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Why CFOs should take the lead on remote working

Cimpress CFO Sean Quinn led the company’s remote-first strategy, which has resulted in $9m a year in savings. He explains why finance leaders can be effective advocates for remote working

Sean Quinn, CFO at Cimpress, has what he describes as a “truly holistic view” of the company. With oversight of HR, legal, communications, real estate and procurement across the business, he was the ideal choice to lead the company’s remote-first strategy. 

And with that strategy leading to $9m (£6.8m) a year in savings, you can see that other CFOs could be motivated to drive change. 

Cimpress, owner of printing firm Vista, decided to transition to remote-first in October 2020, after reviewing the strong productivity and positive wellbeing driven by pandemic-enforced remote working. The transition involved 1,600 office workers – 20% of Cimpress’s 8,000-strong workforce. 

It was decided that Quinn’s broad CFO remit would help to reinforce the remote-first strategy across the whole company, ensuring many different teams were united behind the move, and with crucial decision-making sped up by this structure. But ultimately a major transformation involves significant financial decisions – not least how to spend the $9m in savings – making the CFO the most strategic person to be driving the remote-first shift, says Quinn.

This shift has a massive impact on team member engagement, productivity, hiring and retention that will ultimately be a key ingredient to delivering on business outcomes

“I think the CFO is well placed to lead the decision framework and set the right tone to allow the organisation to push forward faster into the future of work,” he says.

But he adds that it’s important not to see those flashing six-figure dollar signs as the end-game, but to contextualise the whole operation as an opportunity to rethink and redesign how work works. Then the CFO can reallocate capital to where it can have the most impact for the business and its people. 

“This shift has a massive impact on team member engagement, productivity, hiring and retention that will ultimately be a key ingredient to delivering on business outcomes. So being able to look at opportunities for cost savings, for example in our real estate footprint, and then thinking through where that capital can be more efficiently redeployed for the benefit of our team members becomes a great opportunity,” he explains.

Reinvesting in remote resources

That financial decision-making on reinvestment has resulted in the set up of a remote-working stipend for people to purchase the necessary home office kit, plus the hiring of a dedicated eight-person ‘Remote-First Success’ team and creating personalised remote onboarding for team members’ first 100 days. This has been complemented by extra learning and development opportunities (to the tune of $5,250 per employee per year). Company benefits have also been bolstered, including the introduction of ‘Recharge Fridays’ (essentially Friday afternoons off) and a regular allowance to spend with any small business.

“Managing teams in a remote environment is different so we need to make sure we’re providing resources for that,” Quinn adds.

A remote-first culture deck distributed to all employees also helps spell out the logistics of the transition, from non-linear workdays to asynchronous working. 

“If we form good habits around documenting information in a place that’s communal, it means people can see it, they can learn from it, and they can add to it,” says Quinn.

Around 57% of Cimpress’ remote employees have in fact abandoned the traditional 9 to 5 schedule, with the company encouraging them to design their day around their personal preferences and commitments. While there are some extreme examples of night owls and early birds, Quinn says people mostly take pockets of time out for themselves during the day, such as a break for a Peloton workout – for which the company provides a subsidised subscription – or to take care of family responsibilities.

The company aims to make 90% focused solo work and 10% meetings the default, using tech tools to help people keep meetings to a minimum, such as remote workspace platform Confluence, virtual whiteboard Miro, project management app Trello and secure cloud management system Box.

“We’ve needed to make sure that we role model this from the executive level down,” he says. Meetings were so much of a calendar suck, so I think this drives much more powerful business results.”

Reaping the benefits

The move to remote working has had a marked impact on gender equality in the business. Cimpress has more than doubled its female key leadership hires and tech roles have also seen a year-on-year increase of female representation at the leadership level. And the number of women leaving the business has gone down by a third – an impressive overall ROI for a CFO to report.

Positive results can also be seen in talent attraction, with a 300% increase in job applications. Only one employee has given the remote-first shift as their reason for leaving. And taking advantage of the ability to work from anywhere, 10% of Cimpress’s remote-first US workforce moved to another state. The company’s US staff are now spread out across three times as many states as before. 

Other upsides include improved engagement and the ability to recruit quality talent from a larger pool. The company has held onto a select number of its office spaces, reinventing them for scheduled learning and collaboration opportunities. Employees who want to work there more regularly have the option to do so, and those who live in areas where Cimpress didn’t have an office pre-pandemic are being offered coworking memberships.

Quinn admits he had little knowledge of or affinity for remote work pre-pandemic, but now is one of its biggest advocates, not least because of the extra time that he can spend with his family.

“My son recently asked me to take him to sharpen his skates before hockey practice, which was at 5pm. If we were in an office, I would have gotten home at 7pm, so there’s no way I would have been able to do that,” he reflects.

“And when my CEO asks if I’m around for a catch up, it’s completely acceptable for me to say that I’m out with my son from 5 to 5.30, so let’s talk after that. There’s not even a question about it.”

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