Business finance ‘yet to come to terms with remote working’

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The global sweep of Covid-19 has meant a fundamental shift for businesses. Travel restrictions and mandated social distancing have meant, in a short space of time, huge swathes of the UK economy have restructured to a remote working setup.

New research from YouGov commissioned by SAP Concur reveals that whilst 68 per cent of businesses found this transition easy, a significant third – 32 per cent – found it difficult or very difficult.

In particular, companies cited IT, infrastructure and communications as the biggest problems during the shift, with difficulties including:

  • Making sure staff had right equipment at home that enabled secure home working
  • IT issues ensuring that relevant programmes were compatible and secure
  • Authorising invoices without contact
  • Trying to get all staff to use and be trained on new software

In order to make the remote working change, 14 per cent of businesses implemented new financial technologies after Lockdown began. Interestingly, again a third of those organisations found implementation difficult or very difficult.

What’s more, 11 per cent implemented some automation of financial processes. Specifically examining automation, SMEs had very little plans to implement automation with nearly half (47%) saying they wouldn’t. In comparison, only 23 per cent of enterprises had ruled it out. This is despite enterprises leading the way in already having automation in place (47%) in comparison to SMEs (29%).

This could indicate smaller businesses lack flexibility in their current set up, are unsure of its importance, or have not been properly advised on how to undertake this change. Enterprises (47%) were also far more likely than SMEs (29%) to already have automation in place, suggesting SMBs perhaps feel these tools are suited to larger companies.

Ryan Demaray, Managing Director SMB EMEA at SAP Concur (above) said: “What this shows is there’s work to be done with so many smaller businesses assuming technology like SAP Concur isn’t for them, when in reality cloud computing has made enterprise grade software available to every customer.

“Modern solutions are cloud-based and heavily scalable, so we need to rally behind the SME community and make it apparent that they absolutely can put in place enterprise-grade solutions in a way that fits their size and budget.”

Looking to the future

Though only 14 per cent of businesses have adopted new financial technologies since the lockdown began, it’s no secret that overall, that the pandemic has caused an acceleration of wider digital transformation for many companies.

Whether it’s online tools, unified communicated or automated systems offering visibility into cash flow and valuable data – many companies have future-proofed their business.

Researchers asked two questions regarding how businesses saw the future; how long the financial function would take to get back to normal, and the same question in regard to general working practices.

For finance functions, 38 per cent said it would be straight away, but the net response was 54 per cent saying it could take between one and 12 months. For general workplace practices, the time to get back to ‘normal’ is more pronounced; only 20 per cent think this will happen straight away, and 73 per cent said up to 12 months, pointing at wider practices being far more affected than those specifically finance related.