In the first of a new series, Tracy Ebdon-Poole explains how TaxCalc spotted the signs and then engineered its business to ensure the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was minimised.
It all started on New Year’s Day. I was watching Sky News and the ‘breaking news’ happened to be the epidemic, thought to be an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan city. Fast forward to 30 January 2020 and there were 7,818 confirmed cases worldwide, the majority in China, but there were 82 cases reported in 18 countries outside of China.
On 31 January 2020 we decreed, as a board, this was one to watch.
In early February, one of our employees informed us that his wife, a Chinese national who worked for Huawei, would be arriving home in the UK on the 15 February from Dalien in China. Although she was staying some considerable distance from Wuhan and Hubei Province, they’d had 20 cases reported so far. On her return, she was going to be in quarantine for 14 days at the behest of Huawei, and what should he do?
Ruth, our HR Director, scoured the Home Office website and there was absolutely nothing mentioned about Covid-19 and a 14-day quarantine period on entry to the UK. In the absence of any government advice available, the decision was made that he should work from home and keep in touch with HR on a daily basis. My initial thoughts were that if a UK-based Chinese company were quarantining their own staff on entry to the UK then this was serious and with over 100 staff to consider, we had some serious planning to do.
Thanks to Quan’s honesty and integrity, our Covid-19 Commercial Strategy was conceived.
The board met shortly after and we determined our initial strategy in the knowledge that it would be ever-evolving. Meetings with leadership teams followed. All employees calling in unwell were now to report straight to HR where all illness would be recorded, along with symptoms experienced.
From mid-February our IT team worked flat out and our systems were stress-tested to the max. We purchased additional laptops and IT equipment to ensure that we could maintain and support our systems should we have to work remotely for a period of weeks, or even months.
It was that week we made the decision to move towards a full closure of the office. Covid-19 was spreading like wildfire and as we’re a family business this was an easy decision to make.
Those employees who used public transport, had low immunity or were recovering from illness were the first to transition to home working. The rest of the company followed in quick succession.
By 11 March 2020, the TaxCalc team were all safe at home, working as normal. When the schools shut, we simply moved to shift work to accommodate those with school age children. TaxCalc 2020 was released without delay, and the customer care team has supported our customers as if it were business as usual.
We made the right decision as, thankfully, only three of our team had mild to severe Covid-19, and this was contained in their home environment. At the time of writing, everyone in our team is well and I’m proud to say that all members of staff have supported the company above and beyond the call of duty. We have much to be thankful for.
As Covid-19 creates further economic uncertainty and loss, maximising returns, managing risk and ensuring the survival of business, demands a deep commercial understanding of changing market conditions and government policy.
As a business, we have been focussing on our continuity strategies and how to minimise workplace costs, support our customers, support and manage our employees while still navigating a broad range of interrelated issues.
We are now adapting these business continuity strategies for the next phase. We have a ‘War Cabinet’. We meet daily, hourly if necessary, addressing the needs of our customers and our employees. We stress-test trading and financial scenarios, manage initiatives working at a sometimes-granular level, with cross-functional teams. We monitor progress, catch the odd dropped ball or two and never stop planning for a different but exciting future.
It is imperative that we have a clear-sighted view of the wider economic picture and review and scrutinise every part of the business as it is now, and how it will emerge as a trading entity going forward. Remote working is now our new normal and still will be for the foreseeable future.
There is one thing of which I am certain. What we will find on the other side of this pandemic, will not look like the ‘normal’ we took for granted in 2019. If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then although economic impact has been significant, this pandemic will bring about an entirely new and agile category of business that will serve as an accelerant to innovation and exciting times might just lay ahead.
• Tracy Ebdon-Poole is Chief Executive of TaxCalc