Consulting Services, Technology Services What Could a Seasonal COVID-19 Mean for Your Organization?
by Justin Garner 
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COVID-19 has not infected everyone, but it has affected everyone, and the pandemic continues to have a growing impact on the global economy. Even if the U.S. and other nations battling COVID-19 succeed in mitigation efforts in the short-term, experts have warned that we may experience cyclical or seasonal spikes in cases for quite some time, at least until there is a vaccine. As organizations continue to experience the economic effects of this pandemic, many are also considering how to better prepare for continuity in daily operations and profitability in the event of future disruptions, including those unrelated to COVID-19. In this article, we outline specific areas of focus as the world moves into a recovery phase that is likely to involve many ups and downs.

Creating a safer working environment

As employees return to work, companies should prepare infection-control strategies based on a thorough hazard assessment. Evaluate what worked well and what didn’t during the crisis and adjust the plan of action for future use. Teams should continue to monitor federal, state, and local resources in order to comply with mandatory requirements. Additionally, evolving technologies, such as body temperature checkpoints, offer new opportunities to help limit virus exposure and reduce risks to your workforce and customers. Organization leadership should also develop a system to manage employees who may become symptomatic, assist employees who are compromised, and document a plan to communicate exposures.

Remote work as a new normal

To limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, companies all over the U.S. shifted to remote work. Working from home (whether occasionally or full-time) is likely to become more common as health concerns linger, childcare availability is impacted, and teams become accustomed to this setup. According to remote work strategists, it typically takes six to twelve weeks for a smooth transition from on-site to remote work; however, companies need to be prepared to make the leap immediately should physical distancing become necessary again. Remote work policies should be crafted and implemented quickly in response to an outbreak or government orders, and using lessons learned from this pandemic will be critical.

Companies need to be prepared to make the leap immediately should physical distancing become necessary again.

When an organization implements this kind of change, one of the greatest risks does not arise from the implementation process, but from the acceptance and impact to the existing workforce. It is important for businesses to recognize this, and focus on maintaining employee productivity and confidence throughout the transition.

Organizations must implement team training and open communication, which can help mitigate disruption experienced by employees. Remote work preparations should include supplying remote-capable teams with equipment and policies up-front, verifying that they have sufficient broadband access, and educating them on up-to-date cybersecurity measures and software. Staff should be trained on these procedures and the expectations of working from home. Technology and processes for collaboration, secure business transactions, and effective workflow management should be a priority.

Related Article: New Considerations for Technology Infrastructure & Cybersecurity

Effective internal controls

When shifting to remote operations, businesses will need to make adjustments to internal control processes and identify those adjustments swiftly to maintain an effective internal control environment. The following are a few key steps to take so that your organization is positioned to be strategic, rather than reactionary, when it comes to internal controls:

  • Understand the risks you are controlling;
  • Identify internal control gaps;
  • Develop recommendations to address the gaps, while considering automation and potential for modifications to internal controls; and
  • Document the control activities.

Managing cash flow

In order to be prepared for future spikes in COVID-19 cases, business leaders may be thinking differently about managing cash flow. Cash flow forecasting allows you to identify potential challenges, measure impacts, and implement strategies to improve your organization’s cash flow position. Focus on reducing paper processes and utilize software to establish systematic controls and enhance flexibility. A robust financial management system decreases the possibility of misuse of cash and adds an extra level of control with transaction audit trails, workflows and approvals.

Having the right tools and structure provides the flexibility to scale and can enhance your organization’s ability to respond quickly.

Maintaining critical functions

Does your accounting function operate in a decentralized, remote environment? It is crucial that daily financial functions such as accounts receivable and accounts payable are uninterrupted to enable business continuity and manage cash flow. Additionally, the timely completion and accuracy of your financials helps drive critical, strategic decisions during these uncertain times. The pandemic has highlighted and accelerated the need for adaptability.

Having the right tools and structure provides the flexibility to scale and can enhance your organization’s ability to respond quickly to the challenges and opportunities that come during times of disruption. Use the recent experience to perform an assessment of your back office function. Focus on areas that are key to successfully navigating future disruptions: uninterrupted accounting operations, accurate and timely financial information, and flexibility. Identify gaps in technology and staffing. Now may be the time to explore cloud-based tools or alternative staffing models, such as outsourcing back office functions to a trusted partner. With increased flexibility and fewer manual tasks, management can focus on critical operations and business continuity.

Cloud-based tools

Cloud-based financial management systems allow for anytime and anywhere management and access to many fundamental tools for businesses. By working in the cloud, businesses remove the need for employees to connect remotely to a physical server, allowing for better performance and reducing the need for dedicated IT team support. Even in remote work environments, transactions can continue being processed, teams can collaborate effectively, and leaders can gain visibility into accurate, up-to-date data for critical decision making.

Sage Intacct, for instance, provides scalability, supports multiple locations and entities, and is designed to handle crisis situations by regularly testing all disaster recovery scenarios. This provides peace of mind that your financial application is consistently secure, reliable, and available.

Cybersecurity practices

The security, reliability, and availability of data and systems is key to enabling continuous operation, especially during times of crisis. Robust cybersecurity practices help protect your organization from digital attack. These attacks are often aimed at accessing, changing, or destroying sensitive information, extorting money from users, or interrupting normal business processes. As the global cyber threat landscape rapidly changes, cyber attacks continue to increase in both frequency and complexity. This presents a very real risk to your organization’s reputation, customer relationships, and revenue stream.

Amid worldwide disruption and stress, cyber threat actors are launching waves of pandemic-related cyber attacks. An increased number of employees working from home has led to a rise in activity over private, unsecured machines and networks. It’s important that your employees are educated on their role in preventing breaches. Businesses can protect crucial resources by scheduling security awareness trainings, planning annual external vulnerability tests, and developing or updating an information security policy.

Business as (un)usual

Around the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way people work and learn on a massive scale. As we enter a new phase of re-entry and recovery, it’s crucial to review the lessons learned from a rapid response to a completely new experience. What are the greatest challenges your organization has faced during the closure of entire industries and mandatory stay-at-home orders? What processes and resources will your organization need to maintain operations and create greater stability if a similar disruption happens again? P&N can help you navigate the answers to these questions and uncover opportunities to position your organization to face a new normal and a recovery process that will present new risks and challenges for months or years to come. Contact us to discuss the challenges your business is facing and learn more about planning for risks and opportunities in a post-pandemic world.

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