What Now? Technology In A Post-Pandemic Environment
By Thomas G. Stephens, Jr., CPA, CITP, CGMA
Business leaders across the globe are now focusing on rejuvenating their businesses in a post-pandemic environment. No doubt, the past eighteen months have been challenging for everyone. But now, as organizations seek to regroup and recover, managers must consider carefully the state of their organizations’ technology and what adjustments and investments they should make to maximize their organization’s chances to succeed. This article examines several critical technologies that leaders should have near the top of their lists.
Remote Work Environments Demand Better Planning
OK, let’s face it. In March of 2020, we got pushed into a world few could have imagined. In a single week, managers told millions to pack their desks, go home, and figure out how to work remotely with, in many cases, little, if any, assistance from the IT department. Although challenges and failures materialized, most workers innovated and found creative solutions to their challenges. Now, with many workers choosing to work remotely on at least an occasional basis, it is time to assess the state of these environments and see what we can and should do better.
These issues certainly include technology. Do our team members have optimal bandwidth to connect and communicate? Have we adequately secured team members’ internet connections? Should we equip our remote workers with additional peripheral devices, such as scanners? But these types of questions are just the tip of the iceberg when implementing remote work strategies for the long haul.
For example, have we addressed issues such as ergonomics in the home office? Keep in mind that workers’ compensation issues still exist, even when team members work from home. Therefore, employers generally must provide a safe workspace, even if that workspace is remote. Similarly, have we addressed potential overtime issues and conflicts in remote work situations involving non-exempt team members? If non-exempt team members work more than eight hours a day or forty hours a week, generally, employers must pay overtime wages. Therefore, appropriate scheduling and monitoring tools should be in place.
Collaboration Tools Are Essential
No doubt, the popularity of collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoho Connect, and Google Workspace make it easy for team members to communicate and share documents. The usage of these platforms exploded almost overnight with the pandemic’s – Microsoft, for example, experienced an 894% increase in Teams usage from March through June 2020. Now that team members are accustomed to these platforms, it’s time to leverage them for better productivity while simultaneously striking an appropriate balance over data control. For example, we should ensure that team members know how to take advantage of multi-user, simultaneous to standard document types such as Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. Additionally, we need to safeguard against storing redundant copies of data files in our collaboration platforms. When used properly, these tools elevate productivity, but they can become a managerial nightmare when used haphazardly.
Security Issues Continue To Proliferate
A notable trend observed during the pandemic was the explosion of phishing attacks. Many security professionals believe that these attacks grew because of perpetrators seeking to exploit less-secure home networks. Most of these same professionals agree that security attacks will continue to haunt organizations of all sizes and types for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, security needs to remain a top-of-mind consideration in all organizations.
Examples of critical security measures you should consider implementing include:
- Utilizing password management tools;
- Implementing Zero Trust Security Models;
- Ensuring ongoing updates to operating systems and applications;
- Encrypting data at every opportunity;
- Backing up data on an ongoing basis and regularly testing your backups;
- Maintaining physical control of all devices; and
- Using Mobile Device Management software.
Consider Implementing Innovative Tools
Of course, innovation provides an ever-expanding list of technology tools to improve productivity and efficiency. Some of these are tools found in everyday applications, such as Excel. For example, Excel’s Power Query feature provides extraordinary capabilities for linking data into Excel and creating transformations to clean up the data and make it more useful. Yet, very few Excel users take advantage of this feature. Similar productivity-boosting features frequently appear in other applications we use on an everyday basis.
Beyond new features in familiar applications, we should consider the potential positive impact of newer technologies. For example, where do you and your organization stand with automating workflows and approval processes? Did you know you can do precisely that by taking advantage of Power Automate, a solution already available in many Microsoft 365/Office 365 subscriptions? With Power Automate, you can create a custom workflow and approval process that facilitates automating approval processes.
Likewise, have you considered the ever-growing list of third-party applications that can enhance your accounting solution? From eCommerce integration to document management to enhanced financial reporting, third-party solutions are available for virtually every accounting application and service in use today. These tools provide functions and features not otherwise available in your accounting application and eliminate rote, manual processes often implemented as stop-gap measures. Accordingly, they can have a tremendous positive impact on productivity.
Another innovative technology that merits consideration is Liscio, a client-focused collaboration tool. Instead of using email to request documents, you can request documents easily in the Liscio platform, and clients can securely provide these documents to you. Moreover, private messaging, task tracking, and eSignature capabilities are available in the platform too. Liscio makes it easy for accounting firms, mortgage originators, law firms, and similar organizations to interact with their clients and provide superior service.
Training Is More Critical Than Ever
Of course, none of the technologies mentioned above will provide the promised benefits if team members do not know how to use them effectively. More than ever, training is a crucial driver for all types of businesses to achieve their goals in a post-pandemic environment. A significant component of your post-pandemic planning should be devoted to ensuring that team members can access the learning options they need to work effectively in a post-pandemic workplace. Team members might choose to participate in formal training sessions – web-based or in-person – or they may take advantage of informal “lunch-and-learn” environments. Likely, many will participate in both types of delivery methods. When arranging for training options, one critical consideration is not to assume that team members are as fluent with common applications – Excel and Adobe Acrobat, for example – as many believe. Many team members continue to rely on “brute force” methods when working in these applications, even though newer features can allow them to work more efficiently, accurately, and securely.
No doubt, post-pandemic work environments will be different from those of the past, just as our work environments changed dramatically after the widescale introduction of the personal computer. Some of these changes will be cultural in nature – social distancing, as an illustration – but many will be technological. For example, remote work environments, collaboration tools, addressing security risks, and taking advantage of new breeds of innovative tools all capitalize on the ever-improving world of technology. When you couple these types of tools – and others sure to emerge – with appropriate training, you are indeed setting the stage for organizational success in post-pandemic environments. Best of luck as you plan for success in a post-pandemic environment!
About the author:
Tommy is one of the shareholders of K2 Enterprises. At K2, Tommy focuses on creating and delivering content and is responsible for many Firm management and marketing functions. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you may learn more about K2 Enterprises at www.k2e.com.