By Tim Brown, Strategic Network Associate and Housing Association Board Member

As a board member of a large regional housing association, including chairing the audit committee, what is the impact of COVID-19 on my role?

Firstly, there are fewer face-to-face meetings, including learning development sessions and away days, as well as a serious reduction in the number of emails and phone calls. Frankly and quite rightly, officers have much more important issues to deal with in managing the crisis
than attempting to run the business as normal.

This is being operationalised through an incident management team that is meeting virtually on a daily basis. So, my garden is getting a bit of a hammering and has never looked so good this early in April for many years!

Secondly, I am humbled by the commitment of staff at every level in the organisation who are going beyond the call of duty to deliver services to customers, especially as we have a significant care and support division. Nearly a quarter of staff are self-isolating at home for various reasons but continue to work online remotely wherever possible with the help of managers and the ICT team.

Thirdly, as a board member, I get a regular briefing from our chief executive so that I (and my colleagues) can perform the roles of understanding the risks, scrutiny and challenge. It, for example, covers:

  • Business-critical issues such as the supply of PPE to enable staff to discharge their care duties effectively
  • Maintaining a watching brief on potential issues such as a rise in cases of domestic abuse and anti-social behaviour
  • Updated coronavirus risk map and COVID-19 KPIs
  • Delegated decisions made by the chief executive, chairperson and vice-chairperson
  • Stress-testing of the budget for 2020/21 and the financial plan.

Fourthly, as chairperson of audit committee, I am getting to grips with the processes for a virtual external audit. Clearly, there is a likelihood that some organisations in the sector may only receive qualified accounts, ie, the auditor is unable to access or has doubts about some key information. But I am hoping to avoid this. Similar points apply to the internal audit plan for 2020/21 which kicks off this week.

The first two topics have been tweaked to take account of the crisis – (i) GDPR and remote/home working and (ii) development cashflow as all our sites have been mothballed.

Fifthly, I am beginning to ponder on what happens when we come out of the crisis, which will increasingly form part of our sector and organisation discussions. We appear unlikely to return back to normal (whatever normal is or was!) Furthermore, would we really want to
return to business as usual?

And finally, even I am starting to get to grips with virtual meetings, though some of the various software tools do not do ‘what’s on the can’. Or is this my luddite-tendency kicking in? Let’s hope both get addressed post-COVID-19 as part of digital transformation, if this approach becomes the new ‘normal’ of working.