Returning to work – questions for establishing a new normal

What’s normal? As businesses return work, it is the question everyone is asking. Only one thing is certain. Normal has changed.

McKinsey has produced an excellent article, ‘From thinking about the next normal to making it work: What to stop, start, and accelerate’ to help businesses move forward into the post-coronavirus future. Please take time to read it and think about how your own organisation is adapting.

We adapt these seven executive actions to help internal auditors navigate the immediate future.

Question Start Doing  Stop Doing Do Faster

1. How have we adapted to remote working?

The reality is that the team is now distributed, not just occasionally or due to travel but could be on a permanent basis; productivity and well-being need to be addressed equally.

Set boundaries for working from home in a sustainable way, share what works well and look for innovative solutions.

There is no going back to the old ‘normal’ everyone must accept the fact and move on constructively.

Develop ways of working that foster positive behaviours; collaboration, agility, empowerment etc.

2. Are we working as a team?

When traditional structures and networks are removed, it’s easy to become self-reliant and insular; remote team working and networking takes effort.

Keep doing what worked well for decision-making during the early days of the crisis when speed was important.

Avoid replicating meetings and activities that happened in the office for the sake of it, question their validity and inclusiveness.

Prioritise agile methodologies and data analytics to be able to work at pace to deliver findings and react quickly to changes in assurance priorities.

3. What are our supply chain considerations?

The COVID-19 crisis highlighted supply chain dependencies and their impact on competitive advantage, aside from the obvious risk themes for assurance, internal audit can also learn from its own supply chain – the people, information, processes and resources involved in the delivery of audit assurance.

Reduce dependency on exclusive arrangements for resource such as a single co-source partner, increase the base skills of all auditors, particularly in relation to IT, digital, coding and data analysis.

Ad-hoc or late decisions for specialist resource or data analysis during audit planning because it has been readily available.

As our organisations begin considering ‘just-in-case’ arrangements, think about how this might apply to the delivery of assurance; for example, single points of failure within your working practices or the lead time to start an unexpected request.

4. Where is our time horizon?

In times of crisis 'short-term' is natural, but now is the time to be optimistic and plan to reap long-term benefits from our actions today.

Start to build or deepen partnerships both internally and externally to sustain internal audit.

Stop using performance metrics that focus purely on quarterly or monthly audit output.

Maintain development programmes such as digitisation, training and talent attraction. Where budgets are cut, find novel ways to continue with free or shared resources.

5. How sustainable are we?

Social distancing measures have led to a noticeable improvement in air quality; reduced travel being a major contributor.


Embed sustainability assurance at a broad level into the audit plan and climate assurance specifically into each audit engagement.

Discontinue any practices or language that implies environmental and climate risk is simply a compliance activity.

Work towards enhanced risk maturity within the audit team and the business as a whole, the impact of the pandemic was hard and fast, climate change will be much more impactful, sustained but will creep up on the business through an accumulation effect.

6. Which temporary adaptions are we building on?

Change was forced upon us rapidly during lockdown, digitisation, contactless operations, expectations, proportionality and in some cases perhaps even the definition of evidence.

Learn from the contactless changes to ways of working and methodology and build on them, particularly documenting evidence, reviewing working papers, communication with clients and closing audits.

Challenge personal bias and assumptions that internal auditors have to see ‘the whites of the eyes’ in order to form a rounded opinion.

Work towards enhanced risk maturity within the audit team and the business as a whole, the impact of the pandemic was hard and fast, climate change will be much more impactful and sustained but creep up on the business through an accumulation effect.

7. Who is responsible for re-imagining internal audit?

It is not enough to return to work, these are challenging times and we need to embrace the future, find new footholds, and climb out of the past. Every auditor has a part to play.

As our environment changes so must we, long-term social distancing will impact some sectors and professions more than others. Work with your organisation to maintain relevance. There is lots of scope within the principles of the IA Code and the Standards. Discourage activities and dialogue that seek to return to what ‘used to be’, the future is not a journey into the past.

Accelerate technology enhancements, from data analytics and artificial intelligence through to automation and remote monitoring, the future will not wait for internal audit, but it may make it obsolete. COVID-19 has forced a step change in acceptability and thinking. We are experts at problem solving, this is our moment!

Internal audit along with all other functions and the organisation as a whole need to change.

In planning for the new future, boards will be balancing financial, strategic, social and environmental sustainability as equal but often competing elements of their strategy. A key part of our role as internal auditors will be to support the redesign of processes, controls, organisational models, and governance to ensure an adequate and proportionate control environment is maintained as we all adapt. 

Content reviewed: 8 April 2021