Navigating labor volatility for a more productive workforce

Simon J. LittleKevin StewartMarianne Wade
1/3/2023
Navigating labor volatility for a more productive workforce

Originally featured on Forbes.com for Crowe BrandVoice

With the uncertainties in the labor market – as well as the broader economy – companies need to pursue multiple avenues to better manage workflows. Improving systems and processes, automating redundant tasks, and finding ways to fill short-term resource gaps are all investments that can support a productive workforce and create stability in an erratic economy.

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Supporting a productive workforce is critical

In 2022, labor volatility is a reality. A roaring start, fraught with worker shortages and fears of attrition, gave way to high-profile layoffs by the year’s end. With the labor market pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, employee disengagement became apparent. In combination with new norms related to remote work, the idea of disengaged workers created a cultural dialogue about workplace expectations and employee satisfaction. Many companies grappled with employees who performed their duties but no longer felt pressure to go above and beyond.

In accounting departments, where periods of long days during activities such as acquisitions and transactions are part of the job description, relying on overtasked workers can lead to mistakes and omissions with significant consequences for the company.

It's impossible to say what the future will hold, but it is in every company’s best interest to explore efficiencies to reduce burnout. As 2023 begins, companies have an opportunity to reevaluate their capacity and to evaluate people, processes, and systems at a higher level. Are the right people in the right seats? Are the right systems in place, and are they being used optimally? If processes are taking too long or production is suffering, are manual processes slowing things down?

Common-sense solutions can simplify, standardize, and automate

When evaluating systems and processes, leaders should aim to simplify, standardize, and automate as much as possible. Often, common-sense solutions create significant impact with ease of implementation when it comes to day-to-day tasks.

For example, are there manual systems and processes in place where training, or perhaps technology, could lead to significant improvement? What is the state of documentation of systems and processes? If a critical team member leaves abruptly, will that person’s successor be able to quickly jump in and perform critical tasks as needed? Before searching for solutions, executives need to understand where the problems lie.

Thinking about process, executives can evaluate system or manual dependencies. At which point is the process stalled due to waiting for inputs? Take the example of a company trying to reduce its close process by three to five days. Are there specific components that don’t have to wait until month end to start, such as a search for unrecorded liabilities? Or perhaps entries that require 10 to 12 hours of analysis could be done in the middle of the month instead of the end of the month in order to use the time during close to analyze financial information rather than perform tasks. Several pieces of the reconciliation process might be able to be completed in advance, saving time during the close.

Technology is important – but in a supporting role

Automation has an important role to play today in improving business processes and freeing up knowledge workers to perform more value-added tasks. As just one example, robotic process automation (RPA) software can perform rules-based processes that would otherwise be handled by humans. With RPA, some processes can be completed faster and with fewer errors, liberating employees from mundane and time-consuming work.

However, technology is just one piece of the puzzle, and a hard truth is that the right technology used in the wrong way can create more problems than it solves. In many cases, companies can accomplish their goals by making better use of technology already in place rather than exploring new technology solutions. Organizations that understand their capacity and are clear on what they are trying to achieve can make better use of technology than those relying on technology to solve their problems.

An impartial third party can help

It can be difficult for companies to impartially assess the soundness of their own systems and processes. In that case, an outside perspective can be helpful in identifying the types of simple changes that can have a significant impact on efficiency and productivity. A third party might be a good investment to conduct such an evaluation.

Outside support also can be helpful to augment staff for periodic overflow capacity or to complete repetitive tasks within accounting and financial reporting that can be self-contained. Rather than asking internal teams to put in 18-hour days for a couple of months, a third-party can be brought in to enable quick adjustments up or down in staffing. In this way, companies can navigate the peaks and valleys of demand without worrying about hiring or attrition.

A productive workforce is a win for everyone

As became apparent early in 2022, companies often equate more revenue with the need for more people, and, for that reason, companies can be too quick to hire new staff when something isn’t working internally. In reality, though, many companies can drive increases in productivity by more effectively using existing systems and people that are already in place.

After evaluating systems, processes, and technology, executives might find that excess capacity actually exists within the existing staff. If some of the more mundane parts of a process can be automated, not only can companies gain efficiencies, but internal staff can be freed up to perform more rewarding and dynamic tasks – a win for workers and companies alike.

Related articles: Crowe accounting advisory series presented with Forbes

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Simon Little
Simon J. Little
Partner, Accounting Advisory
Kevin Stewart
Kevin Stewart
Partner, Accounting Advisory
Marianne Wade
Marianne Wade
Accounting Advisory