly important to use tools that facilitate communication in any circumstance, and that those tools scale to adapt to the organizational complexities that accompany growth. Without those tools, a distributed workforce presents challenges in managing the budget. 

More support for remote work.

The biggest indicator of an overall successful transition is that many companies completely changed their perceptions of the value of distributed teams. Prior to the pandemic, only 6% supported remote working arrangements, but now 51% say they will support those arrangements going forward. Only 24% expect to have their entire workforce make a full return to the office once restrictions are lifted, and 11% plan to continue with a fully remote workforce.

Those numbers represent a sweeping change. It’s hard to imagine another time when the workforce experienced a similarly dramatic shift in attitudes at such a fast pace. It’s not surprising, therefore, that companies recognize the need to change their systems and procedures to reflect the new world of work. Alongside this movement, many companies plan to increase headcount in 2021, with 54% saying hiring plans were in the works. 

One advantage to remote work is the freedom to move, perhaps to a city with a better climate or cheaper real estate. However, a move to a less expensive location may be scrutinized for a cost of living adjustment. Of our respondents, 62% said they plan to adjust salaries if employees choose to move to an area where a salary goes further.

How does your company compare to others with regards to efficiency, workplace, and tools?
Download the Airbase Annual Survey of Finance Professionals to find out.
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Visibility for distributed workforces.

“Improving or changing finance operations by adding new systems or processes” was named a top priority for 2021 by 41% of respondents. Studies have confirmed that companies who embrace technological change have higher revenue growth, so this bodes well. 

This priority is particularly important for managing AP with a distributed workforce. The continued rise of distributed spending means employees are now empowered to make their own purchases on supplies, subscriptions, travel, etc., instead of coordinating them through a centralized purchasing department. Without full visibility into how employees are making purchases, businesses are at increased risk of wasted spend. The difficulty when teams are distributed is that a part of the traditional workplace, where hallway conversions about making a purchase or about a purchase made, is lost. The right technology can replace the loss of oversight and the culture of budget discipline that it conveys. For example, virtual cards offer many advantages for remote finance teams because they:

  • Are unique to each employee, which eliminates the need to pass around a shared corporate card. 
  • Require expenses to be correctly categorized and approved up front, which means finance teams don’t have to chase after employees in order to resolve discrepancies.
  • Are created with predetermined spending limits, which reduces the risk of going over budget and makes it easy to adjust the levers if budget changes are needed. 
  • Sync seamlessly to a company’s general ledger, which eliminates hours of reconciling different systems and tracking down missing information at month-end.

Other priorities from the respondents also support remote work going forward. Distributed companies are more vulnerable to fraud, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, so we were happy to see that "Improving data security and privacy" was identified as a 2021 priority for 34% of our respondents.

Looking ahead.

Our survey reveals that many businesses have big goals for 2021, with plans to grow and support more flexible working arrangements. Based on their ability to adjust to the challenges of 2020, we’re confident that they will meet their goals and more, particularly as they build new systems and processes that reflect the changing business landscape. To find out how you can adjust your operations to fit the modern work environment, contact Airbase today. 

Laura Slauson
Laura Slauson
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About Airbase

Airbase offers a one platform solution to manage all non-payroll spend. It provides oversight and control over spending with real-time reporting and automatic syncing directly to your general ledger. Control all paymentsphysical cards, virtual cards, ACH, and checks – from one place. Close faster. Empower employees. Control spend.

To learn more about Airbase, contact us for a product demo.
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