The Next Normal: A Guide for AP Teams in the Pandemic Times

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of employed Americans have transitioned to working from home, something that would have been nearly unthinkable just a few months ago. Yet, as the virus spread begins to stabilize, employers are now shifting their attention to the potential for re-entry into the workplace.

Rather than calling this shift the “new normal”, many are instead referring to the “next normal” and, frankly, there’s nothing normal about the changes currently taking place in our corporate worlds. Offices, at least for now, will look very different from the one your staff left. Between masked coworkers, offices with reduced occupancy, physical distancing, and off-limit areas, corporate culture has been disrupted.

While many employees in a variety of industries cannot work from home, the pandemic has demonstrated that accounts payable teams, among the rest, can function with a remote workforce. So, if your team is running fairly successfully from home, consider making a longer-term or more permanent shift to remote work. For those organizations that require re-entry of AP teams on some level, your job will be to create a space where people feel safe and help them re-enter the workplace with confidence.

So, what will and should re-entry into the workplace look like? First, you’ll want to engage and identify key stakeholders who can help develop a re-entry plan and communicate with others throughout the return process. Here are five topics the stakeholder group should consider and discuss.

Promote Health and Wellness

First and foremost, it’s critical that your staff, clients, and vendors feel safe. Protecting the health and wellness of everyone in your office should be the number one priority. Before reopening, employers and building owners should check the regulation guidelines provided by your city, county, and state. Employers will also need to stay up to date on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Occupational Safety and Health Administration and state guidelines.

Make sure your employees know their safety and health is a priority. Overall, understanding the logistical, psychological, and emotional “readiness” of your employees is most important.

Ensure the Building Is Safe

Many companies will need to reevaluate office layouts and physical spaces based on social distancing guidelines. Your stakeholder team should identify potential health risk areas, such as lunchrooms, conference rooms, and restrooms, as well as entrances, elevators, stairwells, etc. Then, you’ll need to develop a protocol that ensures the workplace is as safe and clean as possible.

Here are some steps companies can take to create a protected workspace:

  • Redraw floor plans, reconfigure furniture, and repurpose underutilized spaces
  • Limit desk sharing and open more collaboration spaces
  • Post signs about hygiene and distancing policies in highly trafficked areas
  • Consider implementing technology that allows you to monitor and restrict access to the building
  • Consider touchless technologies for high-traffic public spaces
  • Plan for ventilation-system upgrades to ensure fresh air
  • Put rigorous cleaning protocols in place to disinfect the office as needed
Provide Clear Health Guidelines

Creating health safety policies and guidance for employees regarding physical interactions and hygiene is essential. Make sure your employees are clear on new behavior expectations and protocols regarding cleanliness in the office, gatherings in common spaces such as gyms or cafeterias, and how to conduct meetings. Social distancing strategies such as teleconferencing and virtual meetings will continue to be vitally important as some employees extend working remotely.

You’ll also want to communicate protocol on how employees should report to human resources if they become ill or begin experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. It’s important for employers to understand their obligations to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which mandates paid leave for certain COVID-19 situations.

Manage the Re-Entry Process

Communication is key as your AP team returns to work. Your employees and clients should know what to expect and be clear on the steps to re-entry. Examine what will work best for your accounts payable team, whether it be implementing shift work, flexible working hours, staggered shifts, or continuing remote work if possible. You can begin this process by identifying the employees who must physically return to work, along with those employees who can or must extend remote work.

How AP Automation Can Support Accounts Payable Teams with Re-Entry

For accounts payable staff working in the office as well as remotely, AP automation software is a tool that can keeps teams connected and provide transparency into every part of the invoice processing cycle. In fact, there’s never been a better time to automate your accounts payable process than now.

AP automation software can keep accounts payable teams connected by automating tasks such as invoice capture, invoice approval, data capture, purchase order matching, and payment execution. AP automation software also dramatically increases productivity, helping staff to handle an increased number of payables in half the time.

Using AP automation, your accounts payable team can automate invoice collection, sorting, categorizing, and data input upon arrival. Automation helps streamline the routing process and speeds up approval times. Once an invoice is captured and validated, it’s automatically, digitally routed directly to the manager responsible for approving the payment. This means invoices can get input, routed, and approved whether your team is working on-site or remotely.

AP automation software also extracts digital and handwritten data and automatically captures it, while also storing all necessary and supporting documents and digitizing invoice data such as GL codes, line item information, and terms. Invoices are also automatically compared to their corresponding POs, and mismatches will be flagged.

Lastly, accounts payable teams can schedule approved payments to be sent out on or before their deadline. AP automation also makes electronic payments simpler by providing one central location from which to choose your payment method of choice.

Do Not Forget Business Continuity Planning

If you haven’t created a business continuity plan, now would be a good time to start. This process will help you understand the best and worst-case scenarios that will help you better prepare for future uncertainty and potential second waves of the COVID-19 outbreak. These continuity plans can also help you understand the shifts your company needs to make in order to maintain profitability.

In a nutshell, every business and organization is unique, so employers and stakeholder groups will need to judge each situation from multiple angles. Consider the mindset of your employees, their life circumstances, performance, engagement, and the dynamics, benefits, and drawbacks of remote versus on-site work.