Collaboration is critical if we want to modernise the finance function. How do you make it work remotely?
In our recent survey of FDs and CFOs, one of the top concerns of the finance function was collaboration. At the moment, we don’t have the usual collaboration spaces available to us. We don’t have the luxury of grabbing people in the office for an impromptu meeting, the micro learnings that we get from coffee chats, or the swivel chair questions that come in their hundreds over peak periods of work. We have to pivot and find ways of collaborating online and from home.
At Generation CFO, we have been using collaboration tools for many years. As a team of practitioners that have led global change projects, we have years of experience of working remotely and collaboratively with remote teams.
As you may have guessed from the title, the collaboration tool we use is Slack. Slack is a communication platform that allows you to organise your conversations by topic, into private groups and direct messaging. You can also integrate other tools that may help collaboration such as zoom and project management platform Asana.
These three capabilities of conferencing, collaboration and project management; the Foundations we need to successfully work remotely and online.
All or nothing
When using these tools, the first thing to do is to set expectations. Everybody is expected to collaborate in the same way. If you have half of your team working on slack and the other half working via email or Messenger, you will end up with information gaps and confusion – your online efforts to collaborate will fail.
When working with Soldo, from day one the whole team joined Slack. This was easy for Soldo; as an agile team and growth company, they were already using Slack. All email communication stopped – everything went via a private slack channel.
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Create an informal and a formal channel
When we start an activity, a project or a process, we always set up two private channels for the one outcome. The first channel is the formal channel, with all relevant stakeholders; this is the main collaboration area for planning, progressing and adjusting your delivery of the activity, project or process.
The second channel is informal, and acts as your “Coffee Break” area. Use this for informal updates, check ins, laughs. It is normally used solely by the delivery team, who are working on the project everyday. For a finance team, you could set up two channels for your month end close – one with all stakeholders relevant to the close, and one for the core finance team responsible for the close.
Working with Soldo, this worked really well; we were able to pin or project plan to the main channel and conduct all activities within it, but could also check in with each other on the informal channel before our update calls, or to ask stupid questions and get back up to speed if we had been focused on multiple projects.
Pick up the phone
There’s no doubt that collaboration tools are incredibly effective and helpful when working remotely. But at times, they can be busy. If not set up properly, they can also be confusing and overwhelming. Don’t always rely on your collaboration tool as your only way of communicating.
Whether your stakeholders are responsive or not, it is worth checking in with them in an alternative way. While Zoom is an incredible tool, use various ways of communicating to keep people engaged. That means sometimes picking up the phone, even if it’s just a five-minute catch-up to check in with them and go over the project deliverables.
Using alternative ways of communicating can relieve pressure on a deliverable and clarify progress. While working with Soldo over a three-month period, we were able to move from a fortnightly check-in to a six-week check in, saving time and energy for all parties, knowing we had a detailed slack channel for the project’s delivery.
I have been using collaboration tools for many years in global program teams with hundreds of people. They are critical to the success of remote collaboration, but it is worth acknowledging that these tools are not the only thing required for collaboration success. Overusing them can lead to a dip in productivity if people feel they’re disconnected from the project and the outcomes you’re trying to deliver.
It’s a reminder to us all, as highlighted in Generation CFO’s research survey, as we champion change and enable new benefits in accounting and finance by using technology, the biggest concerns of CFOs and managers include effective communication and collaboration.
This article is co-authored by Chris Argent founder of Generation CFO and Soldo. Soldo is a spend management platform that helps you Escape the chaos of agonising admin, painful processes and blinkered visibility.