6 minute read 22 May 2020
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COVID-19: How to crowdsource risk assessment for a safer return to work

Authors
Hector Munoz

Managing Director, Consulting, Ernst & Young LLP US

Seasoned consulting executive with experience in driving large and global transformation and regulatory remediation programs. Married father of four.

John Rogula

Managing Director, Risk Consulting, Ernst & Young LLP US and EY Americas Enterprise Risk Management Leader

Over 25 years in management consulting. Passionate about working with creative persons and organizations in the development of innovative solutions.

6 minute read 22 May 2020

Learn how you can harness powerful risk management technologies to plan employees’ safe return to the workplace and reimagine your business.

Comprehensive enterprise risk assessments have long been used to help businesses identify, prioritize and mitigate their biggest threats. But over the past few years, dozens of organizations have started giving the process a digital makeover. 

As businesses grapple with the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, crowdsourcing technologies and collaboration platforms can quickly harness the risk insights of stakeholders located all over the world. This is especially true for global financial services organizations, which are navigating myriad uncertainties as they plan for their employees to safely return to physical offices.

How will workplace policies affect the risk of infection spreading, impacting the health and wellness of your employees? Do you have the right processes, protocols and technology to coordinate pre-work medical screening and clearance? How do you collect and analyze additional personal information to improve the biosecurity of the workplace while adhering to privacy regulations? To what extent do you have the operational and technical capacity to operate a hybrid physical-space model for a sustained period of time? 

Given the scope of these threats and the unprecedented scale of the initiative to reopen physical offices, gathering input from a broad array of experts and senior leaders is critical. New digital risk tools place no limits on the number of participants and provide an anonymous platform for leaders at all levels of the organization to share their thoughts – creating a more candid, diverse and inclusive range of perspectives. Meanwhile, because there’s no chance of gathering everyone in the same room, these new tools quickly surface issues to debate, foster remote collaboration and accelerate executive decision-making. 

Using risk apps in a post-pandemic world

In a post-COVID-19 world, time is of the essence. Arming executives with apps integrating real-time polling and virtual collaboration with the latest risk assessment techniques is not only quicker but provides a much fuller understanding of risk-management capabilities. 

We’ve seen it at work: before the pandemic, one global services firm using an app to guide its annual enterprise risk assessments was able to eliminate almost two months of surveys, executive interviews and endless discussions. Instead, a digital process allowed executives to align on an action plan within a week and focus its efforts into two virtual working sessions.

During the first hour-long session, more than 60 executives from across the organization used the app to input what each identified as the firm’s biggest risks. They considered possible scenarios for the risks, the root causes of those risks and the potential impact if any of those risks were to materialize. Leaders also identified the firm’s existing risk mitigation strategies. As the results were presented in real time, the data became the starting point for additional brainstorming on potential risks that might have been overlooked as well as opportunities to improve risk management. 

A few days later, about a dozen or so of the highest-ranking executives returned for a second workshop focused on prioritizing those risks and mitigation strategies. Using the app, these senior leaders rank-ordered the risks based on their perceived likelihood, financial impact and assessment of how well the organization could manage them. As the responses came in, the data was plotted on a risk-action matrix that provided a real-time snapshot of the group’s thinking. That way, executives could focus on ways to address the most important risks and more quickly surface potential disagreements over different strategic priorities and options. 

In today’s environment, a risk app leveraging the same technology can power crowdsourced risk assessments and a built-in starting list of “return to the physical workplace” threats, as well as efficient recommendations and controls. It can reconfigure the risk-action matrix to reflect the urgency required by your organization’s response, looking beyond considering just financial exposure and organizational readiness to factors such as how quickly something bad could happen to your operations, employees and customers.

Taken together, this allows you to jump-start your risk identification discussions, stay on top of new and emerging threats, and more quickly align on a risk mitigation plan. As scenarios are updated, risks can be quickly reprioritized and even fed directly into a control tower or other crisis response platforms.

Virtually managing a smooth “return to the physical workplace” plan 

As financial institutions prepare for office reopenings, forward-thinking firms are implementing dedicated control towers to not only facilitate the crowdsourced risk assessment, but also manage the myriad actions required by “return to the physical workplace” plans. Once again, technology can enrich and expedite this process. Among the leading practices: 

Work together

Bring together highly skilled, distributed workers who can provide critical inputs that will inform better processes and decision-making. Implementing a return to the physical workplace plan involves overseeing mitigation solutions and executing actions that will require the buy-in of stakeholders across the organization. This includes executives whose responsibilities range from workforce management, technology, operational continuity and customer experience to risk management, finance and, very importantly, scenario planning. Earlier constraints of working with small, often technical groups can be bypassed with new collaboration tools to quickly pull in ideas from this much broader group of experts – even across the largest and most global organizations. 

Communicate clearly

Establish clear lines of communication to provide cross-functional clarity on the nature of the work and a more agile response to rapidly changing plans. Although companies routinely and successfully execute hundreds of projects, the nature of the work involved in a return to the physical workplace plan is very different. That’s because many of its action items depend on exogenous factors, such as the sudden emergence of a new wave of infections.

Effective control tower solutions use a variety of virtual facilitation techniques and technologies – such as the use of digital murals, white boards and polling – to make sure team members understand their assigned tasks, sequencing and interdependence with other projects. They also can draw upon advanced analytics for adaptive scenario planning. In the pandemic context, this might mean leveraging epidemiological incidence, economic and demographic data to create a control tower solution that uses real-time, digital dashboards to inform key stakeholders with the latest information. 

 Be accountable

Strengthen accountability by making sure that progress on all actions is carefully monitored and controlled. To make sure a return to workplace plan is executed flawlessly, it is critical that executives are kept abreast of the progress and any risks or other potential issues that arise. Given the heightened public scrutiny and concern about business continuity planning in the current environment, financial regulators will be paying careful attention to this work, too. Not only can control towers help business executives more closely monitor the work by incorporating real-time project management dashboards, they can also help make sure that all approved enterprise change processes are followed and that controls evidence is documented, tested and validated.  

As they contemplate a safe return to the physical workplace, today’s leading financial services organizations can accelerate their recovery with comprehensive plans taking advantage of time-tested project management processes enabled by the latest tools and technologies. The agility to quickly gather insights from a diverse array of stakeholders, prioritize risk-mitigation strategies and manage implementation is critical to addressing rapid change in the post-pandemic environment. These capabilities will remain essential well beyond the current turmoil. They will also be critical as organizations reimagine their workforce, redefine how they operate and position themselves for success as they emerge from the crisis.

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Summary

As global financial services organizations plan for their employees’ safe return to the workplace, crowdsourcing technologies, collaboration platforms and risk apps can play a vital role in navigating myriad unprecedented challenges. These technologies can expedite and enhance traditional enterprise risk assessments, accelerate identification of new and emerging threats, and allow executives to align more quickly on risk mitigation strategies essential to operating effectively in a post-pandemic world.

About this article

Authors
Hector Munoz

Managing Director, Consulting, Ernst & Young LLP US

Seasoned consulting executive with experience in driving large and global transformation and regulatory remediation programs. Married father of four.

John Rogula

Managing Director, Risk Consulting, Ernst & Young LLP US and EY Americas Enterprise Risk Management Leader

Over 25 years in management consulting. Passionate about working with creative persons and organizations in the development of innovative solutions.