[IMGCAP(1)]There’s no doubt we live in an anywhere, anytime, any device world with employees locally, nationally and across the globe. As part of this “distributed workforce,” the solutions businesses use to bring these employees together are as diverse as the workforce itself.

What does a distributed workforce have to do with accounting? Everything, yet accounting and operations teams are most often left out of this collaboration loop. An important component of any company’s back-office accounting process is the ability to integrate vital information that feeds into all accounting processes. As a result, it’s up to accounting professionals to help our clients and employers better manage and connect with this expanding distributed workforce. In order to do that, we must leverage today’s “new gen” technologies to build more collaborative solutions.

The U.S. telecommuting workforce is expected to expand to nearly 20 million employees by the year 2020. Already, we are seeing companies further expand their operating footprint regionally and internationally to reach the extended employee talent pools. By installing key technologies, distributed companies enable employees located anywhere to access all of the company’s resources and software, including applications, data and e-mail, without working within the confines of a physical company-operated facility.

Sounds good, but simply connecting these distributed employees to corporate data through software and systems will not make employees more productive or help them integrate to your corporate culture, policies or guidelines. Leveraging new tools is more than simply connecting our teams and departments to our systems and data; we need a more cohesive business execution.

Historically, accounting software was built around accounting department reporting needs, but many end users are not accounting team members trained in accounting practices. To meet everyone’s needs, software designers need to take a deeper look at developing applications to interface the accounting and operations teams into the other corporate departments of a company’s daily activities.

One of the key missions that accounting leaders need to focus on is finding better ways to connect accounting and operating teams into the remote workforce enablement solutions loop.

We are at a key juncture, and will soon experience a dynamic shift in the CFO suite of accounting tools and software. Existing accounting software tools and solutions have been a valued corporate resource, but with the recent transformation of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, including predictive analytics, machine learning and Big Data, we are experiencing an unprecedented impact on the daily lives of the accounting and operations teams. We can expect to see innovations in the next five years that are as revolutionary to our accounting applications as what our industry experienced when the spreadsheet arrived.

Many of todays’ new tools are bringing teams together to work on corporate projects, yet cross-functional support teams, such as accounting and operations, are still on the outside of this communication loop. However, these teams must deal with a substantial increase in their workload supporting the distributed employee workforce.

Added complexities for these teams include an increase in the number of data collection points, more software and technology touch points gathering, and collecting disbursed data. There will be more external transactions and costs where the accounting team has nearly zero control, such as costs for every employee’s individual cell phone and Internet. In addition, it can be a more difficult task to train and educate these employees who rarely, if ever, visit the accounting team’s office.

New collaborative tools today can bring the accounting teams in line with a company’s distributed workforce and change the way accounting communicates and interacts with all corporate employees.

The distributed workforce is not going away. Employees love the flexibility and human resource departments love the distributed workforce because it allows them to connect with, and identify, new talented team members who otherwise would not be available based on across-the-world office locations.

It’s up to us as accounting leaders to request that new software applications be built with collaborative features. This change will enable your company and client accounting and operations employees to substantially improve daily interactions with an ever-expanding distributed workforce.

Don Kalkofen, CPA, is CEO and co-founder of Simplifier, software designed to make accounting applications intelligent by delivering insight to travel spend management. For more information, contact Don at don.kalkofen@simplifiercorp.com.

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