Research shows that Covid-19 has left many professionals with unmanageable workloads, but what is the answer? Warwick Haycock, accounting software specialist at The Access Group, offers practical solutions to this pain point

Working in a finance department, you will have played an essential role in helping your company navigate the Covid-19 crisis, delivering insights at critical times when decisions needed to be made.

It is unsurprising then that, according to our research involving more than 1,000 finance leaders, around a quarter of professionals named workload as their biggest challenge. Other concerns – like staffing and skills shortages, cited by around a quarter of respondents – are also linked to workload, as are concerns around staff being off sick or self-isolating.

None of this is new, yet already-heavy workloads have been compounded by the impact of furloughed staff, redundancies, mental health concerns and remote working.

Fewer staff and increased demand means day-to-day work can quickly feel overwhelming. This is especially true when you are asked to take on new roles and responsibilities with little experience – something that two-thirds of our survey respondents said they have had to do.

We might have spent much of 2020 in survival mode, supporting our company and navigating remote working. Now it is time to establish better processes so you and your team stay on top of everyday tasks and deliver insights that make a real difference.


Identifying inefficiencies

Inefficient processes are a key cause for heavy workloads, so it is important to find out exactly where most time is wasted. We asked this question in our survey, where almost two-thirds of finance professionals named either payments (26%), forecasting and budgeting (21%) or document processing (16%) as the least efficient responsibility of the finance team.

Time-consuming manual processes are common in this industry, but they were compounded by remote working and the disruption of the past year. Staff who lacked cloud-based technologies sometimes encountered problems with outdated systems and had to find their own solutions to these.

Instead of using workarounds, this is an opportunity to future-proof processes. Given the ongoing uncertainty in the world, efficiency and agility are going to be key to compliance, profit and results.


Driving lasting change with tech

Almost two-thirds say they expect their company to invest in new technology in 2021, with a quarter moving to cloud-based accounting software and 23% to payments software – evidence that the sector is tackling the biggest inefficiencies head on. This is partly driven by the need to ensure staff have the tools at their disposal to heighten productivity and, more importantly, alleviate heavy workloads.

When referring back to the key pain points – payments, forecasting and budgeting, or document processing – it is clear to see how a digital transformation can help. Cloud-based accounting technology supports collaboration, but it is when staff are working remotely that it really comes into its own. Time spent sending documents via lengthy email chains, or logging onto a server and opening numerous standalone applications, mounts up over the week.

On the other hand, a cloud-based central platform, where everything is instantly accessible, supports better visibility. Similarly, when financial management software is applied to projects, you can keep everyone updated with fewer emails. Simple dashboards keep all parties up to date with progress and when costs are adjusted. Combined with data-driven tools, it also empowers staff to make quick, powerful decisions rather than spending hours pulling together information from lots of different sources. Even when returning to the office, this small change can vastly improve efficiency.

Automating more processes is one of the simplest ways to streamline workflows, free up time and help to maintain cash flow. Time-consuming tasks, such as preparing financial statements, account reconciliation, invoice processing, payments and data entry can be programmed and completed in the background. Technology works 24/7 so you have up-to-the-minute insights that inform better decision-making.

Last but not least, cloud-based technologies can also be used to deliver training that helps to address the staff and skills shortages cited by over a quarter of our survey respondents. Alongside upskilling employees, giving them the tools and information they need to complete their jobs well and with fewer mistakes, these platforms also reduce paperwork for HR staff who are in charge of staff development.

Left unaddressed, heavy workloads can have serious repercussions for companies – from minor frustrations to work-related stress. By automating repetitive tasks and helping people to upskill and work more collaboratively, firms can help their teams tackle this perennial challenge. According to our survey, 64% of respondents expect their business to adopt new technologies in 2021 – demonstrating a clear appetite for change.