How We Survived The COVID-19 Lockdown and Lessons We Learned
Compared to our competitors, SCG survived the lockdown and the economic slowdown much better than we feared. We worked throughout the lockdown and have largely executed our plans. We will not achieve our original targets, but we kept all our staff and did not cut pay.
As the pandemic decimated businesses in Europe and the US, we knew it was just a matter of time before the virus reached Ghana. We wondered whether we could hold the firm together, keep staff, and pay rent. Would our client base hold?
These were the questions going through our minds. We were determined to hold on to our staff and do all we could to keep them because losing them would damage the business.
Preparing for the Virus
The day after Nigeria detected its first case, we held a management meeting to discuss how the virus would affect us and explored the actions we should take to mitigate the impact. We took the following decisions:
- Provide education on how to stay safe.
- Buy supplies such as masks and sanitizers.
- Experiment with working from home.
- Run various scenarios and plan for each.
- Conserve cash.
Working From Home
We decided about 5 years ago to provide tools so our staff could work in and out of the office. Efficiency drove us more than people working from home. We had cloud tools for the various units and had also implemented all components of Office 365 except SharePoint.
But we had never managed remote staff. Experimenting with working from home helped us to confirm that it was workable and to identify challenges and create policies. The measures we adopted were:
- Weekly goal setting and reporting – to manage staff, we set a system of weekly goal setting and reporting. At the beginning of each week, the managers agree deliverables with their teams. The staff report on progress during the week, and we encouraged them to seek help when they had difficulties.
- Data and modem – we gave an allowance for data to each staff and subsidized modems for those who did not have modems.
- Security – to secure access to our systems, we implemented cloud authentication of devices seeking to connect to our network.
The management team met regularly to review how we were doing with working from home. When the lockdown came on 27thMarch 2020, we carried on. Our staff adjusted quickly to using Microsoft Teams for meetings and training.
The finance team, working with the managers, developed various scenarios. The question was, would the client base hold? We explored the effect of various levels of reduction in business and how we would respond.
We also considered what to do if a client in difficulty asked for concession. Fortunately, our client base held. We believe that this is because we have a good idea of our preferred clients and worked to target and attract those types.
Cost and Liquidity Management
We knew that managing costs and liquidity would be critical to our survival. So, we reviewed our plans and cut discretionary costs, and deferred expenses where we could.
To improve liquidity, we applied established methods for managing liquidity such as
- Billing early.
- Chasing bills and agreeing payment terms.
- Reviewed and approved requests for expenditure only if the finance team confirmed we had cash for that expense.
The finance team working with the business units continues to update our forecast regularly, and we use that to inform our decisions.
We maintained as much of our marketing budget as we could and continued our marketing efforts during the pandemic. Most of the effort centers on our website, blogging and social media. We have also started doing webinars.
Maintaining the marketing effort takes a lot of work because we call on staff to generate content. We thank our staff for putting in the effort. We think in hard times, the need for marketing is even more urgent.
What we Learned
- Anticipate and react – no one could have predicted COVID-19, but we concluded that Ghana would not escape it. We started exploring options for responding, so when it came, we could react.
- Embrace technology – technology is driving change in the profession. We have embraced that reality, but executing that strategy is hard in Ghana. It did not stop us from trying.
- Quality of organization and management – COVID-19 is a test of the quality of your organization and management. We have tried to strengthen both the customer facing side of the business and the back office. Our finance, HR and tech teams helped to manage in the lockdown.
We are not out of the woods. We expect tough times in the 2020s. To sustain the business, we will continue to reposition, build the organization, and invest in technology.
Looking beyond SCG, the companies that will survive and thrive in the 2020s will be those with strong management, a sound business model, and have embraced and embed technology in managing all aspects of the business.
On the technology frontier, Ghanaian businesses and the accounting profession have a lot to do to stay competitive. We are slow to embrace this reality.