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Compliance Challenges

09 April 2020 by Lawrie Holmes

As offices close and teams work remotely, questions arise of how new practices are impacting corporate rules. Here experts offer guidance on how this should be addressed.

As Coronavirus continues to spread relentlessly across the globe, companies and other organisations have seen their employees move to remote working in response to demands to isolate.

The ability of organisations to set up new lines of communication so that they can interact in various working teams – by using multiple devices for example – reflects how far developed the supporting technology has become.

Maxime Firth, a financial planning and analysis (FP&A) director at French roofing specialist Onduline, that has nine manufacturing sites and 32 subsidiaries worldwide, says: “As a complex business, we’ve needed to adapt quickly to the impact COVID-19 has had on production, our supply chain and ultimately how we can manage our cash flow in the short term. With staff across different markets having to work from home, it can mean business as usual because the necessary tools are easily accessible in the cloud”.

But these new ways of working can still pose questions about how sustainable this approach can be over the long-term, and to what degree a corporate’s compliance regime, that has evolved over many years, could be challenged.

Professors Andrew and Nada Kakabadse from Henley Business School say it is difficult to say just how prepared companies are for remote working. They say early observation indicates companies, as well as their employees, are learning as they go.

“Remote working is likely to be rudimentary, but that does not mean to say nothing is happening. The level of motivation people exhibit in order to provide sound, and excellent service is high. The real concern is working through the learning curve. The longer this crisis continues, it is highly likely there will be an increase of capabilities to provide sound service remotely,” they say.

Other than health and safety concerns concerning hygiene, continued washing of hands and people being two metres from each other, little else has changed in terms of compliance procedures, say the professors. “The changes seem to be happening within the home context. Companies are now providing immediate support and training on how to use technology and are upgrading their compliance procedures concerning critical and confidential information.

“Remote access to financial data, for example, requires compliance with procedures that previously did not likely exist. From the company circulars issued, it seems as if management are aware of the necessary compliance requirements to deal with this crisis and inform their staff of these measures,”
they say.

Hermès Marangos, a partner at law firm Signature Litigation, says companies have an obligation under GDPR and numerous existing obligations – as well as parallel directors and officers’ duties – not only to be ready but to put protocols in place for such eventualities. “Organisations should be introducing proper duty of care and a real sense of urgency into what they are doing, instead of appearing to rely on what they see as ‘optional’ advice from the government. Therefore some will be shown to be unprepared, either because of inevitable teething problems or simply because they haven’t taken the situation seriously.

“Effectively what companies are doing is seeking to demonstrate that they are applying the appropriate measures for governance, business interaction and continuity as if this were to be implemented in a non-remote scenario. Working remotely should be done within a particular IT structure and an environment that allows this. In terms of risk management, there are standard checklists that companies should now apply to see that their operations are within a ‘closed circuit’” he says.

Art of Communication

Professors Andrew and Nada Kakabadse say what is desperately needed by corporates to gravitate to effective new working practices is sensitive stewardship, which needs to be actioned remotely. For this to happen, management need to be fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each member of staff so that they can stay in continued touch and be available for counselling or other help whenever required.“Staff members must have confidence in their line manager to phone or send an email and ask for advice on how to deal with internal, client-based or even personal concerns. Further, some people who have no family available may find isolation tortuous. Should management feel responsible for such individuals? The answer is emphatically yes! These people are working from home on company business.

“Further, some small companies may not have the necessary technology to communicate or enforce compliance disciplines. Stewardship and sound communication is the only option available to management. From observation, communications internally and externally concerning compliance practice are surprisingly sound. Yet, compliance is a hygiene factor! Support, care and being available is what is required. Regretfully company communiques internally and externally display an absence of stewardship messages. This means substantial problems could arise in companies with good compliance disciplines. The reason? – the people bit is missing. In this crisis, thinking has to go beyond compliance,” they say.

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