Coronavirus is a Wake-Up Call for Remote Accounts Payable Capabilities

Coronavirus is a Wake-Up Call for Remote Accounts Payable Capabilities

Bring your lunch pail to work

Phrases like this have been bandied about corporate offices for years. They’re meant to symbolize a hard-working, blue-collar approach to work, i.e., the person is so busy working they had no time to go out for lunch. 

Nothing wrong with that, but with the rise of remote work, perhaps it’s time to update that idiom with something else… let’s come back to that later.

In more pressing news, the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic is both tragic and serious—we make no attempt to make light of the situation or use it to our advantage in a superficial way. 

From a corporate perspective, however, this unexpected emergency has demonstrated that many businesses are woefully unprepared to deal with the economic implications of keeping their business running if their employees can’t travel into the office to work. 

This is not a shock post. 

A shock post would encourage you to stockpile hand sanitizer in the office, cash out your 401k, and build a bomb shelter. 

Rather, this post is intended to be a wake-up call for the possibilities for remote work in the modern workforce. Do you have the tools in place to keep your business moving forward—including the ability to pay your invoices—in the event of a prolonged emergency?    

Consider taking a look at current AP workflows, staff responsibilities, and departmental hierarchy and make an informed decision to move some of that to the cloud, where the work can be completed from anywhere with Internet connection. 

In case you’re not up to date on the latest trends of the AP industry, let’s bring you up to speed:

Accounts payable automation is enabling remote AP teams and their internal constituents to effectively carry out their invoice processing responsibilities without having to be physically present in an office. 

In this post, we’ll discuss the benefits of remote work, how to assess your current environment for remote work viability, and how AP automation allows companies to seamlessly deliver their payables via a distributed workforce. 

Let’s get started. 

Benefits of Remote Work

As we mentioned, remote work in the U.S. is on the rise. 

In the last 10 years, the practice of working remotely has grown 91%. In 2015, it’s reported that 3.9 million U.S. workers were working outside the office, and it’s up to 4.7 million, which represents 3.4% of the population (Flexjobs). 

Remote work

Why’s that? 

Here’s a quick look at some of the various benefits associated with a distributed workforce. 

Limiting the spread of infectious diseases

If we’ve learned anything about the incessant news coverage about COVID-19, there are two things that stand out: 

  1. Areas of community congregation can increase the spread of viruses.
  2. Practicing social distancing can make a massive impact to limit community spread, and if you have the tools available to work from home, you should do so.  

Sporting events, conferences, church gatherings, school sessions, and of course, office environments can all contribute to the spread of viruses. 

The most direct way to break the chain of virus transmission is to stop interacting with people and the environments where people gather. 

We’re not medical experts by any means, but we’re going out on a limb here to explain that a fully distributed workforce is much less likely to contribute to the spread of infectious diseases, at least while working. 

Remote work increases productivity

Arguably the biggest fear many businesses have with embracing a remote work policy is productivity—if you can’t physically see your staff, how can you manage their productivity? 

As it turns out, this fear has zero basis in reality. 

In fact, according to research from IWG, “85% of businesses confirm that productivity has increased in their business because of greater flexibility.” 

There are plenty of tools and processes to help teams stay connected in real time, from Slack and Stride to Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts—take your pick. Each tool allows employees to set statuses that mimic their real-world availability such as away, in a meeting, do not disturb, etc. 


Employees want some flexibility in hours and location

Not exactly groundbreaking news here, but workers would absolutely love a bit of wiggle room in their ‘9-5’ to carry out other tasks and errands essential to their way of living—picking up/dropping off the kids from school, taking care of family, or managing other time or location-sensitive obligations. 

And this desire is growing. 

80% of U.S. workers say they would turn down a job that didn’t offer the option for remote working, and in a separate study, more than 75% cited remote work as the most effective way (other than salary) to retain staff. In a competitive hiring landscape, the benefits of offering this perk far outweigh the drawbacks. 

Remote work shifts the mindset from ‘there’ to ‘done’ 

As a manager of people and projects, which would you rather have? 

  • Employees battingly through interruptions from unscheduled social visits to booked conference rooms causing people to take calls in the open (creating further distraction), or even employees just mailing it in while playing solitaire.    
  • Your project completed on time and on budget. 

This one is pretty obvious, so let’s move onto the next question: 

Is your AP department ready for remote work?  

How to assess your current AP workflows and procedures

Accounts payable workflow map

If you’re flirting with the idea of taking your workplace fully or partially remote, and  perhaps as a failsafe for pandemics like the Coronavirus or natural disasters, the first thing you’ll need to do is map out your current workflow in its entirety. 

