17 strategic questions to answer before reopening

By Anita Dennis

With regulations being relaxed in many states, organizations are turning their attention to how and whether to reopen their offices. Though health and safety questions are top of mind for many, strategic issues are also important to consider.

In the midst of all the damage it has caused, the pandemic has given businesses an opportunity to take stock. “COVID-19 changes the game on all fronts for strategic planning, not just workforce and facilities,” said Joey Havens, CPA, CGMA, executive partner of HORNE LLP. “It changes business models, services, client experience, and overall growth strategies.”

Organizations may find that some approaches they embraced during office closures may become standard operating procedure. “COVID-19 has proven that remote work and remote client service can work,” said Jennifer Wilson, partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC. Instead of seeing it as a temporary patch in a crisis, firms should recognize the competitive advantage that remote work can give them in areas such as productivity, recruitment, and retention, she said.

Below are some questions to help CPA firm leaders think through reopening from a strategic point of view and to spark ideas about processes and policies they might want to change once lockdowns end. They were developed based on interviews with Havens, Wilson, and consultant and speaker Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, the CEO of The B3 Method Institute, and draw upon the JofA article “35 Questions for Coronavirus Planning.”

Finances

1. In the wake of the pandemic, what is your organization’s financial situation? Where do you stand in terms of revenues, payroll, and other key areas? What can you do to maximize cash?

2. What do you project for revenue: a drop, an improvement, or a return to pre-pandemic levels over the next several months?

3. What are your plans for repaying any debt you took on due to declines in revenues or unexpected costs while offices were closed?

4. How sufficient is your access to capital to maintain operations for the time being? If not sufficient, what options are available to you?

Staffing

5. What are your plans for rehiring any furloughed workers?

6. How can you alleviate staff fears about layoffs or reductions in hours? If you are planning to lay off staff or reduce hours, how will you do so compassionately, especially if you must do it remotely? How can you reassure remaining staff about the firm’s future?

Clients

7. How have your clients weathered the pandemic? Are there any that have closed permanently or are in danger of doing so? Would a client survey help you assess where your client base stands?

8. What special services will clients need from you to get back on their feet? How can staff gear up to meet their needs?

9. How will you deal with clients who can’t pay under your normal terms?

Technology

10. How did your technology work during the office closure? Will any technology upgrades or improvements be needed to enable any changes in how your people work and how you work with clients?

11. How can you ensure that staff make the best use of any new technologies adopted during the pandemic? How will you identify redundancies in devices and applications?

Strategic planning

12. Given the changes the organization has experienced, what opportunities are there to alter and enhance your business model? How can you incorporate best practices and avoid or resolve any problems faced?

13. What did you learn about interacting with clients remotely? What changes do you want to make to implement more remote client service going forward (such as instituting a client portal or encouraging clients to use the one you have)?

14. Are there opportunities to change performance management (for instance, by conducting performance reviews remotely for those still working from home or evaluating performance by results rather than by hours worked)?

15. What digital pay strategies can you put in place to accelerate cash flow into your practice?

16. How can you involve future leaders within the organization in your planning?

17. What leadership steps can demonstrate empathy and concern for staff and inspire them to move forward with renewed commitment?

Anita Dennis is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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