Maintaining a speak-up culture requires increased attention from businesses with many employees still working remote, putting more of an onus on the reporting function, according to the latest NAVEX study.

NAVEX’s “2022 Definitive Risk and Compliance Benchmark Report,” published Tuesday, surveyed more than 1,100 risk and compliance professionals from across the globe. Among the respondents, 84 percent said they work in the C-suite or management level.

Key findings included how risk assessments can be better leveraged; shifting priorities changing leadership’s commitment to compliance; evolving to new workforce dynamics; low levels of whistleblower protections; and how environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are gaining attention but are not yet standardized.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, remote work has created additional culture risks. With some employees returning to the office, best practices for navigating the hybrid work model have emerged. The survey found one in five organizations whose employees continue to work remote (22 percent) do not plan to return to their pre-pandemic office, with a similar set (18 percent) indicating they “don’t know.”

Following a trend from last year’s survey, three out of five organizations whose employees continue to work remote (60 percent) plan to return to their pre-pandemic office. More than half of those whose employees continue to work remotely (56 percent) chose to continue with a mix of on-site and remote work indefinitely.

The survey noted how the remote vs. in-person contrast of employees creates the potential risk of hindering an ethical culture and can be mitigated by having a proper organizational reporting system. Despite those challenges, hybrid and remote work have promoted positive cultural change, with 62 percent of organizations whose employees continue to work remote saying the shift has been a beneficial one.

Only two in five respondents said whistleblowing, reporting, and retaliation was “absolutely essential” to their organization’s compliance program, the survey found. Only 56 percent of respondents said they planned whistleblower training in the next two to three years.

The survey found three out of 10 board of directors did not receive periodic reports on compliance matters. Of the respondents, only 40 percent indicated their board members have compliance experience or expertise. An even smaller share of boards (36 percent) hold executive and/or private sessions with compliance, the report noted.

Less than half (48 percent) of respondents said senior leadership and mid-level managers remain committed to compliance when faced with competing interests and/or business objectives.

More than half (56 percent) of respondents said their organization’s ESG program has support from the chief executive officer. However, 48 percent of respondents said their organization does not yet use any frameworks or standards to measure ESG factors or program performance.

Three-quarters of respondents (74 percent) said their organization’s risk assessment is current and subject to periodic review, with 47 percent using continuous access to operational data across the organization to assess risk.

“While risk and compliance leaders, and their organizations, have often operated under changing circumstances, those conditions and the lessons learned from them can ultimately strengthen their programs and their organizations as a whole,” said Carrie Penman, NAVEX chief risk and compliance officer, in a press release. “… Ethical cultures ultimately drive strong risk and compliance outcomes that benefit the business and all its stakeholders.”