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The Challenge Ongoing: Workplace and Workers Since COVID

As the 2020 pandemic led to a sudden shift to remote work for many jobs, it begged the question of what would happen afterward. Whether remote workers return to full-time, in-office work is still sorting itself out. But so far, the answer for many now is no.

Hybrid work situations, whereby workers split time between remote and onsite work, are widespread. Employers might prefer a return to “normal” and have workers return onsite full-time. Large organizations like Vanguard and Paycom Software have urged workers to come into offices more days and have had to spur compliance with hybrid schedules.

According to the Wall Street Journal, several New York banks have taken a harder line, requiring employees to return to their offices. Those offices look more like they did pre-pandemic. But the curious economy, with continuing demand for workers despite an anticipated economic slowdown, has provided workers leverage. Accounts payable (AP) staff, part of the business services sector, are among those that shifted to remote work. And today, AP managers now face remote and hybrid workforces. According to a survey by WFH Research, those in the “professional and business services” sector now average 1.95 days per week working remotely.

That same survey reveals the percentage of paid full days working from home, after dropping from a spike of more than 60 percent in the spring of 2020, has essentially leveled off below 30 percent. Before COVID, the percentage was just five.

WFH Research found that as of February 2023, 60 percent of workers were fully onsite, 27.8 percent were hybrid, and 12.1 percent worked entirely remotely. There are variables in this summary data. For example, a lot depends on the work. In that 60 percent of workers fully onsite, a sizable majority have to be onsite to do the job.

Business services, however, represent a type of work that went remote during the pandemic and has not returned to pre-pandemic norms. Location matters: large cities saw more remote work than small cities and towns. Business size is another variable.

But for those employees who worked remotely, it seems they have become accustomed to remote work and prefer it to the extent that they are willing to sacrifice to maintain it. According to Adam Zaki writing in CFO.com, “Over two-thirds (67%) of more than 1,000 surveyed hybrid workers said they would forfeit part of their salary to maintain their current work settings.”

Further, the labor market has lent leverage to workers — more on that in a subsequent article. But many accounts payable managers who might have hoped for a return to “normal” have not seen it.

On the positive side, necessity is not only the mother of invention but sometimes of acquisition. When the pandemic forced organizations into remote operations, they had to prioritize some technological additions and improvements for back-of-house functions like accounts payable.

Those dealing with the “new normal” of hybrid work find that automation is mission-critical. Risks beset accounts payable operations, not just system access risks that forced the adoption of VPNs for remote workers.

Accounts payable automation helps to combat the risks. But automation across accounts payable is typically uneven and incomplete. And the ongoing remote work situation serves to highlight the gaps.

There may be less urgency today than in April 2020. But savvy managers can employ the circumstantial realities to advocate for automation of the gaps to accomplish AP’s mission and protect company assets.

For information on how InvoiceInfo and VendorInfo can support your remote, hybrid or onsite team, freeing them from time-consuming tasks for higher-value work, contact us.

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