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Shared Services Remote Workforce – Curse or Cure?


The aggressive move to a remote workforce model in early 2020 was dramatic and sudden, caused by a global pandemic that required immediate and, in some cases, risky and extreme actions. This was a situation where everyone had to leap off of a burning platform to survive – there was no other choice.

What have we learned? How did companies Shared Services organizations respond to the required changes in People, Processes, and Technology while maintaining a focus on business controls, cost containment, and customer satisfaction?  When getting a critical mass of resources at large Shared Services centers with hundreds or thousands of people is the norm, can we maintain that design as a strength, or are smaller, more dispersed operations now a new requirement?

Remarkably, during the COVID pandemic, companies have generally reported a high degree of success with their work-from-home models and their ability to continue serving customers. Is remote working now going to become the new normal?

Company Experience

Recently Peeriosity member companies attended a panel discussion of their peers to better understand and discuss the approaches members have taken to this issue, including lessons learned.  Peeriosity members can access a recording of the PeercastTM at any time in the member’s area of the Peeriosity website.

Here are some of the questions we discussed during the panel discussion:

Talent Management

  1. Does your Shared Services organization have the right talent to enable WFH?
  2. Are there changes to your performance review and development process that were needed?
  3. How do multiple supervisors/managers get visibility to performance to support rankings?
  4. How will WFH change your approach to recruiting?  Do the challenges vary based on individual differences with people, or is it by job level?

Process Design and Technology

  1. Are there specific process areas that are more difficult to support with remote workers, and how do you overcome the difficulties?
  2. What factors inhibit working from home?
  3. What technologies are most effective for collaboration?  Zoom, Google Meet, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, standard email?
  4. How do you approach technology security?  Issues with VPN, connectivity, and response time?
  5. Are you fully electronic or is there some paperwork routing that happens?
  6. Are employees using dedicated computers, or can they work using a home computer, and if yes does that raise security concerns for cyber-attacks?
  7. Any security breaches or concerns?  What changes has Internal Audit made?

iPollingTM Results Review

The results from a recent Peeriosity poll created using the iPollingTM technology indicate that as of October 2020, only 10% of member companies report that 75% or more of their workforce has returned to the office in a manner that was customary prior to COVID-19.  For 64% of companies, less than 10% of the workforce has returned to the office in a manner that was customary prior to COVID-19.  Here are the details:

percentage of workforce that has returned to the office

The second poll question explored the expectations of members regarding working from home after the dangers of COVID-19 have passed.  Only 10% expect that employees will return to the office as they were before, with an additional 27% fine-tuning this response to suggest that most people will return to the office, but others will have more options to work from home.  The balance of 63% of member companies has the scale tipped towards greater work from home options for most employees with times where employees are also scheduled to be in the office. So for most, a significant shift in where work is performed is expected to continue, even though the underlying reasons for the shift in the first place no longer apply.

scenarios in in-office vs work from home - shared services remote workforce

A few of the comments from members include:

  • No firm plans on all returning to the office. We are planning and executing it in waves and still leaving working from home as an option for employees until probably Jan at least.
  • My understanding is that return to the office will depend on business needs, balanced with the local guidance from health officials.
  • Effective October 12, 2020, all associates at headquarters were required to return to the office unless a temporary exception was granted.
  • As a company, we are still evaluating. My preference is to keep all of Shared Services working remotely.
  • Only essential personnel are in the office. Most will remain at home.
  • We will mostly be hybrid when our community moves to a ‘green’ status with COVID.
  • Following Covid-19 lockdowns, we have reviewed our ways of working and given teams and staff far more flexibility to work from home. The new normal appears to be 2 days per week in the office for operational staff, 3 days per week for team leads. A small percentage of staff have chosen to return to the office full-time. We are fortunate in New Zealand not to be subject to any lockdown/movement restrictions currently.

Closing Summary

While the rapid transition to a global work-from-home strategy for Shared Services was forced on everyone, the good news is that for most, the change was implemented successfully, with limited overall negative impact.  Companies are now considering possible long-term changes to how work gets done after the risk of COVID-19 has passed, with the majority of companies seeing greater flexibility for work-from-home options as the new normal.   

How effective was your company’s Shared Services organization in responding to the new work-from-home demands created by COVID-19?  When the virus threat is over, what does the “new normal” look like for you, and can the leading practice of your peers help you shape your strategy?

Who are your peers and how are you collaborating with them?

“PeercastsTM” are private, professionally facilitated webcasts that feature leading member company experiences on specific topics as a catalyst for broader discussion.  Access is available exclusively to Peeriosity member company employees, with consultants or vendors prohibited from attending or accessing discussion content.  Members can see who is registered to attend in advance, with discussion recordings, supporting polls, and presentation materials online and available whenever convenient for the member.  Using Peeriosity’s integrated email system, Peer MailTM, attendees can easily communicate at any time with other attending peers by selecting them from the list of registered attendees. 

 “iPollingTM” is available exclusively to Peeriosity member company employees, with consultants or vendors prohibited from participating or accessing content. Members have full visibility to all respondents and their comments. Using Peeriosity’s integrated email system, Peer MailTM, members can easily communicate at any time with others who participated in iPollingTM.

Peeriosity members are invited to log into to join the discussion and connect with Peers.   Membership is for practitioners only, with no consultants or vendors permitted.  To learn more about Peeriosity, click here.

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