Orchestrating An Effective Close In A Remote Working Environment
The impacts of COVID-19 are just beginning to surface, posing new challenges to industries and businesses to stay operational and forcing them to rapidly adjust to a remote workforce. The potential economic impact is unknown, and we are entering a period of greater ambiguity when it comes to managing performance.
While many areas of business have slowed down, both public and private organizations still need to complete core activities such as the financial statement close. Understanding the current financial position will take on greater importance as leaders aim to accelerate decision-making and gain insights to share with internal and external stakeholders. At the same time, teams supporting the close may be working remotely and at varying hours due to locations and other obligations.
Here, we address three components that your organization should consider in order to facilitate an effective financial statement close and management of remote teams during the COVID-19 crisis.
Defined Close Calendar and Activity Management
Much like a conductor with an orchestra, financial statement close management requires high leadership visibility and a “score” – a set of activities and timelines that can be managed repeatedly. A clearly defined set of activities that is accessible and understood by the team will be critical in maintaining effectiveness during the close process. If dependencies are not documented, it will be challenging to “cue up” the next set of tasks and get resources ready to execute. To enable virtual collaboration, establishing checklists, sharing procedures and providing training support for resources through online channels can reduce friction and keep progress moving forward in this challenging time.
Understanding the key resources involved in the close and maintaining flexibility to move work forward will be critical success factors. For each step, a well-defined calendar would outline:
- Primary activity ownership;
- Identifying backups for critical path activities;
- Escalation points; and
- Sign-off responsibility.
Having cross-functional teams integrated across the close will enable information sharing, allowing senior leaders to make real-time decisions. It’s not just about core accounting, either; HR, IT, inventory management, facilities, FP&A, tax, treasury and external reporting all play important roles. Third parties and managed services, such as warehouse management, payroll and IT vendors, will also serve as both providers and recipients of data.
Technical Support and Security
Ensuring that the team has access to necessary tools and connectivity is an underlying component to manage business continuity. Since in-person collaboration has been reduced, there will be increased reliance on virtual solutions.
Below are tools that organizations may consider employing to improve their online collaboration efforts:
- Communication tools – Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx, Slack and Skype
- Program management tools – Kanban boards, Trello, Teams boards, automated close management solutions
- Protection for Data-At-Rest and Data-In-Transit – Virtual Private Networks (VPN), Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) as baseline technology in place, and encryption technology for highly sensitive data/information transfer
- File sharing tools – SharePoint, Dropbox, Box, etc.
- Data Privacy & Cybersecurity – Expanding cybersecurity and privacy controls & increasing email and phishing protection
The challenge of responding to this pandemic will continue to grow over the coming weeks and months. Remaining flexible and utilizing agile best practices can help an organization structure its response in an effective manner. Understanding the key resources involved in the close and maintaining flexibility to move work forward will be critical success factors. Access to virtual collaboration tools paired with a clear understanding of the sequence of activities will allow financial leadership to continue to progress with required close activities.
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