Can the Credit Profession Be Remote?

Hybrid and remote work schedules became widely used at the start of pandemic as companies adapted to social distancing. Three years later, many credit teams remain on a hybrid schedule while some have returned to a traditional in-office model. In a recent eNews poll, nearly half (47%) of credit professionals said every person on their team works remotely at least part of the time, whereas roughly one in three (30%) of professionals said a quarter or less of their team works remotely.

The pandemic forced the world to adjust to this new way of working, but it poses a big question: Can the job of a credit professional be done effectively at home? The short answer is yes, but success will greatly depend on your company culture, industry and automation.

Automation plays a key role in the ability of credit departments to work remotely. B2B trade is heavily reliant on paper and manual processes, but credit teams that have embraced technology have been more successful in remote environments. "Our team has been 100% remote other than coming into the office quarterly just to have a lunch or meet with each other on a need-to basis," said Penny Jeter, CBF, NACM Board director and director of credit at Ingram Industries (Nashville, TN). "I was working on making our department paperless right before the pandemic hit, so that's why we've been able to be successful in continuing to be remote."

Some departments took the pandemic as an opportunity to become more comfortable with technology. "The automation and saving files to a cloud eliminated the hallway lined with filing cabinets full of files and records," said Wendy Mode, CCE, CICP, division credit manager at Delta Steel, Inc. (Cedar Hill, TX). "It also kind of forced some credit managers to learn a new way of doing their job because they didn't have a printer or scanner at home. They learned to save to PDF and upload files from that."

But the time to train your team on new technology is before you switch to a hybrid schedule, not after. "Fast internet speeds along with access to phone calls and checking voicemails are two big resources needed in order to mitigate delays or down time in productivity," said Mode. "Before hybrid work became popular, your colleagues could easily walk down the hall to ask a question, get approval on an order and moreā€”but if you are working remotely, then they are at the mercy of an email or phone call."

Having the ability to work a hybrid schedule means less expenses for employees such as fuel, time commuting and vehicle maintenance. "It saved at least roughly two hours of time spent in of daily traffic for our company," said Chris Hadley, credit and collections manager at KLX Energy Services LLC (Houston, TX). "Sometimes I actually find myself working way too much because it's hard to find the times to turn things off. When we work with accounts payable or A/R teams it can be difficult working remotely, so we'll go in if we have big meetings but typically try to stay at home."

However, even after three years of remote work, some aspects of in-person cannot be replaced. A survey from TinyPulse in 2021 revealed many workers found hybrid schedules "emotionally exhausting," according to an article from HR Dive. And for companies who previously were paper intensive rather than tech savvy, the shift to automation is not easy. "At Delta Steel, we're de-centralized and in the office majority of the time," said Mode. "We have the flexibility to work from home if a need arises, but overall feel we can best serve our internal customers being in the office."

Connectivity and communication between team members is less effective when being at home, Mode added. It is just not as easy to identify who is busy or available to assist with a project. And on the day everyone comes in the office, you lose some productivity because people are catching up."

When hiring new employees, remote training and onboarding processes can be a hassle. Some employees learn better in face-to-face environments than others. "I believe this is one of the largest pitfalls of working remote," said Mode. "In one of our locations, our sales manager has a policy for new hires in which they must work a minimum of six months in the office full-time. At the end of the six months, they will discuss and review to see the progress and ability to work from home two days a week."

The most important consideration to take in is the impact of different work settings on the productivity and quality of work. We all know being at home can be distracting when your place of relaxation is the same space for where you should be focused. But some could argue that there are more distractions in the office with colleagues. "Quality of work for us has remained the same specifically with credit and collections," said Hadley. "All of my teams work from home and for the most part there is no need for us to be in a physical office. However, it takes a certain type of person to have discipline in order to so, but luckily for our team it works well."

If you are unsure of how your credit team will perform on a hybrid work schedule, closely track efficiency with metrics. Check to make sure collection calls are still being made and accounts staying current. You can use metrics to award the amount of time team members can work from home

-Kendall Payton, editorial associate

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Sunday, 04 June 2023

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