March, 2020 - In January 2020 we were all hearing news that a new virus had emerged in China and that the Chinese government was taking various measures to contain it and prevent the spread outside of the Wuhan province. While we were all hoping that COVID-19 would not cause many casualties in China, it did not seem realistic at that time that the disease would become a global pandemic and that it would reach other countries and affect our daily lives to the extent that it has.
Only two months later, COVID-19 grew to become a global pandemic and Kosovo’s neighboring countries started confirming the first positive cases with the disease. Under such circumstances, although there were still no confirmed cases in Kosovo, the Government of the Republic of Kosovo started undertaking measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic within the country. Among these measures, on 11 March 2020 the Government took the decision to temporarily suspend all educational activities in public and private institutions.
Due to the measures undertaken by the Government and the health risks that COVID-19 imposed to SCAAK’s members and students, and also to the Executive Office team, the Council of SCAAK approved the temporarily suspension of all activities of the Society including training sessions, exam sessions, and continuous professional education sessions. Furthermore, as of 16 March 2020, SCAAK’s Executive Office has been closed for the public and all communication has continued electronically.
These rapid developments required a fast response by the Executive Office team in shifting to a completely virtual infrastructure, so that the staff could keep providing services to our members from the safety of their homes.
1. Getting the team ready to continue work remotely
The last physical meeting held by the Executive Staff of SCAAK on 13 March 2020 was aimed at preparing the team to continue work virtually from their homes. This included making sure that all staff was equipped with the necessary technology such as laptops/computers at home and that they would be able to access the information needed from the office to carry out their duties and responsibilities.
Access to information in the office was made possible either by accessing office computers remotely through applications such as TeamViewer, or by carrying electronic copies of required documents home through the use of memory devices such as USBs and Hard Drives. Physical access to the office is restricted to essential needs only.
Furthermore, all approval requests including payment orders are now being done electronically through email by the responsible officers. Reporting and monitoring will continue to be done remotely based on SCAAK plan of activities for year 2020.
The team has ongoing coordination meetings held virtually through Zoom platform which has proven to be very effective so far. Generally, the team reconvenes 2-3 times per week to report on the work carried out and the plan for next steps and activities.
SCAAK has informed all parties including students, members, lecturers and other stakeholders that the Society’s offices and classrooms will be closed for an undefined period and that all communication shall carry on through email. All parties were notified of such approach through email, SCAAK’s social media profiles, and also printed notices were placed at the entrance of the building.
2. Postponing all deadlines for members of SCAAK
The Council of SCAAK held a virtual meeting to discuss the response of the organization so far, and to determine the steps ahead. One of the main decision taken by the Council at this meeting was the postponement of the deadline for paying membership fees by the members. The initial deadline of 31 March for paying membership fees has been postponed to 30 June, and the General Assembly Meeting of SCAAK which is usually held in June of every year, has been postponed for an undefined period. All members were notified through email of the decision taken by the Council.
3. Preparing for resuming training sessions virtually
Given that the situation of the lockdown caused by COVID-19 may last for extended periods, the Council of SCAAK gave the green light for the Executive Office to perform an assessment of alternative methods of continuing the training sessions for our students virtually.
The first step in this regards was to carry out a survey with SCAAK students in terms of whether they are willing to continue the training session virtually and whether they possess the required infrastructure such as electronic devices, internet connection and suitable space within their household to engage in online lectures. The response from the student body was highly positive with approximately 80% stating that they are willing to continue the training virtually.
The Executive team carried out an assessment of various electronic platforms that could be used to carry out the lectures online, and has decided to use Zoom as the most convenient platform due to its features fulfilling the requirements for providing online lectures, and due to the previous positive experience that the staff had with the platform. SCAAK has purchased a Zoom Pro license which will allow up to 10 lectures to be carried out simultaneously.
Virtual meetings were conducted with SCAAK lecturers in order to discuss their readiness in carrying out the lectures online and to introduce them to the Zoom platform and the ways that various teaching activities can be carried out through the platform.
In terms of study materials, until recently they were distributed to SCAAK students in the classroom on the first day of training. However, given the circumstances, the SCAAK team is assessing the possibilities of mailing the textbooks to students through post services.
Students have been notified that online lectures will commence soon and the final preparation are now being done for the lectures to go online.
4. Keeping our members informed on recent developments
SCAAK has consistently kept members informed on the latest developments regarding the pandemic in Kosovo and abroad, including measures taken by the Government of Kosovo that affect the accountancy profession such as postponement of deadlines for financial reporting and filling taxes.
In addition, SCAAK has developed a dedicated COVID-19 portal on its website to inform its members as well as the general public on the impact of the pandemic on the profession and the economy as a whole. The portal is populated with articles of global standard setters that are translated in Albanian, articles written by our members and the staff of the Executive Office.
5. Maintaining contact with key stakeholders
SCAAK has continued to maintain contact, mostly virtual, with its partners and other key stakeholders such as the Chambers of Commerce, relevant Ministries and Government Institutions, and International Federations. It is highly important to stay interconnected with all stakeholders in order to ensure a better flow of information and join efforts in overcoming this phase both from a health and economic perspective.
At times like these it is crucial to remain positive and bring out the positive side of difficult circumstances. SCAAK’s development strategy for the period 2020-2024 foresees the digitalization of our internal processes as well as the digitalization of our training programs. The pandemic COVID-19 has served as an accelerator for beginning to work towards the aim of digitalization in an unexpected way, however it remains our duty as professional organizations to adapt to changes in the environment, and in this case assure the wellbeing of our members, staff, and partners.
Society of Certified Accountants and Auditors of Kosovo