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Shared Services in a Virtual World – What’s Working and What Are the Challenges?


ScottMadden polled attendees at the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network’s (SSON) SSOW Live Conference 2020 on the topic of virtual work. We have heard many success stories from our clients and other practitioners about how their shared services organizations (SSOs) were able to quickly transition to a virtual model when the global pandemic hit. In many cases, the nimbleness and efficiency of the organizations have allowed them to play crucial roles in supporting their business during these challenging times. Conversely, some who were not well prepared have struggled. The data from our poll highlight these successes and challenges and show how the pandemic will likely have a lasting effect on shared services models.

Hurdles and Success Factors

A large majority felt they successfully transitioned their model, with 92% of respondents indicating that their employees were equipped to work virtually. The biggest hurdles cited were managing work/life balance issues and the erosion of team culture (Figure 1). Fortunately, technology, data security, and team communication were not major hurdles due to the strength of infrastructure that many SSOs already had in place.

Among the factors that have made virtual work environments better, the most effective approach selected was offering flexibility to employees while maintaining accountability (Figure 2). With managing the demands of families working from home, leaders have recognized that employees need flexibility with traditional work hours in order to balance competing demands. As long as accountability is clear, this adjustment has allowed SSOs to continue to achieve high performance from their teams. Other beneficial tactics include using multiple types of communication tools, replacing conference calls with video meetings for better collaboration, and harnessing increased productivity due to elimination of commutes and other work distractions.

Virtual Work Models

Clearly, the pandemic will have a lasting impact on how SSOs operate. Many are already anticipating a long-term change in their use of a virtual work model. While a majority indicated that less than 20% of their workforce was virtual before the pandemic, that is predicted to change.

As shown in Figure 3 below, more than half of respondents expect 20%-40% of their workforce to remain virtual and another 30% predict that 40%-80% will remain virtual. This shift will have significant implications for facility needs, team dynamics, recruiting practices, and more.

Business Continuity

The pandemic served as a wake-up call for many organizations. Fortunately, about two-thirds of the respondents already had a business continuity plan in place. However, the other third most likely was scrambling to figure out how to rapidly adapt to avoid further disruption to their operations. Many have taken the opportunity to update their plans to be better prepared for future events. The most common update noted was to improve plans for employees working from home. SSOs have also addressed technology gaps and clarified communication protocols (see Figure 4).


Overall, SSOs have shown resilience in their ability to adapt quickly and find creative ways to serve their business during the crisis. The flexibility of the shared services model has been put to the test and the success stories help demonstrate the ongoing effectiveness of having a leading practice model. While some were better prepared than others, all organizations have lessons learned that can help them succeed under a variety of circumstances in the future.

How ScottMadden Can Help

ScottMadden has worked extensively with leading national organizations. Partnering with clients to develop, implement, and enhance shared services across multiple industries has allowed us to help you quickly respond and adapt in this ever-changing environment—today and into the future. Learn more about our shared services offerings and ensure your success under the most pressing circumstances.

Let’s Work Together

We don’t solve problems with canned methodologies. We help you solve the right problem in the right way. Our experience ensures that the solution works for you.

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