Audit & Advisory Services Newsletter – Volume 15

Business Resiliency and Personal Resiliency

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced quite a few contenders for Word or Phrase of the Year (e.g., social distancing). But as the crisis has continued, another word – and major concept – has gained prominence: resiliency.

In this issue of our Audit & Advisory Services Newsletter, we discuss some of the challenges the current crisis has caused and provide tips on how to improve your business and personal resiliency.

 

 

Letter from the Chief Audit Officer

The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for us, and it continues to impact all of us in unprecedented ways. While we adjust to this “new normal,” it is exciting to see how everyone is embracing remote/virtual work and collaborating using different tools such as Zoom video meetings, Zoom chats and Slack. This situation is accelerating us toward more technology-enabled flexibility with a large number of remote workers and has given us a glimpse of something that seemed out of reach before this crisis.

Should we leverage this momentum and be on the lookout for other opportunities that will allow us to do things differently and in a better way?

While our immediate priority is to respond to the crisis triggered by COVID-19 and to support our front lines and the millions who are being disruptively affected, it is also important for us to think ahead and plan for what happens after the outbreak. The world may look very different post-COVID-19. How do we plan for reintegration of our workforce? What are the significant changes realized and lessons learned? How should we position ourselves for that “new normal”?

None of us can say what the future may hold. For now, we focus on working together to respond quickly – making the right choices, maintaining awareness of fundamental as well as emerging risks, ensuring that controls are in place and functioning, and asking the critical longer-term questions so we can be better prepared for whatever comes.

Together we emerge a stronger and more resilient organization.

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Controls in a Crisis

The rapidly changing nature of this current pandemic can make scenario planning feel like a seemingly futile exercise: By the time a plan is created, the situation may have already changed such that the plan is no longer relevant. However, that should not inhibit (1) thinking proactively and taking into account how various fundamental controls are being and continue to be affected, or (2) considering how to address the risks that are likely to arise regardless of the changing conditions.

Communications: It can be difficult to provide regular and frequent updates during a crisis; however, it is one of the most critical things to do in order to manage through the situation successfully. Insufficient communication increases fear, anxiety, rumors and misinformation. While it is tempting to wait until all the facts are known, providing short communications on what is known at a given time, with the acknowledgment that additional information may be forthcoming, helps keep speculation and alternative narratives from becoming more well-known or trusted than official messages.

Having a single source of truth that encompasses employees, contractors, vendors, partners and other stakeholders; is clear and updated frequently; and gives direction as well as a channel for feedback, questions and concerns helps increase the effectiveness of the narrative and guidance provided.

Cybersecurity and availability: When personnel are abruptly distributed differently, it is difficult to ensure that appropriate cybersecurity protocols are in place at the newly multiplied workplaces and associated networks. Phishing scams targeting workers who now may be operating on open networks are increasing, so it is helpful to review the protections your team has in place to safeguard your networks and data. That includes reinforcing good cyber habits, such as refraining from downloading sensitive or protected information onto personal devices.

In addition to security considerations, the massive shift to telecommuting has put major strains on many networks, inhibiting the performance of business or strategic operations as well as communication. Identifying low-bandwidth ways to perform functions can help reduce the chances of becoming unable to continue to meet business objectives.

Process knowledge: While downtime processes and procedures ideally would have been created and tested before a crisis occurs, it is not too late to institute them now. Forms, manuals, guides, tip sheets, procedures and other instructions and tools to perform manual versions of normally automated activities can help personnel keep critical functions operational, even when they are not on-site. Identifying activities that have regulatory implications (which may be due to the timing or duration of the event) will help prioritize development and training needs. Additionally, due to changing conditions, policies and procedures may need updating that necessitates alerting personnel in real time, rapid training at scale and monitoring completion of training.

Preparedness is the best practice for crisis management. But there remain options for putting controls in place during a crisis that will increase the likelihood of improved outcomes.

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Being Productive Remotely

A large portion of UCSF has abruptly shifted to full-time remote work. This can cause a variety of struggles, including the difficulty of maintaining productivity in a very different working environment. Below are some tips for improving productivity while working remotely.

Establish clear expectations for how to communicate: There are a wide variety of methods available for communication, but not all are well-suited for every scenario. Agreeing with your team on when to use chat functions, when to send emails, and when a video- or teleconference option is needed will help everyone be more efficient and increase the likelihood of successful remote collaboration. Realize the limitations on bandwidth as well – video is helpful in many ways, but not if individuals can’t connect or stay connected.

Understand and agree on priorities: Assess what work is critical, what is strategically important and what can be deferred. This allows focus to be placed on the most important items and may potentially identify (1) unnecessary activities or (2) opportunities to streamline processes.

Take breaks: Get up and walk around, do stretches or even just stand up for a bit. While it may feel like sitting at the computer and powering through is the only way to accomplish all the things that need to be done, you will actually be more productive if you take periodic breaks and come back to work refreshed.

Set up structure: With all the uncertainty going on, having some predictability in the day will help provide focus and direction. Structure can take the form of a 5- or 10-minute call at the beginning of the day to talk about plans and goals, a quick call at the end of the day to recap accomplishments and challenges or a virtual mid-day water cooler chat to check-in – whatever works for you. A bonus for early and end-of-day calls is that they help set boundaries between work hours and personal time – something that can easily be lost when working from home.

Leverage technology: Sharing files on Box, videoconferencing with Zoom, chatting with Slack…there are a number of tools in place that can enable collaboration and knowledge-sharing as well as reduce both isolation and dithering.

