Thursday, June 9, 2022
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How accounting can adopt a ‘work smarter’ mentality through workflow automation

No matter where you stand on flex hours and unlimited PTO, their growing popularity highlights a central theme: employers are largely shifting to a “work smarter, not harder” philosophy. 

As accelerated by workplace changes during the pandemic, productivity measurement has transformed from walking into an office at 9 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m. to tasks accomplished, value generated and quality of work — regardless of where or when in the day they are completed. Coupled with the ongoing labor shortage, employees now find themselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to where and how they work. Employers are forced to take the flexibility and efficiency employees desire into account in aims to attract the best talent.

As we look toward the future of work, and the future of the accounting department, employee experience is top of mind. As illustrated in a recent Wall Street Journal article authored by MIT researchers Joe Peppard and Kristine Derry, workplace technology has long been the bane of employees’ existence, lagging far behind the seamlessly connected devices and software solutions that they access in their personal lives. However, in our increasingly hybrid world, it’s more important than ever to implement technology that improves the employee experience, eliminates redundancy and creates time savings. Accounting in particular stands to benefit from the possibilities of technology, as chasing down receipts and performing reconciliation largely remain a grueling, antiquated and time-consuming process. Traditional methods are reactive in nature and leave room for human error.

Dr. Peppard and Professor Derry’s research highlights the importance of adopting a human-first, digitally native approach, as well as leveraging the power of AI. Enter workflow automation and its innate ability to usher organizations into the future of work. 

Workflow automation, in sum, is leveraging a set of defined rules to automate a task, requiring minimal to no human interaction. This can be as simple as automatically routing documents between departments, or more complex processes like enforcing purchasing policies among employees for instantaneous data analysis and reporting. Workflow automation is essentially the solution to every time an employee has thought there must be a better way while working on a tedious, time-consuming, low-value assignment.

While automated workflows can, and frankly should, be applied across an entire organization, with an emphasis on process-adherence, the accounting department is a prime beneficiary of its merits. According to a 2021 survey conducted by Teampay, accounting and finance professionals spend 55% of their time doing repetitive tasks. Respondents’ top job challenges included time spent doing tasks outside of their job description, unproductive meetings, lack of access to tools and infrastructure that could make their job more efficient, lack of automated solutions, and insufficient staffing across teams — all items keeping them from the strategic thinking and problem solving required by their jobs. Automated workflow singlehandedly addresses these concerns by enabling unmatched efficiency and productivity, freeing up team members to work on more strategic, big-picture projects and providing smart data in real-time to inform meaningful, needle moving meetings.

And although adopting an automated workflow in and of itself can be daunting, low-code solutions (a common option within automated workflows) are typically IT- and training-free and can easily be adjusted by layman users

New types of technology are often accompanied by a lingering fear that they will render employees useless and replace the human workforce in its entirety. In reality, automated workflows serve to improve the employee experience and create efficiency gains. The ongoing labor shortage leaves little to no room for employer blunders and friction. Therefore, creating a workspace that empowers high-value and efficient work, which caters to the rising class of digital native Gen Zers, will help accounting teams secure and retain top talent for years to come.

When accounting teams and employees find their purchasing tools are as seamless and easy to use as the ones they interface with outside of work, organizations can maximize productivity and increase widespread adoption and compliance. The pandemic has expedited decades of digital growth and innovation in just a two-year span. Companies that are able to successfully leverage and build upon this acceleration will successfully unlock the future of work.



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