26 July 2020

Guide to Managing Company Spend in the Remote Workplace

by Rachelle Lee

Distributed teams can create a competitive advantage for businesses because all the expertise and talent required by the company may not be available in one country, region or even continent. For employees, working remotely at least part of the time represents flexibility, time-saved on the commute and for some, precious time to concentrate on getting work done, without being interrupted by face-to-face interruptions.

In this article we’ll explain:

The central challenges to remote teams

Beyond those rose-tinted lenses are the challenges inherent in remote work. The Harvard Extension School recently identified the greatest challenges facing newly remote teams. After charting the rise of virtual teams and describing the benefits of moving to a remote model, it went on to discuss the three greatest threats to successful remote teamwork being:

  • Communication
  • Trust
  • Productivity

These three challenges are not only very much intertwined but also represent pervasive functions of management, from human resource, sales and marketing, operations all through to finance. They also lie at the heart of many problems faced by remote teams regarding spending functions.

In the first half of 2020, additional dynamics have stirred the pot. Working remotely no longer was an option. A mandate was issued for all employees to work from home. 

With little preparation time to plan and prepare for remote-work policies, many companies found themselves facing a series of challenges beyond replacing meeting rooms for chat windows. Those who have not quite embarked on a digital transformation journey found themselves confused on where to start.

Platforms like Slack, Slite, and Zoom have become important tools for team communication and project management across the globe. For a good reason: the first order of business for employees new to remote working is to ensure that ideas and information are kept flowing.

Communicate everything upfront. In times of uncertainty, there is a natural hesitancy among employees to be afraid to try something new.

As companies adjust to remote-work policies, many have found themselves facing a series of challenges beyond replacing meeting rooms for chat windows. All functions involving wholesale shifts to remote employment simply had to be reviewed, and adjusted if need be. For too many companies, financial processes are the last to receive this consideration.

The hybrid virtual model of work

Remote working, as a singular concept of working, has proved to be not easy especially for people who are relatively new to it. Many employees who have excelled at the office are finding it difficult to keep up their performance working from home. Distractions and diversions, intrusions and interruptions have been difficult for many to navigate.

There are also examples of businesses who have been successful in rolling out systems and processes that they would normally take at least half a year to scope, plan and test. Employees who have established camaraderie having previously worked together face-to-face, find shifting the relationships online and sustaining them online for some time with little or no difficulty.

Now many companies are instead planning a combination of remote and on-site working. This hybrid virtual model where employees come to the office on some days and for the rest of the week, work from home, promises potential benefits of lower costs, more individual flexibility and improved employee experiences.

A hybrid virtual work model is not a new concept. However, what we are anticipating has never been tested on the kind of scale we are about to see. With the specifics varying so wildly, it is worthwhile to examine what this will — or should — mean for businesses and employees.

Before embracing further digital transformation though, companies should evaluate where potential risks might lie as mixing virtual and on-site working might well be a lot harder.

Recommended reading: Keep Calm And Let Finance Automation Kick Out Chaos

Four tips for successful hybrid work

What are the critical steps for leaders to bridge the gap between remote and in-office workers in the hybrid work model which we are likely to see in the near future? How can leaders help those they are leading to make it possible for them to contribute their best in a hybrid virtual work environment? What tools would you need? 

Here are our four tips for success:

  1. Address the situation head-on
  2. Get to the source
  3. Take accountability
  4. Create a trusted dialogue

Address the situation head-on

Every employee responds to circumstances differently. As some employees return onsite while others remain remote, remote employees may feel disadvantaged with the lack of visibility.

With remote work being less structured than non-remote work, clear management expectations for all employees are necessary to address any potential of exclusion. Making that happen in an area where all departments can unanimously agree on, would be a unified view of controlling the expenses.

Volve spend management’s real-time automated expense reporting feature provides up-to-the-minute information of every source and every category of each expense. Such transparency of information addresses the individual demands of teams while enabling them to examine and address the organization’s broader priorities.

Get to the source

When you see your team members struggling to operate in a fully remote working environment, chances are processes are too cumbersome for distributed teams and/or technology is unable to support the information they need.

Volve’s expense management system provides for easy implementation and adoption. It powers teams to run workflows from payment through to reconciliation, with all communications and capabilities integrated on one platform.

Take accountability

Before you can expect your employees to take responsibility for their own actions, leaders must take the first step and put in place processes and equip teams with tools to set the standard for accountability.

Volve’s corporate spend management solution sets clear expectations for responsible spend. Teams are given full autonomy, flexibility and responsibility for their budgets. At the same time, the expense management company has complete control of how much they can spend and full visibility of where they spend it.

When there is no doubt about what action to take, it generates greater drive and effectiveness because people know that they can do the right thing decisively and with confidence.

As employees feel more empowered with autonomy, they assume greater accountability. As individuals feel trusted to execute their responsibilities, they become more productive.

Create a trusted dialogue

With open transparency of communications, rules and process, a culture of easy dialogue is fostered across teams. Departments are built on trust and candor without negative repercussions. Relationships are structured in a way that promotes truth and not on one-sided monologues.

The two key principles of successful remote spending

Before we describe the tools used by successful remote teams to improve spending processes, we should consider the two factors that make for successful remote-spending procedures:

  1. Asynchronous communication
  2. Real-time reporting

Asynchronous communication

Good communication is the most fundamental characteristic of successful teams. A move towards remote collaboration is especially challenging to keep up effective communication. In case this was not apparent before, communication plays a vital role to ensure efficient company spending.

