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Essential Audits for Your Operations to Thrive in 2021

The coming year is likely to be tough on firms, especially SMEs. How can business leaders ensure that they are operating as productively as possible this year?

Posted: 18th February 2021 by Finance Monthly
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Business growth consultant Daniel Groves outlines the key checks to ensure a business is performing at its best in 2021.

People often associate audits with uncertainty; stripping back daily routines and cutting away at workplace stability. Given the year we’ve just had, it’s understandable that a company audit probably sounds like kicking your team while they’re down, but that shouldn’t be the case.

When carried out conscientiously, audits are going to relieve pressure on your bottom line, and therefore your employees. Working through the pandemic will have fundamentally changed the face of your business, and how daily operations are carried out. So, getting a clear, current perspective on how things are running - and how your employees are impacted - will equip you in making efficient, profitable decisions for the long-term.

Here are five key audits that SMEs should be carrying out in 2021 in preparation for workplaces to reopen.

1. Employee welfare check-ins

Everyone has been affected by 2020 in different ways. Chances are, your workforce are no longer just your employees - they’re now also part-time carers, or juggling their child’s education. They’re more likely to be struggling with bereavement, financial worries or health concerns, and may be either incredibly isolated or stressed about being unable to work uninterrupted.

Last year, the UK lost an estimated 17.9 million working days due to mental health concerns. Checking in with your staff will help you understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing your teams in the coming months. Anonymous surveys can provide some information; team leaders might be able to give better insight. You can find useful resources, like this guide to workplace mental health, if you need assistance with this.

Checking in with your staff will help you understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing your teams in the coming months.

In some instances, adjusting employee schedules or hours can be a benefit to the company and the individual. Ultimately, responding sensitively to the needs of your team will remind them that their contributions are valued, boosting your employee retention and helping to maintain productivity and operational stability moving forward.

2. Policy audits

In the last 12 months, we’ve seen endless examples of how company policies need to evolve and grow. A policy audit helps you emphasise your organisation’s priorities and your key expectations about employee behaviour. It’s also an opportunity to review policies that are outdated, unenforceable or no longer representative of company ethos.

A policy audit will mean taking stock of your existing workplace rules and deciding which are the most important - whether that relates to technology usage, data security, company objectives, staff welfare or something else. This policy audit outline is aimed at IT companies but translates well to other organisations.

Survey your staff to determine which policies seem challenging or irrelevant, and see where you can revise and clarify most effectively. Communicate with anyone involved in writing those policies, and make sure they’re still relevant and being effectively followed in the current climate. The Basecamp Employee Handbook offers an interesting and modern example of policy tone and structure.

A policy audit provides your employees and management with a refreshed understanding of what it means to be a part of the company. It demonstrates professional flexibility and conscientiousness, both of which are going to be vital in adapting to the climate of 2021.

3. Waste management

Waste management is a common headache for growing businesses. Although it’s probably dropped off the radar with offices being closed, you have an opportunity to limit your waste collection costs when you reopen. Plus, it always helps to give your company a greener image.

Waste management is a common headache for growing businesses.

Waste audits involve counting the number of bins around your site, assessing the type of rubbish inside and identifying where the bulk of waste is originating. It may be immediately apparent, for instance, your building discards a high volume of plastic cups, or bulky paperwork.

“Regardless of industry or company size, a waste audit is the first step needed to be taken to establish where improvements can be made and how to increase recycling within a business.” - Countrystyle Recycling

Reducing the number of bins, positioning them more centrally and providing ways to segregate recyclable materials can nudge staff behaviour in the right direction. Adjusting workplace systems - like providing communal drinkware, or going paperless - will reduce waste further. 

4. Paper processes

Paper-based processes stack up to big business costs - especially when you consider that the average employee apparently uses over 10,000 sheets of paper a year. Identify the source of your physical paperwork now, and reap the benefits of a paperless (or near-paperless) system when your workplace reopens.

Lots of organisations have digitised during lockdown. Meetings, desk drive-bys and wet signatures have been replaced with video calls, instant messaging and eSignatures. Using cloud-based services, digital contracts and electronic proof of delivery (E-PODs) allows documents, signatures, order forms and invoices to be shared instantly, tracked accurately and stored securely. 

If you’re sceptical, calculate how much your company spends on printing materials and machinery, plus postage costs. Then add the approximate rent of each square foot of your paper filing systems, the rates of your employees as they task-switch between screens and physical documents and, of course, the cost of shredding, recycling or discarding waste paper.

5. Office capacity audit

SMEs are typically hyper-conscious of their headcount and available office space. However, with the future of onsite working changing, 2021 is the time to re-evaluate your figures.


Experts are predicting that ‘hybrid’ working will be the new normal, and UK employers estimating that around 37% of employees will regularly be working from home post-pandemic. This potentially means that workplaces can be significantly smaller for the same number of employees, as long as realistic hotdesking practices are put in place. As a result, businesses may find it possible to save thousands on rent.

Talk to your staff about their workplace preferences with regards to working onsite full-time, part-time, or only on occasion. Compare this to what you and your team leaders see as necessary for productivity, and plan accordingly.

In Summary

Everybody wants 2021 to be happier, healthier and more successful than last year. These five audits work in harmony with each other to reduce burdens on both individual employees and company finances, allowing businesses to flourish under the demands of the ‘new normal’.

Take the opportunity to acknowledge everything your team achieved against adversity in 2020, and work together to create positive and sustainable change this year.

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