Oceana Group's Trevor Giles: We knew Covid-19 was coming

Oceana Group has been prepared for Covid-19's entry into South Africa since the start of 2020.

Oceana Group had an early insight into the impact of Covid-19 lockdown when its markets for live lobster into China were shut down in January and February. 

“At the start of 2020, no one in their wildest dreams could have imagined how our lives were going to change in the matter of a few months,” says Oceana Group interim CFO Trevor Giles. “For me, the most amazing part is how we have adapted to life where social distancing is and will continue to be the new norm for some time to come.” 

In early March, the group established a Covid-19 task team to design standard operating procedures, aligned with international best practices, to ensure the protection of its employees and to prevent the spread of the virus. These protocols included a moratorium on all international and local air travel, mandatory quarantine periods for employees displaying symptoms, limiting access to facilities by visitors and contractors and communicating measures to prevent the spread of the infection both in the workplace and at home. They were rolled out across all of the group’s operations in South Africa, Namibia and the United States. 

“At the same time, our IT and HR teams were hard at work readying the organisation to be able to work from home, should that need arise,” says Trevor. 

South Africa’s initial lockdown commenced on 26 March 2020 and all Oceana’s operations were designated essential service providers in the food sector. “Given our planning, our office-based staff were immediately able to commence working remotely from home. Our respective teams began communicating widely using Microsoft Teams, including the exco team, which initially met daily to discuss Covid-19 risk mitigation plans.” 

According to Trevor, while Oceana Group has been designated an essential service, safeguarding their employees during this time has become the company’s primary focus. “Operating procedures across all of our facilities have therefore been enhanced to prevent the spread of infection, including the provision of daily transport to workers within the guidelines provided by government, temperature testing of all employees and visitors, restricting access to facilities, regular sanitisation of facilities using both fixed and potable sanitisers, provision of the required personal protective equipment to all employees and other social distancing measures.”

On the frontline
The group’s frontline employees have received tremendous support and motivation from the entire Oceana team, including the CEO Imraan Soomra and his leadership team, who have worked actively and tirelessly at safeguarding and supporting the employees working at ground zero. 
The provision of care packs and weekly food hampers and the establishment of a monetary fund for the benefit of all employees who have contributed during this crisis are some of the initiatives that have been implemented.

Oceana has also recognised the hardship that the lockdown has brought to vulnerable communities across the country and through its partnerships with the Gift of the Givers, Rise Against Hunger and the Peninsula School Feeding Programme has donated Lucky Star product, food parcels and essential medical equipment and supplies to a number of communities. 

Working alongside the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Oceana has committed to donating 146,000 litres of water per day from its desalination plants on the West Coast for hygiene and sanitation purposes to impoverished communities. Oceana’s senior management and board members have also agreed to voluntarily donate a portion of their salaries for the next three months towards coronavirus relief initiatives. 

On a personal front
During lockdown, Trevor’s family is following all recommended precautions and limiting all social interaction other than shopping for essentials whilst wearing a face mask. “We have converted our braai room into an exercise room and ensure that we make time daily to run on the treadmill and do other core exercises.”

During the workweek, Trevor’s wife Debbie ensures that their children are working to a disciplined school schedule, which is essential given that their daughter is in her matric school year. For Trevor, sticking to a normal workday routine has helped when working from home. 

The biggest challenge for Trevor has been managing collaboration time given the current information overload via video and audio meetings together with all other forms of text-based communication, while at the same time maintaining the right balance between work and personal life. “I sort of miss the daily commute into the office, which previously provided some quiet time to reflect on the workday ahead.”

As we move towards the phased reopening of the economy, Trevor believes there is general optimism that we are moving in the right direction. “That said, there is still a long road ahead before we can be sure that we have won the fight against the coronavirus and we need to remain conservative and cautious in our daily activities both from a health and safety and a finance perspective.”

He says that the last few weeks have certainly been challenging, but it has also been a time for the world to reflect on what is important. “It is only when we lose what we have that we truly come to appreciate it,” Trevor says. “This pandemic has once again demonstrated our resilience and ability to adjust, adapt and learn in order to overcome adversity. We will ultimately emerge stronger, wiser and more caring for others.”