Does Procurement Need to Work From the Office?

The nature of procurement work is changing and considering the remote work debate, does procurement really need to work from the office?

By Hugo Britt | June 11, 2024

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The dust has definitely not yet settled around the remote working debate. The percentage of US companies offering flexibility increased from 51% to 62% last year, but 38% still prefer an in-person workforce. Several high-profile corporations including Dell, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, have issued “return to the office or else” ultimatums, arguing it promotes collaboration and productivity. (If you haven’t seen WebMD parent company Internet Brands’ cringeworthy video on this topic, you’re in for a treat.)

But many employees are resistant and threatening to quit over these policies. 63% are even willing to take a pay cut to work remotely, while eliminating the daily commute frees up an hour of precious time every day for the average employee. Work-life balance is the key point, with remote working preventing burnout, improving engagement, and increasing productivity (although this last point is hotly debated as well). Hybrid arrangements – such as three days in the office and two days working remotely – have emerged as a workable compromise and the preferred model of working for 54% of Americans.

What about procurement?

The trend has extended to nearly every corner of the business world, from software engineering to customer service. But one area where the case for remote work may not seem as obvious is procurement. After all, don’t procurement professionals need to be on-site, interfacing with suppliers, attending meetings, and building relationships with key stakeholders?

The truth is, the nature of procurement work is changing – and the 9-to-5, desk-bound model is no longer the best way to maximize productivity and effectiveness. In fact, there’s a strong argument that procurement teams can thrive in a hybrid work environment, spending a portion of their time working remotely while also making time to be on the road, meeting with vendors and partners.

The reality is that much of the day-to-day work of a procurement professional can be done just as efficiently, if not more so, outside of a traditional office setting. Negotiating contracts, analyzing spend data, and managing supplier relationships can all be effectively handled through video calls, collaboration tools, and good old-fashioned phone conversations.

The nature of procurement work is changing. Much of the day-to-day work can be done just as efficiently - if not more so - from a remote setting.

Procurement can work remotely

Procurement is considered a “knowledge-work” job, which means it fits the bill for remote work. Tasks such as strategic sourcing, contract negotiation, supplier relationship management, and data analysis are largely computer-based and can be performed effectively anywhere, so long as the right technologies and communication practices are in place. 

Procurement – let’s face it – spends the majority of time looking at screens, using spreadsheets, procurement software, and other digital tools. This type of work is easily portable and can be done from any location with a stable internet connection. Communication is vital, but this doesn’t necessarily require physical presence: much of the procurement role involves virtual interactions with suppliers, stakeholders, and cross-functional teams.

Video conferencing, file sharing, and collaboration tools enable seamless remote communication. In addition, procurement tasks are often project-based and outcome-oriented, rather than requiring constant in-person supervision. As a function, we generally don’t require specialized equipment or facilities to get the job done.

And let’s not forget the significant benefits that remote and hybrid work can provide – increased employee satisfaction and work-life balance, reduced real estate costs for the organization, and a larger talent pool to draw from when hiring. In an increasingly competitive labor market, the ability to offer flexibility can be a major competitive advantage.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that procurement teams should be completely remote, either. There is immense value in face-to-face interactions, particularly when it comes to building relationships with key stakeholders within the business. Meeting over coffee or lunch, attending internal meetings, and participating in team-building activities are all important for maintaining strong internal partnerships.

Keep in mind that the ability to collaborate remotely depends on more than the enabling technology like Teams and Slack – it also depends on the individuals involved. You may find video calls an effective way to meet with colleagues, but perhaps a key stakeholder struggles with this approach and will fare much better in a face-to-face setting. In this case, get to the office and arrange a coffee date!

The 1.5-2-1.5 split

Perhaps the ideal model, then, is a 1.5-2-1.5 split:

  • One-and-a-half days per week in the office, focused on internal relationship-building and all-hands meetings;
  • Two focused days at home, dedicated to heads-down work;
  • One-and-a-half days out in the field, meeting with suppliers and conducting site visits.

When feasible, you could also spend some of this in-the-field time attending industry conferences, networking events, or other gatherings. These provide invaluable face time and the chance to connect with both suppliers and stakeholders, boost your network, and grow your knowledge.

This balanced approach allows procurement professionals to reap the benefits of remote work while also preserving the in-person interactions that are so crucial to their role. It’s a model that acknowledges the evolving nature of the profession while still ensuring that procurement remains a strategic, value-adding function within the organization.  

So, to any procurement leaders who are still insisting on a full-time, in-office model – it may be time to reconsider. The world of work has changed, and procurement needs to change with it. With the right hybrid approach, you can empower your team to be more productive, engaged, and effective than ever before.

Struggling to find the time?

If you’re reading this and thinking that you don’t have any time to get out of the office because you need five full days a week to focus on the day-to-day workload, then it sounds like you could benefit from our article on how to improve procurement efficiency.

One of the best ways to free up precious time is to engage the help of a group purchasing organization, or GPO. Here at Una, we’re proud of our speed-to-savings approach. We connect our members to ready-to-go supplier contracts that align with your stakeholders’ goals in weeks, not months, to save you time, money, and effort.

Discover more ways to improve the procurement process and increase cost savings:

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