Top Tips To Boost Accounting Collaboration
Collaboration is crucial in the accounting industry. Beyond sharing the burden of the month-end close and audit processes, collaboration enables accountants to explore ideas, communicate efficiently, and problem-solve in an increasingly complex financial landscape. In addition to improved financial outcomes for companies, effective collaboration solutions also help accountants deal with the unique pressures of their role, and boost morale during challenging periods.
Why Accounting Collaboration is Crucial for Business Success
Where accounting processes were once manual, requiring paper documents to be filled in by hand, they have now become almost entirely digital, benefitting from automated speed and efficiency, and relying on software and online connectivity. The digital era has also altered professional expectations around how accountants work together – from performing basic tasks such as bookkeeping, to navigating regulatory requirements and meeting critical deadlines. In this context, digital accounting collaboration facilitates real-time remote work, improves customer services, and enhances coordination with third parties, including auditors.
Beyond boosting procedural speed and efficiency across workflows, reducing stress on employees, and increasing profitability, collaborative accounting technology also helps companies keep pace with competitors. Without access to effective collaborative tools, companies would find their work stymied by inflexibility – and quickly see knock-on effects in other aspects of their business, as critical processes are held up by accounting delays.
Top Tips to Boost Your Accounting Collaboration
While the importance of account collaboration is clear, creating an effective culture of collaboration amongst your accounting teams is easier said than done. More than just a question of implementing the right technology solution, building successful collaboration requires managing logistical challenges, promoting consistency, and fostering the right kind of work dynamic.
To help you optimise your team’s potential, let’s explore our top accounting collaboration tips.
Move to the Cloud
Most accounting teams facilitate remote work of some form (sometimes across borders or time zones) which requires employees to use communication tools to work on projects from home. It’s likely that accountants will also need to communicate and work with third parties, including external auditors, often in time-sensitive situations. Achieving effective levels of remote collaboration in these situations is often challenging since numerous obstacles, including technology limitations, inhibit smooth communication.
Cloud based collaboration software represents a huge advantage for accounting teams. In addition to video conferencing software that facilitates face-to-face interaction, cloud platforms offer functionality and versatility, enabling remote team-members to work on documents together, in real time, exchanging ideas, making revisions, and providing feedback quickly and efficiently. Cloud platforms also offer security and stability, and can even accommodate external users for tasks (such as audits) where sensitive data needs to be shared.
Emerging technology innovations can change the way organisations operate in surprising and exciting ways. By integrating a suite of innovative technology tools, you’ll help your business distinguish itself from competitors, and create opportunities for employees to work at the cutting edge of the industry. That notion is particularly true for accounting roles, where automated solutions are revolutionising critical processes, enabling accountants to accomplish more in collaborative contexts, and reducing the number of tedious manual tasks they must also complete.
In addition to automated speed and accuracy, technology opens up opportunities for accountants to expand their professional skills. Over the long term, this may serve to help companies attract new talent, with candidates excited at the prospect of career development in a company that values both collaborative work, and the experiences of its employees.
Not all collaboration technology solutions are created equal, so it’s worth taking the time to determine which tools will serve your business best. On the modern financial landscape, automation, speed, accuracy and flexibility should be priorities, which means implementing innovative online tools to facilitate collaboration, but also potentially dispensing with older systems. Email, for example, is a highly problematic medium for collaborative efforts, both internally and with third parties. Emails require time to compose and respond to, and may end up obscuring crucial information in extensive chains – which, in turn, can lead to siloing and missed deadlines.
Given the need for agility, it’s worth integrating real time accounting collaboration tools that facilitate a variety of functionalities, such as instant messaging, video conferencing, and the simultaneous editing of documents. Real time collaboration platforms also log changes and updates, so that the evolving status of a given document can be understood immediately by all users.
