By Angela Knight, Managing Director, Equiom Corporate Services (Middle East) Limited
With daily case numbers in decline and death rates beginning to drop, the world in general and the UAE in particular is starting to ease the lockdown measures which were imposed to manage the severe threat to lives posed by Covid-19 and to restart the economies which are critical to the welfare of all people. By necessity these steps must be small and considered, allowing time to review immediate impact, to analyse the data and ensure a second spike in cases does not undo all the good work and sacrifice that people have made.
At Equiom we remain ever mindful of the much used diktat conceived by George Santayana and borrowed by Winston Churchill that ’those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it’, taking note of both our successes and areas where our response or our processes have been less than perfect.
How did Equiom Middle East respond to the Covid-19 crisis?
First and foremost, we put the health and welfare of our staff at the forefront of everything we do and were able to ensure compliance with all Government directives regarding lockdown measures. We were fortunate in two key areas.
As it became clear that we were unlikely to avoid some form of lockdown we were able to look at the experience of our Equiom colleagues in Asia and to understand and plan for similar measures in the Middle East. Our Middle East executive leadership team were able to trial various levels of working from home (WFH) and we had audited 100% of our potential WFH IT issues, including procurement and issue of new computers, access to video conferencing and distribution of printers to those who needed them as well as strengthening our day to day operational processes in regard to storage and distribution of hard copy documentation. We have an excellent global IT team, extremely resilient infrastructure and on call support and thankfully our networks were able to upscale and cope with the demand.
Cybersecurity, information security and data protection are key focuses for Equiom and we have processes in place to ensure we are as secure as ever despite remote working.
We were also supported in our efforts to provide excellent client service through the UAE authorities’ forward thinking approach to innovation and technology and the rapid acceleration of programs to move a vast swathe of Government services from physical service to wholly online.
How is the business and its staff adapting?
We were well placed; the majority of our staff have been working from home for several weeks now and all business travel was suspended in early March. Our group business continuity team has been closely monitoring the situation and comprehensive planning has enabled us to continue serving our clients, despite the move to remote working.
While we continue to run our business in these ‘new normal’ conditions and maintain service standards, protecting our staff is a fundamental priority. Regular communication to all staff is essential but we have also needed to try and remain mindful that each person is an individual and that the stresses and strains of WFH effect everyone differently. It would be naïve to say that our approach has been perfect but the leadership team have tried to ensure that we regularly speak to staff, particularly those living on their own or more fearful of the virus on a personal and non-work related basis and our HR team have looked to engage the wider Equiom Middle East community through a series of initiatives, including quizzes and colleague recognition shout outs. We all rely on text and email under normal circumstances, but a video or voice call to check-in is now more valuable than ever and is strongly encouraged.
What changes have we noticed with our clients?
Our clients are drawn from a wide range of business sectors and engage with us for a similarly diverse range of services including company incorporation and related services, compliance and advisory services as well as estate planning and wealth preservation. We have always recognised and embraced this diversity and have needed to recognise that, like our people, each client’s experience of Covid-19 will be different. We have been proactive with our approach – contacting clients to suggest where and how we can support them. In some instances this has meant speeding up ongoing projects and activities and in some instances recognising a need to delay or cancel them. Very few of our clients will come through Covid-19 unaffected and our role is to support them however we can and to ensure that they follow all the correct local procedures to close down correctly and minimise future liabilities that may arise. Fortunately, for the majority, the Covid-19 downturn will be temporary and here our role is to work with clients to ensure both their, and our, long term futures by reviewing arrangements and building in mutually acceptable flexible arrangements to get through together.
What have we learned at Equiom Middle East?
We are a resilient business and will continue to support and service our clients long into the future. This requires us to learn the lessons of recent history and build them into our daily operations so that we don’t need to learn them again. Key issues – some of which we have done well and some of which we will continue to improve - include:
- Clarifying internal communication responsibilities to ensure the right person is communicating with the right team at the right moment
- Ensuring regular client communication through a variety of channels with an emphasis on understanding client business drivers
- Ongoing and regular audit of IT resilience to include home and office working
- Make the ability to WFH and remote working a regular part of our process planning and QMS certification
- Embrace innovation and focus on remaining a solution oriented business
We have been encouraged at the collective positive response from our clients and our staff and are proud of our success in navigating this difficult situation. We look forward to business normalising in its various guises and will continue to work closely with all our stakeholders to collectively get to the green fields which will lie beyond.