How to manage the recovery from COVID-19

Andre Springett

Andre Springett, Manager, Accounting & Finance, HR & Business Support at Randstad Hong Kong, on what professionals can do to maintain their relevance and ensure a smooth business recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

The transformation of the accounting function means that professionals now have the opportunity to work with new accounting software and systems that are designed to speed up processes and add value to the business. 

In 2020, professionals – including accountants – were forced to shift their work home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the availability of several vaccines this year, which has definitely come as a relief for many professionals and businesses, it begs the question: “How soon can we return to work and resume operations like pre-COVID times?”

The reality is that we probably have to accept that we might never return to pre-COVID times. As a result, the fundamentals of accounting and finance have also shifted, leading to new ways of working.

The reinstatement of workforce participation

Given the global crisis, the HR services industry formed an alliance in 2020, spearheaded by Randstad NV, the Adecco Group and ManpowerGroup to bring people back to work and restore the economy. We worked with leading companies around the world to gather and develop best practices, protocols and industry-standard checklists to share with small- and medium-sized enterprises and large companies.

While it may seem like an extra step for companies with limited resources to prepare for a safe return to work, a planned and staggered return to work strategy will be key to economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic. A prosperous economy would also increase the opportunities for businesses of all sizes.

To limit the economic downturn and impact on people’s ability to secure jobs and achieve income stability, the labour market and all its stakeholders must quickly adjust to this new reality. Social distancing, strict community measures and successful vaccination roll-out programmes are necessary and imperative to restart the labour market. This will include carving a clear path for greater workforce flexibility, which includes remote working.

Getting that timing right is crucial for the economy. An estimation for the economy of Germany, for example, indicates that an extra week of lockdown roughly results in a 0.5 percent additional loss of annual gross domestic product (GDP), translating into further declines in employment and significant income losses for workers.

But what about the accounting and finance profession? How will the labour participation rate and acceleration of the digital economy impact your job and income stability?

Finding a place in the digital economy

Accountants are believed to thrive on having a standard process or system, such as crunching numbers for fixed closing days and internal reporting deadlines, all within the parameters of the traditional office environment.

To emerge stronger from the pandemic and achieve more, accountants need to be influential, decisive and demonstrate assertion and confidence. Critical thinking, effective and tactful communication as well as the ability to develop future-proof plans will be the new in-demand skills.

Technologies such as robotic process automation and modelling tools are changing the accounting landscape. Data analytics is fast becoming the most sought-after skill, as employers who have integrated new technologies are actively looking for candidates who have the prerequisites and experience to manage and optimize these new systems.

The issue of widening skills gaps between professionals has also never been more important. Even with the surplus of candidates in the market, employers are unable to find their ideal employees. Prior to the global pandemic, many accounting and finance professionals never had the opportunity nor exposure to digital technologies that can help them be more productive and creative at work.

Those who persist in developing their skills will gain a competitive advantage in the workforce, while others who fail to take the initiative may fall back further in the race.

Are you ready for the future? 

While we may face many macro-challenges, Hong Kong remains an attractive market for many companies, particularly as we enter “the Asian century,” where Asian economies are expected to overtake Western markets in terms of GDP. A strong human capital is an asset to draw in more investments, which would ultimately create more highly-skilled jobs for the local workforce.

It requires an industry-wide effort to level the playing field for employees, which will require robust capital in upskilling and reskilling. Accountants in Hong Kong must also be willing to develop their skills to ensure long-term employability and income security. Beyond training and development, networking is equally critical as industry peers often gather to bounce ideas and share best practices, which could contribute towards elevating the appeal and value of the entire profession.

So the most important question is perhaps not “how fast can you recover” but rather, “how ready is your workforce?”

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