Over the past several months, finance professionals around the world have had to adapt and adjust to remote working — which for many will become a permanent reality. According to a recent Gartner survey, 74% of CFOs intend to shift some employees to permanent remote work as a way to complement ongoing cost-cutting measures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet while some companies have noticed a boost in productivity within remote finance teams, there is growing evidence of increased anxiety, unease, and isolation among remote workers. And for junior finance and accounting professionals in particular, the reduced social presence of managers and mentors (coupled with a tough economic environment) is prompting a potential crisis of confidence.
“With the shift to remote work, all the emphasis is now being placed on output and meeting targets, as opposed to ‘presenteeism’ and long hours in the office,” explained Anthony Boateng, FCMA, CGMA, chairman of CIMA’s Research and Development Panel. “This is requiring many finance professionals to unlearn old ways, broaden their skillset, and adjust their entire mindset — which is certainly contributing to a hit in confidence levels and fears of the unknown.”
FM spoke to Boateng and business performance experts to find out how finance professionals can build and display confidence in the face of rising anxiety and the rapid digitisation of finance functions.
Seek multidisciplinary skills and teachers. With many of the manual and repetitive aspects of financial work becoming automated, Boateng said that professionals have to identify areas where they can “complement” digitisation and assume more strategic and influential roles within their organisations.
“Most professionals should be looking at acquiring a broader set of skills (including soft skills and management techniques) and studying across disciplines to become adept at interpreting results for nonfinance stakeholders, for example, and to engage more powerfully and persuasively with leaders,” he explained. “I also recommend seeking mentors with expertise in nonfinance fields, who can bring a completely new perspective and support your move to a more multidisciplinary approach.”
Build a framework for systematic decision-making. According to Jason Hamilton, ACMA, CGMA, director at First River Capital, an advisory firm with offices in South Africa and the UK, a major source of anxiety within finance teams is the need to deal with and manage multiple and competing agendas (or demands) within an organisation — whether in a crisis or in the normal course of business. As leaders within the organisation, management accountants can create an environment that enables integrated thinking and provides structure and clarity amidst these competing demands.
“This can be achieved through building a framework with clear boundaries that are designed to aid the assessment and decision-making process within teams,” said Hamilton, who also is a member of the Association’s Thought Leadership & Business Ethics Committee. “The finance team members will gain clarity around what is required and which processes will be followed.”
Reboot and refresh your internal dialogue. Jo Searle, an executive coach based in South Africa, highlighted the importance of becoming aware of your internal dialogue and thought patterns — and identifying negative chatter.
“Feelings follow behaviour, and behaviour includes your own thoughts and beliefs,” she explained. “If you are feeling anxious, know that you have listened to a thought that says, for instance: ‘You don’t know how to be effective working remotely’ … and you have agreed with that thought.”
However, by learning to become aware of your thoughts, beliefs, and consequent feelings, you give yourself a choice (and the opportunity to press reboot).
“The choice is to listen, agree, and feel bad, or you can choose a different thought, such as: ‘If I change my daily habits, I will form a new sense of myself as capable and creative,’” said Searle.
Create a sense of purpose. Being an integral part of how an organisation understands and navigates an uncertain world can be a confidence boost as well. Although often the responsibility of leadership, “sense making” is an important process and tool that requires nurturing when looking to build confidence, noted Hamilton.
“Within the finance function, leaders can play a pivotal role to ensure that the correct narrative is designed and communicated through ‘sense giving’, which not only provides a message of hope but a unifying, shared narrative,” he said. “It will also require the creation of space for open and honest communications, showing empathy during the process and allowing all narratives to be heard and considered.”
Avoid comparisons (and social media scrolling). “Comparison is the thief of joy, and it also destroys confidence,” cautioned Nic Haralambous, a South African entrepreneur and author of How to Start a Side Hustle, who pointed to social media as a potential instigator of comparative thoughts.
“Social media makes it easy to feel like everyone else has a plan and is moving on up … but remember that for every impressive and envious post you're viewing, there are countless other things that happen in a person’s life that they don't post on social media.”
According to Haralambous, the more you “like” and follow others on these platforms, the more difficult it becomes to build and maintain your own confidence. “Do what you do, and remain consistent and aligned with your own goals,” he advised.
Be proactive about getting support. When working remotely, finance professionals may find it harder to speak up when they are struggling in a particular area. Yet according to Boateng, the process of identifying an area of weakness, difficulty, or inexperience — and asking for support — can build one’s confidence.
“It takes courage to admit you may be struggling with something, but asking for help or guidance is, in itself, a sign of strength,” he said. “In my own teams, when someone has reached out for support and has clearly identified an area that needs focus or development, I see that as a sign of confidence and an eagerness to improve.”
— Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in South Africa. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.