CFOs share the challenges and opportunities that come with the easing of lockdown

CFO Community Conversation: Some teams continue to work from home, others are returning to work.

With lockdown being eased to level 3, people across the country are celebrating the first opportunity for free movement since its beginning in March. However, the easing of lockdown also comes with its challenges. 

On Thursday night, 27 May, some of South Africa’s leading finance professionals discussed the challenges and opportunities that come with lockdown level 3 in a CFO Community Conversation.

The easing of lockdown means that most companies are able to start operating again, however, many of the CFOs agreed that their workforce won’t be returning to work just yet. 

“We’ve been holding hearings remotely and it’s working very well,” says Competition Tribunal head of finance Devrani Moonsamy. “Since we are able to continue work as normal remotely and effectively, we have taken a management decision not to go back just yet, because we are still at very high risk.” 

Echoing this, Toyota Financial Services SA CFO Nishen Daya says his team will also continue working from home, despite the easing of lockdown. 

Approximately 85 percent of Coronation Fund’s staff is working from home. “Considering the call from the president that if you can work from home, stay at home, we aren’t expecting a surge of people returning in the short-term,” CFO Mary-Anne Musekiwa said. “In my finance team I have single mothers, and until their kids go back to school, they have to stay at home. Those staying with parents or parents-in-law, they must stay at home, we don’t want to put the elderly at risk as well as those with co-morbidities. We also don’t want to put our people in a position where, if they are uncomfortable to send their children to school, they do so as they feel they have to come into the office.”

Many of the CFOs are grappling with the stringent safety measures that have been regulated by the Department of Health and the Department of Labour are asking for before anyone is allowed to go back to the office. 

“Sanitising is easy, the critical part is understanding if I am bringing people into the office, are we 100 percent certain that they are not sick?” says GBCSA CFO and COO Pardon Mutasa. “We are trying to identify different strategies to ensure that there are two or three checks – like infrared cameras – to ensure that when we go back to full stream, we have done what we are supposed to.”

Nokia Africa CFO Michael Meiring has seen his team working very productively but is keen to return to the office, being uncertain of the longevity of this type of efficiency. He referred to a discussion he had with Nokia Africa’s CEO. “There’s a level of effectiveness about working from home, but I wonder if there’s also a level of ineffectiveness about it,” he said. “If I need to resolve something, I can address it quickly, on the run, and that’s not happening because I am only seeing my little world and the hadeda outside.”

As a CFO, Michael said he’s always believed in keeping his ear to the ground, keeping in touch with people, taking a walk around, speaking to the invoicing clerks and others, “really just talking to the team as you get to hear from all parts of the organisation”.

FD Wayne Edwards says Metrofibre welcomes the move as this means that they can resume civil construction again. “This is vital if we are to get fibre rolled out in our suburbs and communities and get our economy moving forward again. Fibre connectivity underpins so much of our daily work and personal lives – especially during these uncertain times.”

Phembani Group CFO Sizwe Nkosi, surprisingly, said he is looking forward to traffic and loadshedding. “While this sounds strange, traffic means that our energy business will see some uptick in volumes, and loadshedding means we’ll be delivering more coal to Eskom. So we’re looking forward to more economic activity because we’re involved in businesses that are directly tied into the economy.” 

While he is excited to return to the office, Sizwe says the environment will be strange in that he won’t be able to hug his colleagues, shake their hands, or see their smiles. 

DHL is globally analysing the successes and potential negative impacts of staff continuing to working from home, with a flexible working model, for the longer term, post Covid-19. DHL Express CFO Craig Henery says staff working from home for an extended period with no physical interactions with their colleagues in the business could have an impact on the culture DHL has established. 

“We need to understand this dynamic,” Craig adds. “Many of our team members are enjoying the current virtual working environment and we have seen great levels of productivity. However, many also have a desire to return to the workplace. Balance is key but safety comes first. For most, it is always more engaging to see each other in person than virtually. In addition, not all staff currently have video or webcam capabilities with their current equipment.”

The finance professionals all agreed that the most important aspect of returning to work remains keeping their employees safe, whether this means staying at home until the risk level has lowered, or working hard to ensure a safe working environment.