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Five tips to reduce back office staffing risks

It is widely accepted that Brexit will have a major impact on our UK workforce – regardless of any labour agreements that are made. We are already seeing the effects – which range from corporate decisions about where to locate teams – through to individuals changing their life plans. In the back office, this poses the risk that individuals holding key roles will leave an organisation – and most have no clear strategies of how to replace them.  The good news is that there are key steps that companies can take to protect against this risk – and also capitalise on the fast accelerating world of Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

  1. Kick off a programme to improve workforce planning governance

You should already have an effective workforce planning strategy in place – if you haven’t, now is the time to establish the framework and governance required to create one that factors in Brexit implications. To achieve this, use existing HR channels and mechanisms, such as HR business partner business reviews, or set up a committee to focus on the actions required.  Ultimately, you must ensure that a clear timetable exists for engaging with the business on workforce locations, planning and long term workforce planning.


  1. Create a single picture of back office roles and location

Most consultants will tell you that you need complex methods and tools to do this, but a simple mapping of key roles against locations / businesses, will allow you to plot where your resources currently are. To create a sense of urgency around Brexit, you could set up a set of visual measurements to track the readiness, and even set up a dedicated conference room to display the progress on a visual flight deck – this would form a good logical meeting point and focus. I would recommend a series of events to define the full impacts to the various people and teams in the back office organisation.


  1. Create a plan for the key expert roles within Finance, HR and IT

We all know them – the people who have all the knowledge in their heads, or the people who perform what are traditionally centre of excellence roles in the back office model. You may identify key job roles that would take a long time to replace / handover from, but in our experience, we would look for:

  • In finance – customer facing finance roles where there may be pivotal collections relationships, key controller or group accounting roles with significant institutional knowledge; Tax & Treasury roles or roles that support complex financial arrangements
  • In HR, reward specialists; employee relations experts with knowledge of EU law, trade unions and works councils; graduate and apprentice recruitment specialists
  • Architects and anyone who support key systems that are difficult to support in IT

Create a talent retention plan for key individuals which may include additional reward for key skills , retention bonus and non financial reward such as a clear career strategy and plans for personal progression. A succession plan should also be created for key individuals identifying successors to their roles and supported by a development plan for those potential successor.


  1. Accelerate plans to repatriate / outsource or use robots for transactional roles

For the shared service centre operations, now is the perfect opportunity to review your workforce from a number of perspectives. If you have off-shored / outsourced to an EU country, there may be a change in the economics, levies or exchange rates which impact the business case. If you have significant non UK EU nationals performing key roles in a UK shared service centre, now might be the best time to look at the economics of outsourcing.

In both scenarios, you should accelerate any plans to review the business case for robotic process automation (RPA) – it will be significantly cheaper than full time equivalent human workers, so could solve the problem of covering key shared services roles.

  • Look at data entry, payroll / T&A, expenses administration, personnel administration and recruitment admin in HR
  • Look at P2P, order to cash, record to report, procurement operations, collections and cash management in finance
  • Look at routine maintenance, deployment, monitoring, batch processing, user admin, testing, data cleanse and backup / restoration in IT


  1. Formalise and accelerate development and implementation plans

Based on all of the above, examine skills gaps, areas where it will take longer to develop and replace people, and areas where a people / human workforce can be supplemented (or replaced) by a robotic workforce. Create a single spreadsheet or chart which lists off every department in the organisation, and identifies where the key roles are that might have opportunities. Sometimes this can be shown in a “heat map” format with colours depicting where particular impacts are likely to be higher.


If your organisation has a wider framework for implementation planning for Brexit, make sure that the back office skills risk is firmly on the agenda. Remember that all your workforce planning efforts will not be wasted if Brexit doesn’t have the expected impact – they should be done anyway – and will provide greater resource efficiencies across your operations.

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