Centralise Communication and Storage
One of the most challenging aspects of finance and accounting processes is the siloing of information across systems and departments. Siloing leads to multiple versions of documents, undermines sources of truth, and ultimately results in a wider fracturing of knowledge that can acutely slow down collaborative progress. Even worse, where knowledge and data is spread or duplicated across silos, accounting team members working in collaboration may have to pause or walk-back progress on current projects and spend time and resources on reconciling flawed work.
A single centralised platform for communication and data storage offers an immediate solution to siloing problems, while providing additional benefits for collaboration. Cloud-based systems, in particular, make centralisation easy by enabling project owners to move data to a centralised space quickly and efficiently, and give all stakeholders immediate access. Centralised platforms represent a shared space in which accountants can not only find and reference crucial documents and information, but work together in real time, on a single, true version of a project.
While technology can streamline team collaboration, the quality of resulting work will only be as good as the ability of individuals to open up and communicate. The best way to help your team members become comfortable communicating and interacting with each other is by fostering a culture of openness. This could take the form of meet-ups or check-ins (in-person or via video conference) which may not even be work-focused but encourage colleagues to chat and share thoughts.
Meet-ups may involve problem-solving sessions, heads-ups on incoming tasks, or even provide a forum for team leaders to show appreciation for recent work. The more comfortable team members feel interacting with each other, the more likely they are to derive value from their professional connections, and deliver results for your company.
Document and Strategise
Face-to-face, real-time sessions may represent the most efficient form of collaborative work but it’s not always going to be possible to deliver that kind of experience for team members. To ensure you keep collaborative efforts moving when employees aren’t able to be together, you should ensure that all work is documented effectively so that progress is shared and understood, and stakeholders can be brought up to speed as quickly as possible.
Similarly, it’s worth implementing a documentation strategy so that employees can access the relevant data, read and understand updates, and add their own comments. Again, cloud platforms offer advantages for collaborative documentation but you’ll need to ensure that everyone is familiar with the functionalities of the system and how to log changes.
Collaborative work can quickly become complicated, especially when multiple team members are involved in a single project. In these contexts, it’s vital that the ownership of tasks and subtasks is clear and that an individual is assigned to complete them. Any confusion over ownership, especially for simple tasks can quickly lead to delays (and even disputes), and waste time that could be better spent progressing more important work.
Aim to set out the ultimate ownership of a project clearly, and to keep the hierarchy of ownership as simple as possible. Ideally, each project should have a single owner that task-assignees can turn to with queries and feedback. The ultimate owner of a project should also be responsible for workflow management, ensuring that task assignees understand and meet their work deadlines.
Work with Clients and Vendors
Accounting teams frequently work with clients, vendors and other third parties which can complicate the collaboration process, especially if work has to take place across different software platforms. To address the potential obstacles of collaborating with external parties, it’s important to be transparent from the start of the business relationship, setting out the way you work, how you will communicate or keep them in the loop, and how you expect them to integrate with your set-up.
Important factors to consider when communicating with clients include the interoperability of accounting software, the size of files used in collaborative projects, how those files will be stored and shared, and how information will be made available for financial reporting purposes. Security should be a paramount concern when dealing with third parties: you’ll need to verify that any data you pass to third parties has the level of protection required by your jurisdiction.
Best Practices for Successful Accounting Collaboration
When you’re working to improve accounting collaboration, your first priority should be to review your accounting framework and find the points at which employees are struggling to work together effectively. Accountants should be central to the process since they’ll bring a firsthand perspective on collaboration pain points but also be able to identify opportunities to boost performance.
Following your review, it’s critical that you support collaboration initiatives with the relevant technology solutions. While there are collaborative tools for almost every aspect of the accounting process, there’s no magic bullet: you’ll need to consider your business needs, and resources to determine how you adjust your infrastructure or consider outsourcing, if that makes more sense. With the benefit of cloud technology, you’ll have plenty of integration options, including accounts payable, payroll, auditing and reporting, and close management.