European Audit Committee Leadership Network, July 2020
Even as the coronavirus continues to pose a serious threat, governments around the world are trying to ease restrictions and boost their economies. In this new phase, companies are ramping up operations, focusing not only on the immediate need to bring back production and sales but also on longer-term strategic considerations. In a series of virtual meetings in April on the unfolding crisis, Tapestry’s networks of audit committee chairs and other board leaders began to explore this restart and its challenges, asking how it could be implemented safely and effectively.
Members of the European Audit Committee Leadership Network (EACLN) revisited this broad question in a virtual meeting on 19 June 2020. They were joined by David Storey, EMEIA workforce advisory leader at EY.
Several themes emerged from the discussion, which addressed operations, strategy, and board processes:
Companies are alert to the challenges of remote work
Bringing employees back into company facilities is a complicated task. The necessary policies and protocols make for an experience that is very different from the one employees might have enjoyed before. Even as the crisis subsides, remote working will continue to a significant degree at many companies. However, Mr. Storey and the members pointed to challenges that could surface over time, as the long-term sustainability of the model becomes clearer. Some fear that company culture could slowly erode, particularly as relationships wear thin and new employees join. Several members mentioned the use of frequent surveys to monitor the situation, though they acknowledged that major decisions cannot be based upon survey data alone.
Strategic initiatives are under review
Though the crisis has put a strain on many companies, some boards see opportunities to accelerate existing strategic plans. The changes sparked by the pandemic also raise the possibility of entirely new initiatives. Mr. Storey urged companies to think creatively to ensure they leverage the new flexibility to reimagine work. Some EACLN members also noted a recent a trend toward a more wholistic discussion of the purpose and values that ultimately drive strategy.
Board processes are changing
Members touched on how board processes are changing in response to the constraints imposed by the pandemic and the new demands on board oversight They noted the value of video meetings for keeping directors engaged, but some recommended that these meetings be shorter and more frequent. Some also saw a shift in the role of the board as it seeks to support management in this time of crisis.