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Lois Engstrand, Marketing Manager27/07/20 00:00

Rethinking compliance in the post-Covid-19 era

Crippling global crises may be rare events, but when they do happen, their impact is felt for generations.

The Spanish flu — which caused 50 million deaths between 1918 and 1919 — forced many countries to rethink their approach to public health. This led to the creation of socialised healthcare systems as we know them today.

More recently, when the 2008 financial crisis shook public confidence in the banking system, governments around the world beefed up regulations and raised conduct standards. At the same time, tech startups rose to the occasion, positioning themselves as an alternative to traditional banking.

While things seem to be slowly returning back to normal, we're arguably not yet over the latest unprecedented global crisis — Covid-19.

That said, we're already feeling its aftereffects.

And this time round, what's changing is the way we work.

Location-independence goes mainstream

According to the Office of National Statistics, only 5% of British workers worked mainly from home in 2019. Fast forward to April 2020, and social distancing measures, self-isolation, and lockdown drove that number up to 49.2%.

For many employees, this is a big win. In a 2019 study, 78% said they'd take a pay cut to be able to work from home. Covid-19 has forced employers' hands without employees needing to have that conversation.

But it's not just employees who have benefitted. Beyond the obvious — working remotely negates the need for office space, which lowers overhead — several studies show employees who work from home are happier, more productive, and more loyal.

The flipside, particularly for regulated businesses, is that having staff work off-site creates a whole host of compliance challenges.

The challenges of remote work

Remote working has created three main issues for regulated businesses:

  • Preparedness

  • Collaboration

  • Oversight

When the unexpected hits

Over the past few years, ever more businesses have made virtualisation a priority. But migrating servers, on-premises applications, and decades worth of data to the cloud is a huge, multi-year undertaking. One that many organisations were nowhere near completing when Covid-19 forced them to go remote.

This raised several important issues.

How can teams access critical information and data when working from home? How can they communicate effectively? And how do they even log on to the system and access the applications they need to do their job?

Even for businesses who were prepared for remote work, things weren't plain sailing. Jonathan Harley, Business Development Director at Gemserv, says:

"We were set up very well for working from home. We had the tools, the culture, and we'd even undertaken disaster recovery drills for this specific scenario. But the reality of working from home has prompted us to look at our approach and evolve it further."

Data is good, but collaboration is better

Tech has evolved by leaps and bounds in terms of raw power and capabilities. But it's not always designed with collaboration in mind.

Managers aren't always able to look at a project's workflow and check what's been done, what's outstanding, and whether there are any bottlenecks.

More to the point, an office-based team member can turn to their colleagues for help, clarifications, or discussion, but that's not always possible in a remote scenario. Even with team messaging apps, there's no guarantee an issue won't keep arising, because not everyone may have followed — or be aware of — an important thread.

Ensuring proper oversight

If collaboration is harder when working remotely, so is ensuring everyone plays by the rules.

Senior compliance professional John Moffat explains: "You can no longer bring employees to a meeting room, tell them about your policies and procedures, and quiz them."

Add the slew of regulatory updates issued in response to the pandemic — and the fact that regulators can no longer send supervisors on-site — and keeping everyone compliant becomes even more of a tall order.

Taking the show on the road

Gartner reckons tech spend will go down by 8% in 2020. But the reason for this isn't that businesses are cutting investment in tech. It's that they're prioritising what's mission-critical over longer-term projects.

Collaboration tools are seeing the biggest upsurge in investment. Which makes perfect sense. As governance, risk, and compliance expert Michael Rasmussen explains:

"To stay in control and safeguard your business' integrity, your employees have to understand what is expected of them and how they should behave. This can only happen if there's an open channel of communication between the leadership team and the rest of the organisation."

But while tools that improve remote communication and collaboration are essential, it's also important to make sure everything integrates together.

Regulated businesses have many moving parts. In a world where everyone works from different locations, there has to be a way to bring everything together so no-one loses sight of the bigger picture.

Gemserv's Jonathan Harley puts it this way: "I think more advanced collaboration and team engagement tools are key now, especially where face to face meetings are difficult."

Similarly, Talis Capital's co-founder and managing director Vasile Foca says:

"In my eyes, remote working needs multiple technologies: cloud applications, cyber security solutions, VPNs, legal tech that allows us to work with documents in the cloud, and compliance tech to manage compliance remotely."

Put simply, if complex businesses are to adapt to remote working successfully, they need tools that allow them to have visibility and control over every aspect of their operations.

Post-Covid-19, flexibility will be the name of the game

It's safe to say cries of "the office is dead" are probably exaggerated. That said, where businesses resisted remote working pre-Covid-19, they now seem to be warming up to it.

A growing number of CEOs are re-thinking how much office space they need. And Barclays' CEO Jes Staley has gone as far as saying that: "The notion of putting 7,000 people in the building may be a thing of the past."

Similarly, an Okta poll found only 25% of workers would go back to the office full-time.

The upshot is that this latest crisis will pave the way for more flexible working arrangements and sever our ties to a single location. And this means technology will have an increasingly important role to play.

As Harley puts it:

" You can't ignore technology, whether it's to ensure compliance or optimise operations. Moving forward, all markets will look to tech to get the commercial edge and make sure they're on the right side of regulatory compliance."

Want more insights about strengthening your organisation's compliance when working remotely?

Watch our webinar "How to maintain a strong culture of compliance when working remotely".