Seven Collaboration Tips for Month-End Close in a Remote Environment
Month-end close is an integral process in most companies, whether big or small. It’s often fast-paced and pressure-packed to deliver accurate reporting within a few days to meet close deadlines. Businesses in all sectors are being forced to reinvent their close processes as they react to new challenges faced with a remote workforce. With the right preparation, technologies, and communication, month-end close can be just as efficient as it would be with all employees in the office. Let’s explore how.
1. Create (or Modify) a Plan
One of the most common tools used is a month-end close checklist. This can be as elaborate as the business wants to make it, but at a minimum it should show the tasks to be completed, who’s responsible, and status of completion. Working together as a department to create this checklist will allow others to have input into the process and create better buy-in when implementing. When working remotely, an electronic shared checklist can keep team members on the same page and apprised of progress without the need for several individual check-ins. There are many options for sharing documents, including cloud-based options or shared network folders. Regardless of the medium, the ability to reference this checklist on demand will keep the process moving and hold everyone accountable to their responsibilities.
2. Set Expectations
Deadlines drive the pace of month-end activities. For example, if financial reporting is due six business days after month-end, then businesses should work backward to determine the schedule of specific tasks. A best practice would be to document the expectations as a part of the month-end close checklist. Some tasks may be done throughout the month or on a certain day of close, while other interdependent responsibilities may be tied to a day and time. Setting these expectations upfront allows those managing the close process to determine if areas are falling behind and reallocate resources as necessary to get things back on track.
3. Consider Resources Outside of Accounting
The accounting and finance team is now well prepared with a plan and expectations for closing remotely. Great! But what about those outside of the department who have a role in the close process? Are there manufacturing system reports needed from the plant? Headcount statistics required from human resources? System access needed from IT? Collaborating with others outside of the accounting department ahead of time and including them in the plan and expectations will help ensure a smooth close and avoid delays that could derail the close timeline.
4. Use Communication Platforms
With the ability to get up and walk to someone’s desk no longer an option, communication platforms play a much larger role. While traditional methods of phone and email can always be used, teams can benefit from technological advances to streamline their communications. Instant messaging is a quick and powerful tool to get a question answered in a few seconds versus the minutes it would take to call or email. Video calls with screen-sharing capabilities let the group view documents similarly to as if they were all gathered around a conference room table. These platforms still create a space for collaboration while increasing the efficiency.
5. Document Procedures
Detailed procedures are an important part of consistency and continuity in accounting functions. Yet, with all the priorities departments face, spending time to document activities often gets pushed to the bottom. Transitioning month-end close to a remote environment highlights the importance of having additional written guidance available to team members. As duties transition or are cross-trained, this documentation becomes imperative to creating consistency and efficiency in the process.
6. Go Paperless
A paperless environment concept has been around for many years; however, some businesses have been slower to adapt. With a sudden shift to remote work, manual processes like accounts payable and check signing now create logistical challenges. Team members requiring access to invoices as a part of their close duties no longer have the ability to pull documents from physical files. Cloud-based technologies allow for document storage and approvals, as well as a variety of payment options. BKD’s outsourced accounting services team offers a technology solution managed by professional accountants that can help!
7. Conduct Frequent Check-Ins
A business can create a well-thought-out plan of action, but left unmonitored, items can slip through the cracks with deadlines missed. Someone in the department, often a controller-type position, should carry the responsibility to monitor progress and hold others accountable to the expectations. Regular check-ins can help ensure employees have the support they need and be a proactive approach to keeping the process on schedule. If the month-end close process is very short, consider holding brief daily virtual meetings for the entire department to discuss any issues team members are facing or collaborate on issues that affect more than one area. The need for a team effort is essential to completing the close process timely, accurately, and efficiently.
Want to discuss how to accomplish this with your team? BKD has a team dedicated to helping clients with everyday accounting challenges that also has the industry-focused expertise you need. Contact us using the form below or visit our Outsourced Accounting Services page to learn more about our services.