Risks and Opportunities in Transitioning to a Remote Workforce

April 08, 2020

By Jack Paladino

Businesses across the world have been confronted with a challenging, unprecedented task.  Coronavirus, specifically “COVID-19,” has taken the world by storm, derailing operations for various industries including airlines, hospitality, dining, manufacturing and logistics.  In addition, the stock market recently came off its worst trading week since the 2008 financial crisis, with millions of Americans filing for unemployment.  Amidst all of the uncertainty, it is essential for individuals to take a step back and reflect on their personal well-being.  With most businesses closing down their dedicated office locations and shifting to a remote workforce, it is important for organizations to be adequately prepared for this transition.  Following best practices for a work from home (WFH) environment, staying vigilant of cyber risks and staying agile in a technology-focused world will help organizations work toward maintaining viability and success during this period of disruption.  

In a recent webinar hosted by EisnerAmper, Risks and Opportunities in Transitioning to a Remote Workforce, Natalie McVeigh, a director in EisnerAmper’s Center for Family Business Excellence, described in detail the myths that individuals not typically subject to a WFH environment might mistakenly consider:   

  • It’s not really working.
  • You don’t have to get dressed.
  • It’s lonely.
  • You have lots of free time.
  • Anyone can do it.
  • It’s easy.
  • You don’t need an office.
  • WFH appeals to millennials only.
  • Better work-life balance.
  • People don’t work when they aren’t being watched.

As working from home is likely to continue for the foreseeable future and other social distancing measures are strictly being put into place, it is crucial for managers of a remote workforce to set expectations for their colleagues.  They include setting goals, communicating information, being careful not to overload with detail, encouraging the respective workforce to ask questions, and following-up when necessary. 

As many day-to-day habits and rituals have been thrown off track by the remote workforce transition, it is important to create new WFH rituals.  For instance, WFH allows for the opportunity to take a walk outside during lunch or set up virtual face-to-face meetings with colleagues generally seen while working in the office.  WFH may also come with new forms of stress and anxiety.  Consider practicing breathing techniques, meditation and mind-body movements to combat these feelings and also stay healthy and productive.

Rahul Mahna, managing director of Managed IT Security Services in EisnerAmper’s Process Risk & Technology Solutions (PRTS), presented key areas of cyber risk with working at home during the recent webinar.  Highlighting the “3 Cs” -- Computers, Connectivity, Communicate -- he described the importance of staying vigilant, communicating and being aware of one’s cyber surroundings.  “Working remotely presents the challenge of ensuring your employees are keeping in mind best practices for cybersecurity,” he said. 

To facilitate computer security, Mahna explained: “You can help mitigate cyber risk with a remote workforce by requiring staff to work on company-issued computers.  If for any reason this cannot be complied with, staff working on home computers should have up-to-date operating system patches to prevent hackers from exploiting any potential gaps.  Furthermore, investing in premium paid versions of endpoint security software will assist in bringing proper computing hygiene into your company’s network, mitigating the risk of unauthorized access from remote devices.”  

He added: “As we know, many individuals are guilty of reusing passwords.  Implementing password protection software that can also support multi-factor authentication will help you build secure log-ins, strong passwords and the encryption of password data.”  

For the area of connectivity, Mahna also emphasized the importance of utilizing a company VPN, which acts as a secure tunnel.  “Having this secure connection to the office environment will allow all computing traffic to filter through the office security systems, therefore providing a much safer usage experience that is controlled and regulated.”

“With the prevalence of phishing attempts on the rise during the current period of uncertainty, communicate any instances of suspected fraudulent activity to your company’s IT department before clicking any unusual links,” he said. “As we find ourselves working remotely, a big company may suddenly feel like a small business.  It is crucial to note that any workforce, regardless of size, could be the next target of a cyber-attack.  By staying vigilant, communicating and being aware of your surroundings, in addition to maintaining the best practices with regards to endpoint and VPN security as well as frequent cybersecurity training, your organization should be able to thrive during the move to a remote workforce.”

Implement Technology / Digital Solutions

Jerry Ravi, partner-in-charge of PRTS, presented on the importance of staying agile to adapt and improve operations quickly during the difficult times presented by COVID-19. 

He highlighted important questions such as: “How can we keep our operations going during these difficult times?” and “What can we think about?”

He added day-to-day accounting and operational procedures have been met with inefficiencies and disruptions including:

  • Inability to access physical check stock or check printing.
  • Difficulty accessing bank branches.
  • Lack of invoice and purchase order centralization.
  • Inadequate procedures for processing payments.
  • Breakdown in internal controls, segregation of duties.

Keeping in mind organizations’ people, processes and technology, it is crucial for them optimize their respective resources.  Facing unprecedented inefficiencies in a period of disruption, businesses should be aware of immediate process improvements to maintain cash flow and develop a go-forward game plan. 

Improvement

Assess, Implement & Communicate

Maximize cash position, banking operations and terms.

  • Maintain cash, preserve and look to increase working capital.
  • Set up wire transfer/ACH /lockbox capabilities with your bank.
  • Create a “physical” process, if necessary, to gain access to receipts (checks).
  • Examine transactions and negotiate with your vendors on payment terms, if needed.

Closely monitor & improve receivables process.

 

  • Are your customers are maintaining their payment commitments?
  • Analyze trends in customer payment performance and identify/assess delays.
  • Enhance process to include digital receipts and cash applications.
  • Communicate “regularly” with customers on process/payment changes.

Examine & enhance disbursements.

 

  • Confirm you are satisfying payment obligations.
  • Process payments with a variety of options (wire, ACH, digital platforms).
  • Set automatic payment approvals using digital platforms.
  • Check discounts to be sure they are properly applied.

With an emphasis on transitioning to digital solutions, Ravi concluded with a number of capabilities that organizations will be able to benefit from by utilizing tools to streamline their receivables and payables processes.  Optimize accounts receivable collections, mitigate credit risk, enhance accounts payable procedures, reduce monotonous tasks, utilize artificial intelligence (AI), set automatic payment approvals and apply robotics process automation (RPA) highlight a long list of capabilities that any organization can capitalize on from implementing technology.  Companies that are more digitally focused will prosper during these difficult times.

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