Boomeranging sustainably: How businesses can implement long-term change post-Covid-19
First published on Accountancy Today, Monday, May 18, 2020 by Senior Director of Data Modeling at Workiva, Andromeda Wood.
COVID-19 has transformed the way we work. According to the ONS, only 30% of the UK workforce worked remotely in 2019. That is set to spike dramatically during the COVID-19 crisis, and businesses have been grappling with how to cope.
However, we must address a more future gazing issue: as we move away from ‘crisis’ toward ‘new normal’ and life after COVID-19, businesses need to shift from asking ‘how’ things will change toward what sustainable, long-term change looks like.
Five stages of recovery
McKinsey recently released its Coronavirus Framework, outlining the five stages businesses are likely to go through as we battle against the implications COVID-19. The stages include: Resolve, Resilience, Return, Reimagination, and Reform.
Generally, getting to ‘Return’ is easy, but moving beyond this to ‘Reimagination’ and ‘Reform’ is likely to throw up more barriers to lasting impact. This is in large part driven by a focus on getting ’back to normal,’, rather than accepting a new way of existing and operating in the digital economy.
McKinsey highlights ‘Reimagination’ as the ability to reinvent, and use foresight and insight to succeed. In regard to COVID-19, this is particularly important with examining how best to flex operations to minimise loss of efficiency while continuing to adapt and drive businesses in a way that’s more shock-resistant, productive, and able to deliver. Technologies like connected reporting can be a great answer to businesses at this stage, looking to become more nimble and remote-friendly. Connected reporting solutions not only connect employees via cloud platforms, but ensure that data input in one place is transferred elsewhere, minimising risk while providing oversight to all work, no matter what region or time zone you’re in.
‘Reform’ is the opportunity to learn from outlying social circumstances, and the innovations that go along with it – such as the need to continue driving business while the majority of the global workforce is working from home (WFH). A comprehensive understanding of which innovations – if adopted permanently – will make a difference, combined with the implementation of these solutions is critical to completing the fifth and final step. Given that many companies likely had their preferred ways of working before the COVID-19 crisis, it will understandably be tempting for ‘temporary’ processes to be overtaken once things return to the way they once were. Yet, while returning to old habits may seem easy, it will be critical to remember that we are entering a ‘new normal’ where many of these solutions are no longer fit for purpose.
We’ve been in similar situations before – adjusting to ‘temporary’ changes only to revert back to ‘normal’ when that time ends. More recently, after the financial crisis in 2008, many of the issues plaguing the market returned – only to be addressed to varying degrees of success through regulatory changes. Whether looking at the increasing reliance on debt, continued inequality of access to credit, or disparities in taxation, we’ve seen – in large part – a return to pre-2008 operations, despite living in a hugely different economic environment.
History need not repeat itself in this case: resilience is what allows societies and business to bounce – or boomerang – back, but it can also be a barrier to improvement. Companies must act while there is momentum and make decisions with the long-term in mind.
Sustainable solutions, post-COVID-19
There are three key barriers businesses will face in maintaining long-term implementation to new processes once we exit the COVID-19 crisis.
The first of these is the continued movement of deadlines for filings. While we may return to normal, this could ultimately lead to shorter periods for any required changes ahead of the next deadline.
The second challenge is that laws and regulations require physical signatures, meetings, etc. rather than going digital. Some of these requirements have been temporarily waived, but the law moves slowly and questions remain about whether companies will be able to keep up momentum if forced to return to archaic processes.
Finally, and more broadly, the opaqueness and distance involved when WFH could present challenges of their own. Many of the processes and systems companies use can become easily dispersed and difficult to navigate, even more so when things are being done remotely – various versions, unclear ownership of changes, and erroneous mistakes are all higher risks when teams operate remotely.
But this need not be the case.
Better use of cloud software like ours not only improves efficiency by improving collaboration across teams, regions, and time zones, but also improves transparency, oversight, and control, thereby turning WFH into an asset rather than a liability.
What is clear from history books and the past few weeks is this: it’s possible to sustain positive change within business operations post-COVID-19. If companies pause, think, and implement smart solutions to maintain momentum – like connected reporting – they can easily transform, automate, and reduce the fragility of their existing systems to ‘reimagine’ and ‘reform’ their ways of working.
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