Very few organizations entered 2020 fully prepared for a COVID-19 kind of disaster. In January, the coronavirus wasn’t much more than a blip in the national eye—out of sight, out of mind. We gleefully ignored the warning signs thinking that things would be under control before they reached our offices. Fast forward two months, however, and most of us were working from the confines of our kitchen tables.

The unprecedented speed of COVID-19 simply caught organizations off guard. By the time the virus hit metropolitan areas, leaders had to pivot their entire organizations to remote work at breakneck speeds. This posed some serious challenges for decision-makers—not only were they forced to hastily adopt new technologies that don’t meet long-term IT goals, but they also had to make sweeping changes to their 2020 growth plans.

Recovering from the disruption

Saying that the COVID-19 pandemic struck hard would be an understatement. Over 70% of CFOs are expecting revenue decreases this year, with over 20% expecting 50% decreases or more. That’s an enormous loss finance leaders never planned for going into 2020.

As restrictions loosen and offices reopen, finance leaders have monumental recovery tasks ahead of them. First and foremost, their immediate goal is to restore “business as usual.” According to a recent PwC study on 330 US finance leaders, one-third believed a full recovery would take at least six months to achieve, while 48% believed recovery would last well into 2021.

Second, finance leaders have to account for the quickly evolving needs of the post-COVID-19 workplace when evaluating long-term business continuity strategies. These include outlooks beyond the recovery phase, extending into 2021 and beyond.

To emerge stronger, many finance leaders have already mapped their recovery priorities for the near future. Here are the top five (in no particular order):

1. Cost containment

One of the most efficient ways for organizations to recover is to cut expenditures wherever possible. According to PwC, a whopping 86% of finance leaders are considering cost-containment measures in the wake of COVID-19. In fact, many have already executed on these measures, including reductions in CapEx investments, operations, and staff.

In the next few months, finance leaders may implement more cost-containment efforts as part of their short-term recovery strategy. We can expect to see reductions in nonessential areas such as facilities, philanthropy, and new hires as organizations stabilize. Areas that won’t see significant cost containment include R&D, employee experience, and digital transformation.

2. Workplace safety

Employees, teams, and organizations that simply can’t work remotely have to return to the office, but without the right safety standards, leaders risk the health of their employees. Workplace safety can include measures like reconfiguring office layouts, contact tracing plans, flexible work arrangements, and chain-of-command protocols in case an employee gets sick.

Finance leaders will play a crucial role in implementing workplace safety measures. For example, 58% of CFOs are planning for a second wave of infections to disrupt business operations and are accelerating digital transformation and remote work plans to prepare. Similarly, finance leaders have to account for the rehiring of staff as offices reopen—all on significantly reduced budgets.

3. Flexible work

Remote work allowed many organizations to weather the pandemic, which helped shed much of the stigma around it. Leaders who were reluctant to embrace remote and flexible work prior to COVID-19 are much more likely to welcome it now. In fact, A recent Gartner survey on 317 CFOs revealed that 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19. Nearly a quarter of those plan to move 20% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.

Flexible work isn’t just a nice-to-have in the post-pandemic workplace—it’s a business necessity. Finance leaders are prioritizing employee safety and allowing employees to continue working from home (either in permanent remote positions or flexible/rotating schedules) is critical to keeping them safe from the virus. At the same time, flexible work allows employees to achieve a better work-life balance, which in turn drives productivity, retention, and profit.

4. Digital transformation

COVID-19 caught most organizations off guard, and they don’t want that to happen again. That’s why business resilience and agility will be key areas of focus for finance leaders in the future of work.

Part of developing stronger business resilience is in digital transformation, which has accelerated during the pandemic. Finance leaders understand that going digital can significantly improve long-term business success, with 44% planning to support automation and newer ways of working.

Remote and flexible work will see the most immediate impact of digital transformation. As more organizations embrace flexible work post-COVID-19, their remote employees will need the right tools to communicate and collaborate. Finance leaders might consider consolidating their current workplace communications technology, adopting unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solutions to simplify collaboration across increasingly distributed teams. Because many employees might continue working from home despite offices reopening, unified communications is poised to instantly contribute to short-term recovery plans.

5. Revenue streams

One of the biggest challenges for recovering organizations is finding new sources of revenue. Organizations have several barriers to overcome, including lower budgets, distributed teams, and a global economic recession. How can companies perform in this new normal?

In the coming months, finance leaders will divert funds into R&D, better products and services, and ensuring employees have the right tools to succeed in flexible and remote environments. There will be a growing need for employees to avoid burnout and continue innovating as employees either work from home or rotate shifts in the office. Leaders might consider implementing employee experience initiatives such as work-life balance programs or rewards for hitting targets. All of these efforts support the ultimate goal of driving more sales, bringing in new revenue to the company as it slowly recovers.

Keys to an agile recovery

Recovering from the changing needs of the post-COVID-19 workplace will require a multipronged approach—all with unprecedented haste. Companies are already starting to execute on recovery and continuity strategies, and those who embrace change early will have a competitive edge in the future of work.

While the economic landscape is beginning to look optimistic, finance leaders understand that returning to the old normal is a recipe for disaster. Organizations can’t simply revert to pre-COVID-19 workflows, procedures, technologies, and business models and ignore the dramatic changes brought on by the pandemic. 

For example, more employees are working from home today than ever, and the demand for flexible work options will continue to rise. By prioritizing digital transformation and migrating workflows to the cloud, finance leaders can position their organizations to not only prosper down the line, but also build the resilience to withstand future disruptions to operations.