This way, you can find out which processes are digital and which are analog.

How to map your accounts payable workflow in order: 

  1. How does an invoice arrive at your office (snail mail, email, systematized)?
  2. How is the data from the invoice captured? 
  3. How is that data coded? 
  4. How does an invoice get sent for approval? 
  5. How does an invoice get verified? 
  6. How does an invoice get approved? 
  7. How does an invoice receive final authorization? 
  8. How does an invoice get sent to your payment system? 

Your process might be different, but you get the idea. 

The first step is to label each step in the process as ‘digital’ or ‘analog.’ 

If there are any analog steps in your workflows—such as scanning paper invoices—you’ll need to address those first. 

Next, you’ll want to map out who is involved with each step. Of course, this could vary widely in terms of the approval process, so feel free to use placeholders instead of names, especially if they’re outside the AP department. Find out how these people communicate and transfer documents back and forth. 

Lastly, review your company policy for verification—what types of documents (such as purchase orders) are required to verify and match your invoices against. 

By now, you should have a pretty good sense of how data and documents are flowing through the company. Likely, you’ve already spotted some areas that could be streamlined. 

Here’s where it gets fun: 

If you’ve been dreaming of a digital, cloud-based, remotely run, and controlled AP department, we have a few tips on how you can use the Stampli AP automation platform to bring those dreams to life, today.  

Never Miss a Beat with AP Automation from Stampli

Automated AP solution

You can’t create a remote work policy, much less build a remote AP department, if you don’t empower your team with the tools they need to successfully complete their tasks without being physically present in the office.

Here are a few standout features that can help AP leaders enable remote working options for their team members. 

Fast Implementation

Stampli works with your existing accounting systems and invoice processes, so you can still use all those processes you mapped, only now they’ll be digitized and automated! Stampli can fill in the areas you need the most help with digitizing and can easily adapt to any future changes.

Best of all, Stampli doesn’t require a lengthy implementation or extensive training. In fact, we can get you up and running in as little as one day. As you grow, your new AP automation scales with you so you can keep invoice processes in place.

Collaboration Hub

Once an invoice arrives in Stampli, there is no need to pass paper back and forth among staff members. The Stampli AP automation platform is a central repository that allows you to send, track, view invoice communications and activities directly on top of the invoice. 

No more lost or misplaced invoices sitting in a desk drawer or email spam filter somewhere. And because the platform is hosted in the cloud, employees can access the system from anywhere they have an Internet connection. 

User Delegation 

The most important aspect of a remote team is, bar none, accountability. If tasks aren’t getting completed on time, a sternly worded email just doesn’t have the same effect that an in-person performance review does…

With Stampli, however, accountability is built into the system via our user delegation feature. System admins can change the Approver if someone is out-of-pocket (on vacation, out sick, stuck on a cruise ship, quarantined on a naval base, etc.). This allows for flexibility and it’s super easy to change rules and permissions in the future, as opposed to being locked into rigid workflows that are configured only once during software implementation. 

This helps minimize processing delays.

Full Visibility into the AP Status

Does your organization have a regular meeting between the CFO and controller, or a similar role? Many businesses do have this type of meeting, and the reason for it is for the CFO to understand how payables fit into the real-time financial position of the organization. 

But if the only reason for the meeting is to deliver the information via AP report, why not just collaborate with an online dashboard and give yourself back that hour of your day? With Stampli, you can gain 365º visibility into invoice status and metrics using advanced search, reports, and management dashboards.

Smart AP Processing

Perhaps the most impactful way to get more work done remotely is to use an AP invoice management system that is smarter than the rest. 

Our AI, Billy the Bot, is a prime example of a highly efficient remote worker—Billy’s not even a human, of course, but rather an AP helper equipped with machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

So while Billy may not be a real person, the contributions to your AP processes certainly are. Here are a few examples of what Billy can do: 

  • Automate invoice capture and coding
  • Learn to catch errors and recognize inconsistencies
  • Flag potential errors and alert the appropriate team member
  • Send reminders for upcoming deadlines

In terms of reporting, there’s no need to ‘get ready’ if you stay ready! 

What do you think—are you prepared to enable your AP team to work remotely? 

Again, not to make light of the Coronavirus pandemic, but this emergency is a leading example of how businesses need to be prepared for extreme situations. With the right tools and systems in place, you’re in a much better position to handle them without any interruption of service. 

And apart from emergency situations, you’ll also be in a position to offer a great perk to your employees, transition from a ‘seat-warmer’ mentality to a project mindset, and perhaps even save some money on office space. 

If you’re ready to talk about how AP automation can help enable your AP team to work remotely, please contact us

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