The ongoing global pandemic has resulted in several disruptions across the country changing our personal as well as professional lives dramatically. Perhaps one of the most prominent changes for the workforce has been remote working. While restrictions are being lifted gradually, many companies are still not expected to ask their employees to return to the workplace for a few more months and once they do, it could be for select days in a week. In the new reality of work, we can expect a hybrid workforce – a combination of remote (work from anywhere) and non-remote employees.
Consequently, automation has shifted from being a ‘nice to have’ to be an essential component of running a business remote working is the reason why a significant proportion of companies are ramping up globally on automation technologies, such as conversational artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, optical character recognition, and low code automation, as these will at least double over the next two years, according to a Bain & Company survey of nearly 800 executives.
A recent study commissioned by SAP Concur revealed that 88 percent of the workforce in India prefer to have the flexibility of working from home. However, this presents a unique challenge for the companies to keep the employees motivated and engaged. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report, 80 percent of organizations mentioned employee well-being as an important priority for their success. As we know employee benefits and expenses policies form a major piece of this puzzle. Managing travel, expenses, and invoices is a process that affects virtually every employee across the entire company, and making this process simpler and more efficient can make a significant impact on employee experience with a direct impact on reducing employee turnover and improving net promoter score. Now, with employees working from home, there could be expenses that may not fall under the regular expense policy and so it has become crucial to revise our policies to accommodate such changes and communicate these changes in a real-time seamless manner.
If you have yet to create a remote employee expense policy or are overdue in updating an existing policy, here are five useful tips that can help you in preparing a hybrid workforce expense policy that is easy to understand and comply with.
Review your Existing Policies
Expense policies for remote employees will ultimately roll up to the overall standard policies that an organization has. Hence, reviewing the existing policy would be the correct place to start. There would be some commonalities as well as differences between the policies for remote and non-remote employees. Maintaining a certain level of consistency between both policies would make the employees feel they are being treated equally with no bias.
Conduct an overall Spend Analysis
In order to create a consistent remote expense policy, a clear picture and understanding of the entire company’s spend is required. This would help in assessing the different types of expenditures that are unique to remote employees. As remote working has already been here for a few months now, different team leaders should be consulted to get a better on-ground picture of the kind of expenses being incurred by the remote workforce. As per the SAP Concur study, around 70 percent of Indian employees expect their organization to subsidize or pay for a productive working environment at home, with broadband internet, IT peripherals, and mobile plan as the top expenses.
Encourage employees to spend sensibly by creating a policy that’s fair. Establish clear rules for employees on what can and can’t be claimed when working remotely since remote workers could be spread across several different geographies. Any changes or updates made to company rules should be clearly communicated. While the remote expense policy should establish clear rules, there should be enough scope of flexibility to adapt to situations – such as higher internet costs in some areas, unavailability of expense options or alternate expense areas. You could include a table of acceptable regional rates or use a system that flags out-of-policy spend to avoid unpleasant surprises later in the expense-claim process.
Automate Claim Process to reduce errors
According to the SAP Concur commissioned study, only 11 percent of Indian companies use a fully digital solution for business expense management. While working from home, it becomes tremendously difficult for employees to collect paper invoices and courier them to the office. By using digital solutions to automate the expense claim process, you can make the approval and reimbursement processes more efficient while ensuring significant time and cost savings and the risk of errors or fraudulent claims.
Intelligent and Mobile-First Apps
Remote employees will benefit greatly from seamlessly connecting their digital spend data, such as receipts, in near real-time between their mobile apps and your company’s expense management system. A truly connected spend management solution will also integrate with your other CRM, HR, and finance systems. As many as 45 percent of Indian employees want their company’s expense claim tool to allow submitting expenses anytime and from anywhere via mobile apps. You also need to keep in mind that your policy will require regular updates based on the ever-changing technology landscape.
A holistic expense policy would help in clearly listing down the allowable expenses including equipment and supplies needed for remote work, acceptable meals, travel and accommodation expenses. It would also be important to address the areas of ambiguity that could include items that serve both personal and business needs – like internet, mobile and electricity expenses. These could be handled by incorporating a system of pre-approval from the respective manager. While it may appear to be a daunting task to revise the expense policy, keeping these points in mind can provide a robust base to come up with guidelines that are simple to understand, yet comprehensive enough to ensure compliance and minimize any fraudulent activity.
In order to survive and thrive in the times to come, businesses require strong financial leadership and a resilient finance function that has visibility into its numbers and is equipped to offer meaningful insights and direction to the business. And as we have seen, a resilient finance function can be delivered through the adoption of truly automated, digital finance processes.
Businesses that take rapid action now position themselves more effectively to not only weather the storm of uncertainty but also emerge stronger on the other side. It means there’s never been a better time to take action than right now.