In the first of a new remote working series, we speak with a CFO on their experience integrating a whole business through remote acquisition, as well as a recent virtually onboarded employee.
With remote working set to continue as the pandemic transforms traditional ways of working life, a new series from ICAEW Insights aims to underline first-hand experiences of this shift – including the process of remote onboarding.
To find out how this is affecting chartered accountants and their businesses, ICAEW Insights has sourced exclusive interviews with employers and employees, HR specialists, recruitment experts, technology professionals and a mental health speaker.
The first interviewee to feature in this compilation is an anonymous London-based CFO, who shares their experience of welcoming a whole business through remote acquisition.
“The company we head up is quite acquisitive and recently bought quite a sizeable company,” they said. “Part of the challenge of buying multiple companies, especially big ones, is the fact that you need to integrate. You need to combine the workforce, technologies, systems, the ways of doing business and this should never be underestimated.”
Domestic M&A in Quarter 3 2020 was worth £4.4bn, recording a sizeable increase when compared with Quarter 2 2020 (£0.4bn), according to the latest ONS statistics, displaying that business Mergers and Acquisitions were continuing to rise even in a pandemic.
The CFO said they have made a lot of decisions remotely, with less information than they’d normally have, deciding who does what and who’s coming and going in the new combined organisation.
“This has been tricky,” they admit. “We got some things right and some things wrong. Part of the challenge of why we got some things wrong is because we haven’t been able to get to know people. We ended up putting some people in the wrong role which would have been ironed out in the office environment where you’re working together shoulder to shoulder, asking questions and giving examples.”
The CFO also believed that one of the biggest challenges in combining any organisation is understanding what the culture will look like after integration.
“Every time companies combine, the culture changes slightly and it’s about making sure the acquiring company doesn’t lose the acquired company’s culture. It has acquired this company because it believes it is a good cultural fit and that they will be better together. It’s hard to replicate culture on a remote basis,” CFO explained.
From onboarding a whole company to being onboarded, Thomas Mather joined his new employers, LNT Group, back in January 2021. Knowing he was going to be onboarded remotely, he met up with the key members in his new team a month before joining (before the latest lockdown commenced) to get some more background on his role.
This strategy is something Mather learned through experience: “In my previous role, I recruited people where they had to be onboarded remotely and I saw how difficult it was for them. I saw people struggling where they were expected to deliver information by a certain deadline, which they had no idea they had to do. This was because other team members assumed that they had been brought up to speed, which remotely you could assume, but in the office you would’ve known.”
During mid-February 2021, the proportion of remote workers in the UK remained unchanged at 37%. This was the highest proportion since June 2020, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Mather said people working from their homes should make a conscious effort to establish a good work-life balance, something he felt he hadn’t always achieved. He added that he felt his mental health would have been worse if he knew he was going to be constantly working from home for months on end.
“You find yourself sitting between the same four walls on your own for long periods of time and I probably got an unhealthy habit of working through until 10/11 some nights,” he explained.
Nick Elston, who speaks regularly on the lived experience of mental health, said: “The home and work boundaries have blurred, whether that be length of working hours or the fact that you couldn’t make that disconnect to switch off because you’re working and living in the same space.”
Elston works with professionals in varied industries to help improve their wellbeing. “The financial industry is one of the most high-pressure industries I work with and if you don’t factor in time for things you love every single day, you can only run for so long.”
From an employee perspective, Thomas Mather believes that remote working opens up a whole world of people to recruit for businesses that might have previously turned their backs on the idea. “In my old role, we hired people that definitely didn’t live within a daily commutable distance. They wouldn’t drive the 80 miles to work every day, but possibly a couple of times a month when needed.”
The CFO made a similar point that millennials, and even Generation Z, are already in that mindset of working, whereas for people in their 40s, 50s or 60s, the concept of work is about being in a specific physical location.
The CFO concluded: “For millennials or Gen Z, work can be anywhere you want it to be as long as you can access it electronically. There will undoubtedly be a cultural shift towards acceptance to working remotely.”
In chapter two of this series, ICAEW will explore positives and negatives of remote working from the HR perspective, speaking with two specialists in this field.