FINANCE LEADERSHIP IN THE PANDEMIC: The CFOs of Ecolab and Blue Shield of California have led their organizations through the workplace changes spurred by COVID-19

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Author: Daniel Butcher
Date: Mar. 2021
From: Strategic Finance(Vol. 102, Issue 9)
Publisher: Institute of Management Accountants
Document Type: Interview
Length: 1,855 words
Lexile Measure: 1360L

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DESPITE THE HARDSHIP AND DIFFICULTIES wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, management accounting and finance professionals must nonetheless provide stability, model adaptability, and ensure business continuity and growth. Sandra Clarke, CFO of Blue Shield of California, and Dan Schmechel, CFO of Ecolab, reveal the key elements of strong leadership as the professional environment continues to shift in response to the pandemic.

SF: What are the most significant implications of working from home?

Schmechel: The first and most significant consideration is the safety of our associates. We make sure that we're continuing to put our employees in situations that are safe, and so we've been clear that only work that must be done from the office can be done from the office. Beyond that, it's reaching out to our associates to make sure that they have the tools that they need and that we're hearing them on a real-time basis on how they're experiencing the pandemic.

The global real estate function reports to me, and so with our safety and health team, we've developed protocols for return to work, including things like temperature monitoring, social distancing, and assignment of floor leaders tasked with safe practices when people begin to come back.

Clarke: At the start of the pandemic, we took the immediate steps to protect our 6,800 employees, initiating a company-wide work-from-home policy to reduce risk ahead of local health orders. I'm proud of our teams for making this call; as a result, no Blue Shield of California employee contracted COVID-19 on the job.

In terms of the implications of working from home, we have focused heavily on providing flexibility and support for employees. That entails making sure we're giving additional financial support to caregivers and that they have public health emergency leave available to them, which we reset for the beginning of 2021, given the uncertainty of how long the pandemic situation will last.

We also made sure that our employee assistance program was leveraging our telehealth partner, Teladoc, so that we could offer employees sessions with licensed mental health professionals. We recognize that there's a lot of additional stress right now and want to make sure that they have a culture that supports their needs during this time.

When it comes to plans to return to the office, we have a return-to-work task force that includes physicians as well as our executives to help advise us on safety. We're following all the local and federal guidelines and determining what will make us feel comfortable when asking employees to return to an office.

We're going to be very careful to make sure that people return to the office in an appropriate manner and timeline, and we announced to our employees that they're largely going to have the option during 2021 to remain in a...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A654001995