Last year, Richard Chambers in a blog post entitled "Returning to Workplaces Will Be Risky: Roll Up Your Sleeves, Internal Audit", offered examples of the questions Internal Audit should ask and get answers to from management regarding their plans to a safe return to the workplaces. These questions included:
- Has management adequately identified and assessed return-to-workplace related risks?
- Do proposed return-to-workplace policies and controls address the key risks?
- Are policies/controls effectively implemented (including communications)?
Is the overall program functioning as intended, or are improvements warranted?
Obviously, the return to the workplace was not significant last year or during the first half of 2021. However, this may change significantly during the second half of the current year due to progress made in vaccination and the reopening plans around the world. I believe Internal Audit should focus its attention on the following issues:
- Reinforce & strengthen relationships: working remotely for an extended period of time under a climate of uncertainty and disruption may have affected Internal Audit's relationships with its stakeholders. The CAE's priority, in my view, should be to reestablish timely contacts including in-person meetings with stakeholders as much as the safety and pandemic protocols permit. The stakeholders want to talk to Internal Audit as well as hearing from CAEs on their views, insight, and plans. A smart CAE will find the time to connect with his /her stakeholders and make the most out of the connection.
- Work closely with HR & Legal Departments to ensure there are proper anti-discrimination and conflict resolution plans: it will not be surprising, in the short term at least, that there will be employees resisting and challenging the organization's safety protocols such as wearing masks and physical distancing. There will be also others who did not get vaccinated for whatever reason. This may lead to conflict between the employees themselves and with management. Internal Audit needs to ensure that there are practical and fair plans to deal with such situations.
- Encourage management to communicate the return policies and procedures before the return to the workplace: employees should not be surprised by the organization's procedures and protocols when they show up to work. They need to be aware in advance of what is waiting for them in the office and plan accordingly.
- Monitor and assess changes in corporate culture: whether we realize it or not,the pandemic and working remotely have changed people. The change could be in the mindset, the mental welness, priorities, perspective of life, and career plans. These changes can potentially influence the corporate culture. Internal Audit needs to work closely with HR and others to monitor trends and changes in culture to enable management to take timely actions to address the change.
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