The Executive Agenda: Remote-enabled finance & scenario planning for uncertainty
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The Executive Agenda: Remote-enabled finance & scenario planning for uncertainty

from  May 17, 2021 | 5 min read

Our Executive Agenda Series explores building organizational resilience as we move beyond the COVID crisis. It summarizes what we’ve learned, celebrates what our people have proved they’re capable of, and how organizations have responded successfully under extreme pressure. But more importantly, it examines the lessons the crisis has taught us, and takes a look at applying those lessons to prepare our organizations for the future.

Global uncertainty is high and the workforce is becoming increasingly distributed. Entire organizations have been forced to work remotely. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for the implementation of remote-friendly software platforms and workflow processes. This shift to remote working presents a number of challenges, but also real opportunities to improve operations.

But how do you plan for the possibilities and get ready to put those plans into action quickly based on varied factors?

Our latest Executive Agenda session focuses on taking finance remote, how the role of the finance department is changing, and how CFOs are conducting transparent scenario planning to make sure their organizations are prepared for various likely outcomes. We also discussed how technology solutions can give you a head start for both exploring possibilities and getting stakeholder buy-in so you’re ready to act decisively.

Financial planning and analysis tools can help you shine a light on hidden opportunities and navigate challenges when spreadsheets and wishful thinking are no longer enough.

Moving to remote work – is anything remotely helpful?

Our panelists were in unanimous agreement on this one. Having a fully implemented modern ERP system that allows workflows to be digitized made the switch to working remotely much less daunting. Cloud systems have gone a long way to bridging the gap, putting organizations in a position to send people home at a moment’s notice while still giving them the ability to do their jobs. For organizations that were already moving well along the cloud journey (like Unit4 itself), COVID has simply accelerated the transformation. (After all, there’s nothing like an ultimatum to force people to start doing things differently.)

The bigger challenges have been around supporting people with longer-term issues like poor internet connectivity, the need for work-life balance when work and life happen in the same literal space, childcare, and the stresses of lockdowns. Onboarding and cultural induction have been particularly interesting challenges, requiring HR and leadership to adapt their approaches. But all these concerns are much easier to navigate when foundational finance, HR and planning solutions are integrated in the cloud, providing a platform your people can count on to help them get their work done.

It’s also unanimous that much of the change we’ve experienced is likely to be permanent. All our panelists reported they’ve already granted flexible or even permanently location agnostic contracts to at least some of their people. And this is a sentiment that’s being echoed across a variety of different industries.

One new challenge the future will (hopefully) soon present is moving from a predominantly or fully-remote operating environment to a hybrid environment. When some people are remote and others are office-based, integration of technology becomes an even bigger priority to avoid business disruption and enable seamless collaboration.

The evolution of scenario planning

Increasing uncertainty about the future has been met with a renewed focus on scenario planning. But many organizations have found scenario planning has become simpler in the wake of COVID because of their ability to combine a newly sharpened focus with increased organizational agility and better tools.

Each of the possible, or at least likely, futures (regardless of how normal or not!) requires a different financial strategy. That means developing detailed what-if scenarios that can easily be actioned. Armed with the most accurate and up-to-date data integrated across the whole organization, and the ability to use that data to predict and plan for any eventuality, organizations can build resilience into their very foundations.

Preserving cash in uncertain times

Many people have found that their personal savings have increased throughout the pandemic as they’ve cut spending and paid down debt. Many companies are no different – scaling back expenses strategically and tactically to guarantee the reserves needed to act flexibly. And in such uncertain times, every CFO will have an eye on preserving cash.

Our panelists agree: split your expenses into “lights on” and “discretionary” spending. Obviously, discretionary spending will be much easier to keep down in the short term, while lights-on expenses may require a longer adjustment period to match evolving business models. One of the biggest “lights-on” savings many companies have made is to rethink their corporate real estate, divesting office space or even transforming it from places people work into places where people will collaborate.

Discretionary spending needs to be closely monitored for ROI – perhaps even more carefully than before. Every organization will have “emergency reserves” – but another strategy our panelists have been relying on is adjusting their investment portfolios to allow for rapid liquidation. Across the board, there is a sense of “building the plane as we fly it” – being ready to quickly pivot to make savings as the need arises.

What will CFOs keep doing post-pandemic?

Another repeating theme you’ll recognize from previous Executive Agenda installments – taking care of people and their physical and mental health has become a much greater priority no matter what department you’re in. Every decision is now being made through a people-focused lens – not simply the lens of goals and achievement of targets.

This level of attention to people however has had a huge positive effect on the resilience of organizations, helping them get through this crisis and be ready for the next one.

Fast and consistent communication about strategic priorities is therefore an obvious best practice. But so is genuine and consistent communication about work-life balance.

Finally, we’ve all discovered that remote working can be very productive. Even more so than on-site for some people and functions. It will therefore definitely be a part of the way we structure businesses for flexibility in the long term.

The on-demand recording of this discussion is now available here. If you missed any of our other Executive Agenda: Beyond the Crisis webinars, they are now all available on-demand and can be accessed on our website in the “Resources” section.

To learn about how the Unit4 People Experience Suite empowers organizations that serve people to elevate their business, engage their people and plan ahead, visit our website, or reach out to us directly.

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