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Can you be a work at home CFO - successfully?

Listening to an HBR podcast (2/16) about an executive dealing with both a promotion and a pregnacy, the coversation morphed to a broad discussion of flex time/work from home practices. There seem to be a variety of solutions in the workplace for flex time and now a growing interest from a sustainability perspective. I wondered if there were any real life exapmles of CFO's working full time for a company but not always at the company and how things are worked out.   

Answers

Bryan Frey
Title: VP Finance/Corp Controller
Company:
(VP Finance/Corp Controller, ) |

I have seen this done, but only with part-time CFOs at small companies. Part of what i love about being a CFO, and something I have come to see as critical in building the relationships necessary to make the position succeed, is building the deep trust that comes from working those long hours side-by-side. Call me old fashioned, but when people see the CFO putting in the hours and getting the work done (note the "and" - it's certainly not just about putting in hours) then you are on their side. Can that be done remotely? Well, never say never, but I bet it would be one heck of a lot harder to do. And the old "keeping your finger on the pulse" of things will certainly be harder.

So count me as a skeptic.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

The "one office, one team" is not always the situation, especially in large organizations where the CFO and their team are in separate locations - so there are examples of remote CFOs in many companies.

I've lived through both effective and ineffective arrangements, so have some firsthand experience. Here are my top four factors for what I believe makes it effective for the CFO to be remote:

Connection to the CEO: There has be a solid relationship, since if the CFO is not in the office with the CEO everyday, and a cadence of meetings/discussions to stay in close contact on day-to-day and strategic issues. This is really the most important item, because if the CEO starts to seek counsel elsewhere, then it's game over.

Good team: One of my former colleagues is the perfect example of what you need - smart, confident (don't underestimate this element, since they may need to chat with CEO if you're not around), and excellent at communication (written and oral). If you have members of your team who need loads of attention, then you need to adjust your level of remote accordingly.

Your relationship with team - still must be day-to-day: You have to act like you are in the office everyday. If the team ever feels like your a 'drop-in' CFO, then your support will erode. Being present during busy periods is important, so everyone feels there is a shared sense of the workload. Realistically, you only spend a few minutes on a 1-on-1 basis may be only a few minutes, but to overcome the 'expectation' of being in the office, you should have a dedicated call/face-to-face time each week.

Your clarity on objectives - This starts with your relationship with the CEO, so you know what's going on. Then you have to be crystal clear on what needs to be done for each member of the team.

Bryan is spot on with his observations that is difficult to replicate the on-site 'pulse' in a remote setting. Also, you have to judge the team's effectiveness, if it declines - then time to get into the office.

Hope this helps.

Mark

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Is it possible to be remote, yes. As communication technology advances and tools become more pervasive, the traditional office blurs, i.e. geography and time zone. Organizations are more-and-more giving up traditional brick and mortar, in exchange for the online office. High speed internet is now available in many places.

But the decision should not be an either or proposition. There will be times when it is better to be in the office vs. remote. If I am preparing a board presentation, I will be on site; if I am participating in a company meeting that connects sites all over the country, I will take the call from home.

For more information, please feel free to look at my blog (www.cfotips.com). I address this issue specifically - The Value Embedded in Tele-Commuting.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I'd say you can be a CFO remotely, but to be a truly efficient CFO you must have face-to-face, in person communication (today). But, this doesn't need to be every day, every week or even every month; but it needs to be.

Frequency, with whom, when, where are all company specific, but as companies become more global, the in-your-face meetings will start to become in-your-"skype"- face, since it will become prohibitive in terms of both time and money (tomorrow).

So in the final analysis, the role of the CXO is changing and as it does, the traditional concepts will evolve.

Anonymous
(Treasurer) |

I'm Treasurer/Controller of a privately held company in the midwest ($10 million sales) and I relocated to Florida several years ago. The owners asked me to continue my employment and work remotely after my move. Our experience has been very good during this period. I go back to the "home office" three times a year for stays of from three days to one week (the longer visit is to work with our outside auditors). I reduced my "office hours" to 30 per week with a similar reduction in salary. I log into our servers every day and use e-mail and phone to communicate with my co-workers and company owners. I have a very good group in the accounting department and they are excellent at performing their duties. Our month end closings are done in a timely manner and I am able to send everything to printers in the corporate office. The arrangement is good for both parties. I understand the necessity of being able to stay focused and concentrate on the task at hand. I do not have small children in the house so there are minimal distractions for me. This arrangement also gives me the opportunity to work extra hours at any time of the day or night without having to commute anywhere. The secret to success in working remotely is to have a good support team at the home office, the ability to stay focused and to have the trust of the company owners.

Topic Expert
Joan Varrone
Title: CFO
Company: Cloud Cruiser
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Cloud Cruiser) |

Today the role of the CFO is more strategic and forward looking and to be effective you need to be in partnership with the CEO and the management team. Being on site reinforces this and you will be sought out on issues that arise. You certainly don't need to be there every day but a complete remote set up will not promote your role as a valued business advisor.

Topic Expert
Randy Miller
Title: Partner
Company: CFO Edge
(Partner, CFO Edge) |

The responses so far bring out an interesting dichotomy in the CFO role. Small companies may only be able to afford a part-time CFO, so effectively there is a fair amount of time where the CFO is absent. And in companies over $100 million, the CFO is often out of the office meeting with key customers, suppliers, or investors; so again there is an absence factor. The companies that really seem to operate with a CFO who is in the office full-time are those where the CFO is more tactical than strategic in nature, or where the infrastructure is not built out properly to allow the CFO to be remote. Companies in this group tend to be in more of a maintenance mode, then expansion; often either in mature product lines, or with ownership that is content with a certain niche.

In my experience as a CFO, I have found that if the company is in a growth mode, you have to be able to be remote part-time. You are the partner of the CEO and one of the key faces of the company, so your role is as much external as internal; and consequently you often find yourself working remotely in order to satisfy both roles.

Robert Sheidler
Title: Consultant
Company: Self
LinkedIn Profile
(Consultant, Self) |

I think it would be an unusual situation. I can imagine a situation where a day or two per week working from home might work, but you really need to spend considerable time with the rest of the executive management team, as well as with the managers who report to you -- and with the middle managers in other functional areas.

As is, CFOs are too often perceived (often correctly) as staying in their "ivory towers" for too much of the time.

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