CFO Checklist: Guiding Your Business Through a Successful Return to Work

Finance leaders are in a critical position to help assess the options and impacts associated with returning to the workplace, including how the business can grow and react differently in the future.

It may be some time before we return to “business as usual.”

In mid-June, a PwC survey of 330 U.S. finance leaders found that one-third of U.S. CFOs now expect it will take more than six months to get there. Two months earlier, just 2% of CFOs anticipated recovery would take that long.

Finance leaders are in a critical position to help assess the options and impacts associated with returning to work, including how the business can grow and react differently in the future.

Since there is no universal game plan for a transition like this, my colleagues at Workday, leveraging research from PwC, a Workday alliance partner, have joined forces with our customers and industry experts to put together the list below. Think of it as a starting point to help your organization restart successfully.

Financial Planning

  • Map out the cost of redesigning or outfitting the work environment for worker safety. According to the PwC survey, 78% of CFOs plan to reconfigure work sites to promote physical distancing, and 83% percent plan to change workplace safety measures. Your work spaces may need physical alterations or enhancements to make them compliant with social distancing guidelines and public health recommendations. Consider the cost of changes to lobbies, desk areas, meeting rooms, bathrooms, break rooms, even your HVAC systems. Will you have an on-site testing facility or clinic? What are the implications of creating even a small one? And how will you make on-site exercise facilities safe for employees to use, if you keep them open at all?

  • Consider the cost of new roles and processes. Perhaps your company is considering bringing on a chief health officer or chief medical officer–or maybe health officers at every site. Or you’d like to implement certain practices that involve equipment and supplies such as new cleaning guidelines, sanitation stations, health check systems, smart location devices, and attestation processes. Since public health experts expect this pandemic will be with us for some time, be sure to factor in not just the initial costs but also the ongoing expenses of these measures.

  • Think about every cost. It’s important to walk through the work experience and the expenses associated with it. For instance, discretionary travel, which in April had dropped by 95%, should be an obvious target for OpEx reductions at least for the next several months. And a larger remote workforce may lead to savings on rent, heating and cooling, and other operational overhead.

  • Explore zero-based budgeting. Going beyond simply looking for expenses to cut, some companies are implementing zero-based budgeting, believing a “clean sheet” approach will yield the greatest cost savings. By effectively building the budget anew, it’s a step further than taking a hard look at every cost, but it makes sense if you want to justify every dollar spent. In an April survey of finance executives, Gartner found that one in four (26%) planned to implement zero-based budgeting as a response to the global pandemic.

78% of CFOs plan to reconfigure work sites to promote physical distancing, and 83% percent plan to change workplace safety measures.

Operational Planning

  • Collaborate with different business leaders and department heads. There’s a strong likelihood you’re already doing this: A Gartner study conducted in April found that executive management teams are meeting two to three times a week, if not daily, in response to COVID-19. As part of this collaboration, business leaders must work through various forecasts to compare different options for bringing their team members back to the office, and how it impacts workplace capacity and productivity.

  • Recognize that every location is different. Assess each location on its own merit. One approach is a community safety measure score based on infection rates and trends, with every site receiving a readiness score based on its level of preparation (with such factors as having enough PPE, or personal protection equipment, on site). Empower local leaders to play a significant role in determining how their workforce makes its return.

  • Compare what-if scenarios across regions, districts, and locations. Reopening means different things to different businesses. Restaurants, for example, have to be calculated and thoughtful about what reopening will mean for their supply chains, food inventory, location, traffic, and employees. This requires flexible scenario planning, especially when Gartner found that three-fifths of senior finance leaders are accounting for a second wave of disease outbreak in their scenario planning.

  • Consider your customers. With restricted traffic or location capacity, what does this mean for generated revenue? For one Workday Adaptive Planning customer in higher education, returning to work means students returning to school. This means they’re actively:

    • Running scenarios around the possibility of a lower enrollment than expected, including lower room and board revenue, and reduced tuition and fees.

    • Evaluating financial implications of potentially continuing or even expanding online learning in the fall.

    • Calculating additional costs for enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols in classrooms and other facilities.

    • Driving forecast revisions that will guide longer-term decisions for the future, such as planning for large capital improvement projects, graduate school course degree expansion, academic hiring, or research initiatives.

Workforce Planning

  • Model how employees will return. Some organizations may plan for all workers to return to their primary workplace at once. Many, like Workday, plan a phased-in approach–but what’s critical is determining who returns at which point. One option is to first identify which job roles are considered essential for operating locations when workers are on site, and combine that data with insights into which employees believe they need to return (their home situation may not be conducive to work) or simply want to return (they prefer to work around colleagues). This brings me to the next point:

  • Build workforce sentiment into your decision making. In determining your return strategies, you and your leadership will need to factor in workers’ preferences, sentiments, and concerns. At Workday, our HR team hosts “Feedback Fridays,” which uses our Best Workday Survey to measure and track employee sentiment. Now is the perfect time to implement this feature in your own environment. But no matter how you go about it, partner with HR to ensure whatever action you take aligns with employee readiness.

  • Determine what testing, if any, you will implement. Will you handle health screenings in-house or will you direct employees to area providers for testing or other services? Note how this may vary by location (some states or countries may have different guidelines or requirements than others).

  • Strategize how employee benefits will need to evolve or change. Consider the impact of potential changes to health coverage, sick leave, PTO, etc.

  • Factor in flexibility. Any decision should have flexibility baked in and allow for employees to opt-in (or out)–not only because of the chance of a second wave, but for the well-being and security of your staff. PwC found that 54% of CFOs plan to make remote work a permanent option.

Use Every Tool You Have

Regardless of what your return-to-work planning process looks like, I encourage you to use the powerful tools already at your disposal. Workday customers certainly are: Since the pandemic began, companies have increased their planning efforts to achieve greater agility and resilience in this environment of extraordinary disruption. In fact, in just one week in March, Workday Adaptive Planning customers created 30 times more forecasts and scenarios than usual. And modeling and recalibrating has increased by 15 times on average.

Harness all the technology and data available to you to help you clarify what the future holds, and to marshal all your resources to meet it with confidence, respond to disruptions with agility, and seize opportunities when they emerge. Do this, and it can help increase your chances of joining those finance leaders surveyed in June by PwC, 72% of whom said they believe they stand to gain better resiliency and agility  coming out of the current situation.

Watch the on-demand webinar, “How to Recalibrate and Plan for the New Normal.” 

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