The Group was quick to respond to the pandemic, moving all but a few of its employees to remote working in the space of just a few days. Action was taken long before any government restrictions were imposed and well ahead of most businesses based on the Isle of Man.
Our COBRA-style meetings had begun at the start of March; we knew what was coming and had a plan and policies in place early on. Self-isolation was an early obligation for anyone returning from personal travel which transpired to be the correct decision when one of our employees was diagnosed with the virus after returning from a holiday in Spain. Had our self-isolation policy not been in place, the member of staff could have returned to the office and spread the virus to other employees.
Throughout the upheaval, our IT systems have been a huge advantage to us. We operate on the virtual desktop platform, with our core business systems being securely hosted on public and private cloud infrastructure. This allowed our staff to access company systems from any secured device with an internet connection.
This IT set-up put us in a prime position for homeworking and every member of staff was able to work remotely in just a few days. The transition however still required an immense amount of organisation.
Our IT teams needed to ascertain which pieces of equipment would be required by over 150 members of staff in order for them to work to their normal capacity at home. Ethernet cables of varying lengths as well as Wi-Fi routers and boosters were ordered in. Most of the equipment was distributed prior to staff leaving the office, with any extra equipment needed hand-delivered by our IT teams.
Maintaining high levels of cyber security was a major consideration as we became remote. Most staff took the equipment from their desks to use at home, which we of course knew to be secure. Those using their own devices to connect to their virtual desktops had their devices checked for the most appropriate security software and recent operating systems. Any laptops issued by the company for homeworking were locked down and encrypted.
We knew the pandemic could lead to an increase in opportunistic phishing attacks. To prepare, we carried out a COVID-19 simulated phishing campaign to educate our employees of the perils of blindly trusting emails from an unknown sender. A phishing alert button was also added to staff desktops.
The continuation of our client service was paramount during the lockdown, equally important however was the wellbeing of our employees. Feelings of stress and worry have been difficult to avoid during the lockdown and being cooped up indoors with limited social interaction only makes matters worse. To combat this, we organised numerous initiatives to keep our staff engaged and heighten their spirits as best we could.
Online exercise classes were introduced twice a week, including yoga and HIIT training. As well as this, staff updates delivered by our directors became weekly rather than monthly to help staff feel more connected.
Mental Health Awareness Week in May was a highlight for many. There was a secret Santa-style kindness exchange, lunchtime virtual staff rooms on top of online presentations from local wellbeing experts.
In terms of the day to day, colleagues have been encouraged throughout the lockdown to hold a daily meeting with their team to check in with one another. Virtual drinks were also organised each Friday as a light-hearted way to end the working week and an opportunity to catch-up with colleagues.
In the Isle of Man, we have now begun welcoming staff back to the offices, splitting our workforce between our two centres in Douglas and Castletown. All social distancing measures were lifted from the island in mid-June after a sustained period of zero cases. Life has returned to normal on the island, with the borders remaining closed in order prevent reinfection of the population.
We are taking a phased approach to the reopening of our offices, with staff who wish to remain isolated for medical reasons being able to do so.
In South Africa the picture is quite different. Lockdown continues, with travel to work permitted as long as certain conditions are met such as temperature recording and masks being worn in the workplace.
We understand the situation in the Isle of Man could change at any time. We will of course continue to closely monitor the situation both in the Isle of Man and South Africa and act, as we consistently have done, in the best interest of our employees.