Working Smarter in the “New Normal”
After nearly two years of the pandemic, business has changed. The “new normal” has primarily been shaped by the simple need to protect ourselves and others from the threat of Covid-19. But leading businesses have seen this as an opportunity to do things better than before, especially when using technology. As a result, how we work matters more now than it did before. As the year comes to a close, there are two reasons to take stock of the way we work:
- The colder weather will see more people meeting indoors, which may lead to an increase in Covid cases; therefore, we must remain vigilant.
- Part of our business planning for the new year should include a careful audit of systems to identify any deficiencies or exposures associated with the new ways of working as well as any opportunities to improve our business processes.
A smart audit must involve communication with all parts of the business and should focus on people as much as technology. For example, there are some concerns about the effects of vaccine mandates on the workforce and a company’s ability to serve its customers. Additionally, it’s important to remember that it is people who use technology. If technology is oxygen for business, understanding that some people breathe it more easily than others is key!
Here at CJBS, for example, certain segments of our business operations are now 100% remote. Online platforms like Teams and Zoom allow employees to work more efficiently from anywhere. Of course, we are under no illusion that technology could ever replace direct interface entirely. However, by embracing technology in specific areas, the parts of our business that do involve meeting in person become much more focused. Since there is no need to duplicate things that can be done online, our time with clients is focused on building personal connection and trust. The same applies for communication within the business.
One thing that has definitely changed throughout this process is our system of internal controls, and we recommend our clients also audit their internal controls to identify any deficiencies or weak links in their processes. For example, with many staff members working remotely, it’s important to make sure appropriate security measures are in place and staff are well-trained to recognize phishing schemes. Additionally, as colleagues have less access to senior executives, rigorous policies and controls are needed to confirm wire transfers, etc.
While we have incorporated these practices at CJBS, we are also helping our clients understand their internal processes and better secure their systems. One practical measure we are helping with is re-documenting and flowcharting our clients’ systems to emphasize their strengths and help identify their weaknesses. We use data analytics to help companies find the best way to serve their own clients and consequently to grow and scale. The first step in all of this is a careful audit. This is important not only because the banks or other third parties require it but also because it’s smart and makes simple business sense.
While Covid has disrupted internal controls management, audit teams can get on top of things with the right combination of risk management, scoping, testing, and technology. The key to all of this is using better communication. Traditional procedures like sending questionnaires to various parts of the business and relying on employees to identify issues from past experience are no longer adequate. In many cases, colleagues will be unaware of emerging threats, so it is necessary to be more proactive. For example, it’s a good idea to quiz senior management about current business priorities and “reverse engineer” a risk assessment tailored to those priorities. The goal is for someone to take ownership of the company’s risk assessment and anti-fraud program, which can also help to improve company-wide communication and collaboration in the process.
The smarter use of technology is one positive outcome of the pandemic. Rather than seeing the “new normal” as a burden, innovative companies are seizing the opportunity to improve operations and drive growth. As we see out 2021 and look forward to 2022, let’s all do the same.
Jeffrey Stuart, CPA