Remote CFOs – Is Success Really Possible?

Remote CFOs – Is Success Really Possible? 
It’s All a Matter of Trust 

Mindy Barker | Barker Associates

More people are adjusting to the idea that our “new normal” includes remote work in some capacity. And this realization brings along new considerations, including which positions are better suited for remote work and the opportunity to attract additional top talent in various geographical areas. But when you’re talking about a leadership role, there are a number of other factors to consider, especially when that role is based in accountability and highly sensitive, confidential information, like a CFO. As such, many wonder if it is possible for a CFO to have success remotely. 

As we all know, the CFO holds the top financial position of an organization. Some focus more on financial planning and strategies, while others focus more on budgeting, accounting, reporting, and risk management. In either case, the CFO ensures that the organization’s numbers fairly reflect its performance. Also, in either case, the foundation of the CFO role is relationships, which are generally viewed as stronger when individuals are physically together. 

The key to working remotely is developing solid relationships with your direct reports. You need them to feel comfortable reaching out to you, as they would if you were in the same office.  Previously, when we all worked together, you could see fear and anxiety in someone’s face and body language when they were nervous about something. It was palpable because, in large part, it was right in front of us. Now, we no longer have that ability, as it is far easier to hide nervous tendencies when you are in front of a computer camera. As the CFO, it is your responsibility to build trust in any situation, including when you are not physically present.  

Remote CFO … In the Beginning 

If this is a new role and you are just coming into an organization, spending one-on-one time with each team member is crucial in developing a strong foundation. If you do not live in the same area, that will essentially mean more travel in the early stages, but it will pay dividends in the long run. Simply, there is no better way to establish trust in a relationship than being face-to-face, sharing a cup of coffee (or your beverage of choice), and empathetically listening to the other person with whom you work.  

In these meetings, learn their strengths and weaknesses, their aspirations, and their fears. Further, be abundantly clear about how and when you will be available when you are working remotely, as well as your expectations. Setting boundaries and clearly communicating them from the beginning will save you headaches down the road. 

Building Trust as a Remote CFO 

Continuing to incorporate relationship-building and trust as you perform your day-to-day responsibilities is key. Schedule weekly one-on-ones with your team and other stakeholders, and keep that time sacred. These meetings should be non-negotiable for anyone, including the CEO, to continue to build trust. One tip on virtual meetings is insisting on the use of cameras, despite everyone’s fatigue of them. Seeing the person with whom you are working, even though a camera, is better than not seeing them at all. Finally, when your team members reach out to you when you are not available, make sure you respond to them as soon as possible. 

Another tip with virtual meetings is to be cognizant of differences in time zones. More than ever, you could be working with team members and clients across the globe. It is not always easy to accommodate others due to their various locations, but in your position as CFO, and to continue to garner trust, you must be flexible. If that means getting on a call at 5:00 am or 10:00 pm, that’s what you do. However, be nimble only where it counts. If other stakeholders or team members are reaching out to you off-hours (and time zone is a non-issue) regarding ordinary work activity, then put a stop to it immediately. Determine how to proactively communicate to them to keep it from happening again.  

As always, boundaries are a key piece of trust, and they are never more important than with remote work when we are seemingly available at all times.  Of course, if there is an emergency, all bets are off. In your position, you must answer that call and help find a solution. But be aware of the distinction between the two scenarios. 

Your team members are not the only ones with whom you need to build trust. To build trust with other C Suite members, take time to understand their issues and challenges.  For example, if you find out that an SVP is spending hours a month on a manual task that the accounting or IT department could easily automate, offer the solution, and help make their lives easier. These instances become huge wins all around, as you build stronger relationships within the organization.  

More than ever, after a global pandemic and resulting economic crisis, organizations understand that a CFO is an investment and not an expense. And to have the best fit, that may mean hiring someone as a remote CFO. While this will require a different type of critical thinking and creativity in addition to the ordinary technical knowledge and risk mitigation skills of CFOs, many will find it more challenging and fulfilling. Their success is not only possible, but likely when trust is established from the beginning. 

Barker Associates provides strategic guidance and outsourced CFO services to companies of all sizes. We can provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100. 

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