Expense reporting has long been deemed to be incredibly inefficient. Modern payment vehicles like departmental credit cards too, require considerable overhead before employees, managers, and finance teams all receive the information they need. Fortunately, you can use an automated expense reporting system to improve your efficiency in the workplace.

The more distributed the work, the greater the need for clear processes and clear intentions.

Asynchronous information flows enable the identification of the information required by each stakeholder at each stage of the payment process.

Real-time reporting

Alongside the inefficiencies involved with requesting spend from appointed authority and processing the details of each purchase, traditional payment schemes keep finance teams in the dark especially in instances when details of each purchase days or even weeks after the fact.

Employees’ understanding of organizations’ decisions and their implications during change is far more important for the success of a change initiative than employees “liking” the change.

Gartner

A comprehensive online expense management system can support multiple payment vehicles while relaying the details of each purchase in real time to finance teams. Vital reports can then be produced with far greater accuracy.

How to manage the three areas of company spending

Spending procedures have traditionally been highly centralised with employees requesting the departmental credit card from their managers or submitting expense reports to the central finance teams. 

Remote work by definition is highly decentralized. How are today’s most forward-thinking companies squaring that circle? Read to learn more about the three areas to manage:

  1. Online purchasing
  2. Credit cards: department vs. corporate card
  3. Reimbursements

Online purchasing

The purchasing process for most offices take on a similar hum: employees would choose the resources they needed, make their case (often in a purchase order or other formal document), and either pay for it on their own credit card, submit a claim for reimbursement after, or request for a cash advance. 

This same system would not work in a distributed environment. Employees need to be updated on the “new order” for making business-related purchases. 

Fortunately, there is a familiar option. The use of virtual credit cards offer the same purchase-tracking benefits as their physical counterparts, with one crucial security advantage: each virtual credit card is created for a specific type of expense and cannot be used for any other payment. 

In the event that details of a virtual credit card fall into the wrong hands, there’s no danger to the cardholder (and no benefit to criminals).

How it works:

  1. An employee identifies a needed resource.
  2. The employee requests a virtual credit card from their manager via email 
  3. On approval, the manager sends the employee a virtual credit card number 
  4. The employee uses the virtual credit card to complete the purchase;
  5. For reporting purposes, the invoice or receipt is attached the purchase entry on the payment app;
  6. The finance team receives all necessary documentation for reconciliation.

The entire process is standardised and streamlined.

Recommended reading: Virtual Cards: Protection, Prevention and Payments

Credit cards: department vs. corporate card

The viability of a departmental credit card is far from ideal. Even with a team full of highly responsible employees, the logistics of issuing and managing that many cards can be daunting.

Corporate cards represent a far more viable option and are especially helpful in managing spends in a distributed environment. Alongside real-time payment tracking and automated expense reporting, pre-defined rules can be set. For example, spend limits on individual cards, stipulated spending on approved items ensure no rude shocks and/or uncomfortable conversations between employee and Finance. 

How it works:

  1. A corporate card is issued to each employee;
  2. Each card carries a monthly spending limit;
  3. For each purchase, the cardholder photographs the receipt and uploads it to the app;
  4. Spending records and receipts are available in real time for review by managers and use by finance teams.

An additional upside to this new breed of corporate card is that it is not tied to the company’s primary bank accounts. Even with high volumes of card purchases, the company’s resources are never at risk.

Recommended reading: Guide to Managing Company Spend in the Remote Workplace

Reimbursements

This might just be the perfect opportunity to revisit the manual claim-and-reimburse process.

Everyone in the organisation would agree that expense reports are a hassle. However, it is simply one of those processes you cannot quite do without. Expenses incurred on behalf of the business must be reimbursed. 

The good news is that there are ways to make this process less painful. Here is how automated expense reporting can help eliminate manual reporting, paper forms of receipts and spreadsheets, human error and unnecessary time.  

How it works:

  1. An employee pays for an authorised business expenses with personal funds;
  2. The employee logs the expenditure in the expense-tracker app, and attaches a photograph of the receipt;
  3. The employee’s manager is notified of the expense claim and decides either to approve or decline payment with a request for more information;
  4. Once the claim is approved, the finance team receives complete documentation of the expense and a record of the manager’s approval, giving them everything they need to process payment.

The best part is that the entire process occurs within the same unified platform. Communication is more efficient with all the right documentation collated and seamlessly distributed to all the relevant business functions.

Recommended reading: What Are Reimbursable Expenses and How to Manage Them Efficiently

About Volve

Volve’s corporate card comes with an automated expense management solution and reporting tool. This enables all functions of business to capture productivity growth potential from time-cost reductions, greater accuracy, increased visibility and control.

From sales to human resources to finance operations, management can look forward to shifting resources from repetitive manual practices to realizing strategic goals that create more value and deliver higher returns.

Experience how one single solution can improve accountability, accuracy and efficiency. Test drive Volve today free for 30 days.

Rachelle Lee
Growth Hacker
Prior to scaling next-generation financial services, Rachelle lived out of a suitcase across Asia working on a 3-year research plan gathering customer insights and synthesising consumer decision journeys for global creative agencies, engaging with businesses on growth marketing, brand storytelling and customer engagement models for future business growth. She still drinks too much coffee, doing meaningful work with trailblazers and innovators to bring greater literacy to spend management solutions.

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