Director of Brand & Creative Marketing at Happeo, the social intranet that leaders use to lead happier employees.
Work as we know it has changed, or, at least, we know that work as we know it can be changed. The office hiatus is threatening to come to an end. For many, it already has. There is a growing disconnect as we navigate these choppy waters and ponder the question: To hybrid or not to hybrid?
A vast majority of employees want the traditional 9 to 5 dead. A 10,000 employee-strong survey found that 76% of employees want flexibility in where they work, while 93% want flexibility in when they work. While many companies are keen to continue remote and hybrid working practices, there are many more that are wiping the dust off of the office furniture and expecting bums in seats Monday through Friday. There is, very simply, an executive-employee disconnect.
When it comes to hybrid working, there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach and trying to define one often makes the phrase meaningless. What’s worse is that it can cause great damage to company culture—an issue not to be taken lightly as unhealthy culture has been the demise of some major household names. It is this fear that has driven many C-suite executives to get teams back into the office quickly because, after all, we are social beings, right? The problem with this approach is it curtails flexibility.
The desire for more flexibility is hardly new. We’ve been calling for freedom and agility for years now; the “new normal” isn’t new, it’s just now possible. Flexibility isn’t just a craving anymore, it’s a demand. The Great Resignation is a testament to this. Many argue for a top-down cultural model, where the CEO leads by example to create a purpose-driven culture where employees are empowered through ownership of their tasks. That’s a great start, but for many organizations, it’s not enough.
It needs to go beyond the CEO. The chief financial officer or financial director is the often overlooked and unsung cultural leader. They can influence company culture from the heart of operations—and not just because they hold the purse strings. In our contemporary knowledge-based economy, splitting people and finance is an archaic leadership strategy. The two are very much entwined. So much so that the majority of small and midsize businesses place their CFOs as leaders of their HR, people and culture teams as well as their office, remote and employee experience management teams. In other words, it is the CFO who can steer culture.
As a startup veteran and ex-Sony financial manager, Robert Hadfield confirmed this on Payhawk’s podcast The Untold Stories of Change when he explained that a crucial element of his work is “creating the relationships with the heads of other teams so that you can create the right culture around company policies.” Financial managers are in a crucial position to create a synergy within a company, as they often have the best resources to advise on what is feasible and what’s not. A good CFO is a cultural tool that can communicate with the teams on the ground about what they need, and why.
In a follow-up episode, Ian Johnson, managing director of Marqueta Europe, echoed the sentiment, explaining how finance departments are solution-driven: “[Finance managers] can find solutions in companies that have really thought clearly about how to fix the problems and challenges they face.” Contrary to popular belief, CFOs aren’t the blockers of change; they’re, in fact, the linchpin. They have an aerial view of the daily operations, the future strategies as well as the company’s budget. Through heady internal communications, a financial leader can guide teams based on principles, trends and cash flows—insights unavailable to any other department.
The CFO is also responsible for ensuring that the company’s finances are in order. Aside from the obvious, keeping the checks and balances appeases internal and external stakeholders. If the operations are running smoothly, there’s less inclination to block requests from above. The CFO, then, can ensure things get done. They’re also the ones that manage the financial day-to-day operations, like implementing a fintech solution that is as flexible and dynamic as the company needs. Culture and finance are two sides of the same coin.
At this current juncture where we’re both striving to preserve company culture and grappling with the question of whether or not to go hybrid, I believe we’re most likely to find the answer in our financial departments. CFOs can bring a cost analysis to the table, but they can also be at the forefront of the conversation for rolling out systems that work for each department. They can be the heroes of change and the lodestar of culture.