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The functions of the Chief Financial Officer go beyond balancing the books and comparing inflows and outflows. Increasingly, the CFO has become a crucial partner in determining the direction of the firm, especially in terms of what it invests in and how soon it realizes returns.

LEADERSHIP lessons from more than a year of mass disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will be critical as companies move into the next phase of recovery, Brian Peccarelli, co-chief operating officer at Thomson Reuters says.

Writing in CFO Magazine, Peccarelli says it is impossible to talk about business leadership in the 2020s without addressing the large-scale shift to work-from-home as a result of the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, Americans spent 5 percent of their working time at home. By the spring of 2020, that figure had jumped to 60 percent. While some elements of that transition were remarkably smooth, others were not.

A quarter of remote professionals (28 percent) noted they have had to use too many different technology tools to communicate or collaborate with others, while 16 percent felt overwhelmed with the amount of technology they were being asked to use.

As many companies plan to reopen offices but keep some portion of their employees remote, successfully navigating the remote-work model means more than just setting up a video conferencing account and resuming business as usual, Peccarelli says.

“Managing people in this environment requires a level of fluidity balanced with accountability — the flexibility to acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, balanced with the understanding that there are still clear-cut deadlines and deliverables,” he writes. 

“Clear communication and regular engagement in town halls, employee surveys, and direct, one-on-one conversations are critical to helping inform the tweaks and adjustments needed to keep remote work guardrails in place.”

Another key leadership lesson is that to survive and thrive in the new environment for the long haul, businesses need to get serious about data. They need to track granular, localized inputs and trends to inform strategic decision-making and anticipate necessary directional shifts early on. Cloud-based enterprise-wide data and analytics capabilities are no longer a nice-to-have. The crisis has made it clear that real-time insights are central to resilient operations.

Third, as companies continued to dig deeper into their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities during the pandemic, many found untapped resources that helped them pivot into adjacent services, Peccarelli says. A large specialty foods company that supplied restaurants switched to a home delivery model when its restaurant business ground to a halt. Now, after a year of sending its trucks into suburban neighborhoods while the restaurant industry slowly recovers, the company has a lucrative business line of in-home deliveries. Similarly, legal and accounting firms have expanded their offerings by advising clients on pressing business challenges that emerged during the pandemic. In every example, these businesses opened up new lines of revenue and forged indelible bonds with their clients by being there for them when they were needed most.

To achieve any of this, businesses need the technology backbone to support seamless employee communications and gather critical inputs and data points from across their operations, Peccarelli writes.

A report Thomson Reuters released last fall, which polled professionals in the US, the United Kingdom, and Canada, found that the majority (83 percent) of workers had at least one technological setback while working from home.

One-in-four (24 percent) said their organization had told them that a new platform or technology would help them become more efficient. Still, respondents said it ultimately did not deliver on that promise.

What companies have learned over the past year of remote technology roll-out is that it’s not enough to have lots of technology available; it needs to be synchronized and streamlined to deliver across a wide variety of use cases. This again is an area where constant refinement and tweaking are necessary.

“There might not be an official playbook, but after a year of trial and error, there are many common strands in the DNA of businesses that have successfully navigated the pandemic,” Peccarelli says. “Those that were able to adapt quickly, bolster their infrastructure, and fully and honestly appraise their own unique needs, and those of their clients, were not only able to come out of the other side of the pandemic, but they also gained the confidence and experience to do it again.”