Best Practices to Roll Out a New Expense Policy
If “office” has become more of a state of mind than a physical place you commute to for work, you’re in good company. Many companies switched to a work-from-home model to mitigate pandemic risk, and 67% say they expect to be remote for the long term.
There are benefits to working from home for both employees and businesses. Businesses save money on utilities and equipment, and some employees appreciate the flexibility to balance work tasks against responsibilities at home. But there are downsides, too. For one, work from home means it’s hard to ensure all employees are adopting new software and procedures. That can lead to headaches for finance and accounting professionals, who need clear, accurate, timely figures to keep books up to date.
Your well-crafted new (or newly updated) expense policy promises to control spend and improve compliance. It only works, though, if you can get all employees on board to follow the procedures correctly. Here’s how to get a remote workforce to follow a unified approach to expense reporting and management.
Establish a Schedule
When you’re implementing a new expense policy, factor in lead-in time as employees train and adapt to the new process. You may need to allow an extra grace period for departments dealing with a crunch period. If the sales team is scrambling to meet quarterly quotas, or the marketing team is finalizing materials celebrating the organization’s 10th anniversary, learning a new expense management system may not be top of mind. That shouldn’t stop you from rolling out new or updated expense management procedures; it just means you may need to be mindful of realistic timelines.
When you’re preparing to announce a new expense policy, be ready for more questions than might have been the case when you were in an office together. Employees who would normally ask questions in impromptu meetings with a coworker or project lead may not have a clear opportunity to learn new procedures. If they’re swamped with other work, they may revert to the old habits they already know. Adding specific training days to the schedule can encourage employees to use that time to learn the correct method to report expenses.
Flexibility is important, but finance professionals also need to meet their own deadlines to avoid penalties and compliance issues. Communicate a hard deadline to get everyone onto the new method. (It can be smart to set the hard deadline a few days before the real deadline, so you have a cushion just in case.)
Choose a Training Strategy
A remote workforce may need more hands-on support to adapt to new procedures, but finance and accounting teams are not exactly twiddling their thumbs in January and February! You’ll need an approach that provides employees with the information they need to learn procedures correctly, without overloading the accounting department with repetitive questions.
Try these tips to offer effective training without taking too much time away from other critical tasks:
- Hold a live video training meeting. Not all employees may understand why the finance department needs expenses reported a certain way, so the two-way participation of a live training can help you fine-tune your policy for better clarity.
- Record a training video as a resource. Your travel and expense policy should be written in clear, simple terms, but a video reference can help answer FAQs.
- Train one department at a time. Start with departments processing highest volumes of expenses. For some businesses, going department by department can be less time-consuming than a company-wide transition.
- Train department heads and supervisors. If departments tend to operate independently and set their own training protocols, a department head may already know the best way to train their team. This can also help the finance team understand who will have ownership of the expense policy in each department.
Ideally, once you’ve completed the initial training, department managers and project leads can handle the bulk of the work to transition their teams to new processes. In practice, finance professionals may continue to provide some extra support.
A remote workforce in particular may need support to integrate new policies and procedures smoothly. There’s less transparency and easy access to people who can do on-the-spot training, so a little extra help can go a long way:
- Use Slack or another messaging channel to answer questions on the fly.
- Be clear about who is in charge of providing support. It’s important to be specific about when department heads need to be ready to take over fielding questions and reinforcing training, so accounting professionals can concentrate on finishing tax preparation or other essential responsibilities.
- In your expense management software tool, enable supervisor approval for new expense categories, so leads can sign off on expenses until employees are knowledgeable enough to handle booking on their own.
Make Rewards Clear
It’s usually easier to get excited about trying something new if you understand the benefits. Finance professionals know an effective travel and expense policy can reduce expense processing costs, improve productivity, prevent fraud, and aid compliance. Employees may connect with these goals, or they may find incentive through other benefits. These are a few additional perks that can come from a strong expense management system:
- Keep some savings: If employees book under budget, some employers reward this frugality by splitting the savings. An expense management solution that offers this feature makes it easier to offer this perk.
- Get reimbursed faster: Manually completing expense reports, sorting and attaching receipts, and submitting can be a lengthy process. If your new expense policy includes following an automated, digital system, employees can knock out expense reports in minutes and get reimbursed faster.
- Save time and hassle on expense reporting: In psychology, “negative reinforcement” means encouraging a behavior by removing something unpleasant (e.g., if a pill makes your headache go away, you’re more likely to take a pill next time, too). Making expense reporting quick and simple makes everyone’s day a little bit easier.
Companies with most or all employees working remotely may rely on the finance team to be more involved in implementing a new expense policy. Balancing this additional leadership with other essential accounting duties takes a thoughtful and organized approach. If the extra involvement means your company adopts new procedures quickly and effectively, the results will be well worth the effort.