Most of all, be understanding, both of others and yourself. Remote working, especially without preparation, is not easy. Productivity may suffer regardless of the best efforts and intentions of all involved. Support and encourage each other, and appreciate the challenges of the current situation.

Disaster Fraud Scams – What to Watch Out For

Disasters (natural or man-made) are the perfect time for fraudsters to strike: Consumers are vulnerable, and law enforcement and regulators are focused on the disaster rather than thinking about fraud. With the COVID-19 virus outbreak, the number of scams has increased; according to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers have already lost $5.85 million as a result of fraudulent COVID-19 schemes.

The scams include offering free masks to selling fake products such as coronavirus test kits or cures; impersonating official health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO); and promoting fake investment schemes. Additionally, the increasing use of videoconferencing platforms, such as Zoom, has made the interrupting or hijacking of virtual meetings a growing risk.

How to protect yourself

  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Refer to IT Security’s article, Protect UCSF and Myself from Phishing and Other Similar Scams, for a refresher on how to help protect yourself and UCSF.
  • Do not respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers or any others that appear suspicious or are offering supplies or treatment for COVID-19.
  • Never share your personal or financial information via email, text messages or over the phone.
  • Where possible, use credit cards for making payments, as they have more protection than debit cards. Avoid payment through cryptocurrency.
  • Make sure you are using the latest version of applications with recommended security settings (such as IT Security’s recommendations for Zoom).

We encourage everyone to visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Coronavirus Scams webpage for a documented list of common scams and tips to help keep scammers at bay.

Lastly, let’s not forget corporate fraud: With the disruption to operations and the need to respond to emergent situations, internal controls could be circumvented. Ensure that your department managers remain vigilant against internal and external fraud.

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Resources for Shelter-in-Place Conditions

Although working remotely may have been an occasional or even regular option for some employees previously, the current situation is not the conventional working-from-home setup. Instead, this has been a massive shift, with little notice to employees about full-time remote working at the same time as they are juggling other aspects of a pandemic – such as kids' being home from school and needing assistance or family members' being sick and needing care.

Employers and employees are both having to learn how to pivot and adjust to a new way of doing business remotely. It is not simply a matter of connecting a laptop to VPN and working at the kitchen table for employees who don’t have experience with standard remote-working schedules: They also need to adapt to working in a nonoffice environment. The setup at home is likely not as convenient or complete as at the office for both employees with families and those who do not.

UCSF provides a variety of information resources for handling some of the challenges during this pandemic time, from the technical to the emotional. Below are some of the resources available:

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Meet Our Team Adjustment Strategies

People react to stress differently, so the same methods for managing uncertain times and conditions may not help everyone. Below are some tips from one of our team members’ personal experience coping through this journey.

  1. Keep moving: It may not be possible to achieve a home setup with optimal ergonomics, so incorporating stretching could help to prevent or reduce muscle pain. Our team member’s favorite stretching exercises: YouTube videos by David Procyshyn for reducing wrist cramps and muscle tension in the legs and back, and “silver sneaker stretches.”
  2. Play pick-me up music: After starting the day with an energetic playlist, our team member searches for new “productivity music” from YouTube to keep her energy engaged and focused.
  3. Adjust your mental setup: When feeling a little mentally sluggish, our team member recalls a Brown Bag lunch session from the ABOG mentoring program, where a guest speaker talked about channeling your higher self and said, “No, not your higher self, but your hired-self!” Imagine the day you sat at the job interview and told UCSF why they should pick you!
  4. Combat disguised hunger: For many people, stress ends up manifesting itself as a feeling of hunger, regardless of actual caloric needs and intake. One of the things our team member does to avoid stress eating is thinking of her kitchen as a hydration and fitness place. She doesn’t like drinking water, so she sets up an appealing visual reminder, placing a glass pitcher of water infused with orange slices on the kitchen counter. She drinks a glass of water and does at least one minute of pushups using the kitchen counter. This gives her energy, renews her focus and helps keep her disguised hunger at bay.
  5. Create an upside of lockdown: For some staff who are not in the front line of the COVID-19 operations and not eligible for redeployment (UCSF Health employees can learn more about redeployment opportunities using the COVID Workforce Platform; UCSF Campus employees should contact their supervisor), there may be opportunities to use forced downtime productively, such as:

Sharpening your tools: Complete trainings in your areas of interest, maintain training certifications or fulfill training obligations to align with organizational goals. UCSF’s Learning and Development has six categories of Skillsoft courses: Professional, Leadership, Business, Wellness, IT Applications and Continuing Education. You could also start with Staff Effectiveness Certification, which has options for communication and productivity series as well as a link to a Professional Development Guide to define your learning goals.

Establish or update your operating procedures: Where are the fraud risks in your processes, and what mitigating activities can be put in place? Where can you reduce a step or two in your process? Present your actions or ideas to your team and track and document your success stories!

Try exploring something new: Our team member found that making many stops at grocery stores had high risks, was inefficient due to long lines and created stress. So she signed up for delivery of easy-to-cook meals! This reduced her stress of deciding what to eat for dinner and helped renew her mental outlook as a way of exploring new things when social outings are discouraged. The zero-commute change makes cooking an easy recipe less of a chore; as a bonus, expanding your creativity at home helps create an expansive mindset that is beneficial in the workplace as well!

     6. Take control of fear and anxiety: It’s very natural to have fear or anxiety in this uncertain time. Some activities our team member finds helpful: drinking chamomile tea, taking part in self-guided meditations from YouTube on subjects of interest (e.g., anxiety, rejuvenation) using a weighted blanket and following Elizabeth Gilbert’s example in The Big Magic and writing a “Dear Fear” letter.

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