A shift in strategy

Keys to leading and operating in a virtual working environment

COVID-19 continues to challenge companies as we all adjust to what has become our new normal. Businesses have made great strides in changing their operations, even as they grapple with how to keep their employees safe, adjust to significant fluctuations in demand for products and services and navigate heavy supply chain disruption.

Government-imposed social distancing requirements and related shelter-in-place orders have led to a fundamental rethink of where and how we work, spurring rapid technology adoption. Many organizations and their workers have embraced a virtual work environment, which has accelerated the use of video collaboration and other related communication technologies to an unprecedented scale. As the crisis continues, it could accelerate development of next-gen remote working technologies as well.

Our new normal has highlighted the need to build strategic, operational and financial resiliency, but also the necessity of community, even while remote. Technologies that enable remote work and teaming also raise the risk of isolation and loneliness. Organizations will need to balance technology adoption with creative approaches to maintain a sense of community and shared culture. Technologies such as virtual and augmented reality could play a key role in supporting these efforts.

Ernst & Young LLP recently convened a group of CEOs from major U.S. companies to discuss how they’re managing the strain that COVID-19 has imposed on their businesses. Most of them said their companies have emerged from immediate triage and are now focusing on strategic and financial scenario planning. Looking ahead, management teams will need to adjust by re-examining their operating models and redesigning their business processes.

One of the more recent challenges that many companies faced, among other business processes, was performing a virtual financial reporting close process for the March 31 fiscal period. Whether companies’ processes are manual or more technically advanced, they’ll need to be performed virtually. CFOs, controllers and their teams may find themselves trying to rewrite their traditional close playbook on the fly.

It’s important to set priorities, drive clarity and communicate clearly during a virtual close. These strategies can help financial teams close effectively, positioning them to become better teams that may have new ideas about how to succeed in the future.

Even before COVID-19, teaming can be easier said than done.

Consider the following strategies

  • Create a sense of normalcy and culture within virtual teams. Maintain daily contact with teams, and match office hours and standing meetings as if on-site. Hold one-on-one touch points with key business partners. Leverage videoconferencing, instant messaging and collaborative tools to stimulate interaction, where applicable.
  • Review manual controls and controls that require two-person coordination. Do this before the close to determine whether remote working demands have changed, and document them properly to support eventual audits.

Monte Repasky is Cleveland office managing partner at Ernst & Young LLP.

The views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.