Monday, September 27
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‘We are looking at incorporating lessons from this period into a flexible working policy.’

22 Aug 2020

In the Business Leaders’ Perspective series today, Kenneth Macfarlane, Partner in Charge, KPMG Oman, shares the company’s forward looking plans and its realisation that staff can work effectively and produçtively even from home. Excerpts:

What is your brief assessment of the position of your company in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during the peak season of Ramadan when business in Oman faced a challenge like never before?

At KPMG Lower Gulf, our business of providing audit, tax and advisory professional services to companies across many sectors, has been relatively stable. Over the last several months, we continued to deliver on client obligations, protect our employees’ financial welfare, safeguard funding and minimise adverse exposure to business assets.

What plans/strategies did you adopt to maintain your operations during the lockdown period over the past 2-3 months? How beneficial did this prove to be?

Since the onset of the pandemic, we established strategies to address the possible disruptions to business. These included a mandatory work-from-home policy for nearly all 1500 staff in the UAE and Oman, regular disinfecting of our premises, and daily employee wellness reporting to enable contact tracing. 

In order to ensure the safety of our people and the stable continuation of our business operations, we also established a Crisis Management Committee (CMC), complemented by four sub-committees: Health & Safety, Business Continuity Planning, Communications and Business Opportunities. 

 

What immediate changes are required in your workplaces, with regard to physical infrastructure, employee welfare, work culture and business promotion, in view of new guidelines related to COVID-19 (social distancing, hygiene/sanitation, health and fitness)?

KPMG Lower Gulf (operating in the UAE and Oman) is committed to the safety and wellbeing of its people. All offices were closed in mid-March and only partially reopened in mid-June, with strict social distancing protocols. We were able to immediately shift to working from home as the necessary infrastructure was already in place. In addition, we increased our network capacity with servers and fibre optic lines to ensure all staff could operate remotely. 

We remain committed to managing our cash flow to ensure the wellbeing of the firm. Furthermore, we created a daily voluntary survey for staff in order to track their health and movements and to inform contact tracing, if needed. 

What do you see as the most feasible solutions for mitigating losses experienced due to the lockdown (cost-cutting measures, downsizing staff, enhancing performance, increasing work hours, any other). Do you consider these as short-term or long-term measures?

We do not have any plans to downsize. We value our highly skilled people and aim to retain everyone. This will put us in the best possible position to service our clients now and in the future. We undertook several short-term measures to reduce overhead cost. We also encouraged people to utilise personal leave, if required, to prioritise mental well-being during a stressful time. We believe this can help with building resilience in the firm.

Did you have the option of working from home for your staff during the lockdown and to what extent was it helpful? Will you continue to offer that option as part of your new strategy?

All employees have worked from home since the beginning of the lockdown. Since our work is IT enabled, the transition to remote working was very smooth. What this situation has showed us is that we do not need all employees to work in offices; we can work effectively and very productively from home, as well. We are looking at incorporating lessons from this period into a flexible working policy—particularly relevant for people with domestic responsibilities, such as parents. 

 

What additional challenges do you anticipate in 2020/2021 and would you now place greater emphasis on risk management so that you are not caught off guard again?

While the world was caught off guard, we were able to respond quickly and effectively to the situation. In terms of challenges, there may be pressure on our revenues as businesses look to control costs, perhaps, by deferring any non-critical projects. 

 

In your opinion, how important it is for staff to undergo training to realign themselves with the company’s policies/new strategies as well as to immerse themselves in a new work culture that the pandemic has dictated?

While training is very important and beneficial, much of our work is IT enabled and many processes are computer based. Over the last few months, many employees have been learning to work remotely, as we all adjusted to working from home. One of the biggest challenges has been finding a work-life balance. We have found that many employees tend to work longer and harder when at home. It is important to learn how to step away from work and create boundaries. 

How long do you envisage it will be, if at all, that your particular sector is performing at pre-COVID-19 levels?

We anticipate another 3-6 months before we return to pre-COVID-19 levels of performance. In our business, across audit, tax and financial consulting, our services are still needed and in demand during these times. While some advisory projects have been deferred, we have taken on new projects and clients. 

What is the No 1 positive aspect you would take from the last three months?   

One positive aspect is how well our business and our staff have transitioned from working in a large office environment to working from home, effectively and productively. The most important thing is that we have no COVID-19 cases among our staff in Oman. Our people are safe and our business is resilient. We are grateful to our staff for their commitment and willingness to adapt to the necessary changes in the way we have been operating.

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