While there are various issues public company board members have to consider at the moment, the top priority is ensuring the safety of their workforces.
A BDO pulse survey found that 87% of the 280 public companies’ boards polled have implemented new or expanded existing workplace safety procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, 71% of respondents indicated it is their top short-term (12-18 months) environmental, social and governance (ESG) priority.
Amy Rojik, national assurance partner and director of BDO’s Center for Corporate Governance and Financial Reporting, said this feeling extends beyond their workforce.
“There’s a priority of boards to ensure the safety of their workers, but they are also determining what that means for their other stakeholders, such as their vendors, customers and everybody in their orbit,” Rojik said.
While worker safety is the top priority in the short-term, many boards will be transitioning their focus to diversity and inclusion for long-term ESG goals. The survey found that 50% of companies ranked building a more diverse board and leadership team as their No. 1 long-term (18 months to 3 years) ESG priority.
Social justice issues reached a boiling point in the United States and Europe this summer, which has caused many businesses to examine inequities that might exist within their organization. From a board perspective, this goes beyond just meeting quotas, Rojik said.
“It’s not just race and gender when it comes to the composition of your board. You always need to be looking at whether you have the right composition of experience and expertise to navigate this,” Rojik said. “What skills am I missing and then how do I look at those skills through a lens of diversity? The right directors who have the skills I’m looking for, but also add different perspectives that are diverse.
“How do we drive diversity from the board level down to the rest of the organization? How do we create an environment that our next level of leadership is giving ample opportunity to instill? And then how do we talk about it? Communication is critical in a time like this, not only to your shareholders, but it’s important for your employees to make sure they have confidence that you can bring them through this.”
The BDO survey also revealed that boards are weighing their options when it comes to the future of work. While very few are sold on the prospect of a complete transition to remote work, 51% said they intend to transition some of their employees to long-term remote work. In that same vein, 28% of companies said they are planning to reduce their real estate footprint long term.
While most companies have realized the value in allowing for more flexible work, there are still some concerns from a board perspective, including cybersecurity. Shifting to a completely virtual environment means there will need to be enhanced security measures, Rojik said, and that means shoring up policies and procedures for employees who are working remotely.
But most of all, board members are monitoring and determining ways they can maintain their company’s culture amid an increasingly distributed workforce.
“They’re also looking at the impact of culture with respect to those shifts,” Rojik said. “How do we keep a cohesive culture when we have our employees otherwise engaged at home or elsewhere trying to dial in and work? This ties into that digital transformation organizations have been working on.”
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.