Wayne Naidoo
Wayne Naidoo

CEO’s Covid Diary: Lockdown lessons – The perfect trifecta

by Wayne Naidoo. From online work to back-at-work; from collaboration to keeping a distance; getting back to ‘normal’ is not easy.

by Wayne Naidoo. From online work to back-at-work; from collaboration to keeping a distance; getting back to ‘normal’ is not easy.

Week 9: May 11

Try switching your video off. Hello, can you hear me? And now? Ok, you’re still breaking up a bit. Also, sorry about my background noise Phumla, my neighbour’s 8-year-old, is practicing “All of Me” by John Legend on her flute.

Every day and every hour on the hour, it’s been a combo of Zoom and Teams meetings, WhatsApp, Skype and voice notes to try and keep our ship afloat. It’s been a grueling nine weeks to keep positive through this crazy Covid storm when all operational processes and critical synchronised teamwork have been stripped away. “Yes we can!” motivational speeches have been penned; “Business on Top and Party at the Bottom” themed Zoom catch-up drinks have been conducted;  prizes have been awarded; and, thankfully, full monthly salaries have been honoured throughout our lockdown period, even though our Debtors book has looked somewhat questionable.

So, whilst Covid has blindsided and tested us beyond reason, this much is true – we will get through it. It’s just a matter of time. And if we truly pull together, we have the opportunity to thrive beyond measure.

Week 12: June 1

Oh dear, it looks like we’ve dropped a ball. F*k – make that two. And they’re biggies. Why? How? When? What now? And just like that, the wheels started coming off. Covid fatigue kicked in and we were now in a downward spiral to no-mans land. Staff were all Zoomed out, clients were out of patience and the Covid kryptonite was still boldly hanging over us, with no evidence of dissipating anytime soon. It was the perfect trifecta sh*t show.

Week 15: June 22

URGENT – We need a rescue plan. Surveys were sent out to determine whether we should re-open with lockdown level 3 being announced. Legally we were allowed to do so – emotionally we were not so sure. One-on-one HR sessions were commissioned, broader discussions held, suggestions were made and diligently adopted and, once all feedback was neatly implemented and with everyone’s blessing, we once again reopened the agency and implemented the compliancy requirements with ultimate military precision. Medi-Clinic had nothing on us – our abundant supply of sanitisers and thermometers could equip a little country for decades.

We were proud, understanding and enduring to everyone’s ask. Slowly but surely, staff started coming back to their new social-distancing desks, masked watercooler chit chat started taking shape – little giggles and elbow high fives were in abundance. Even the beautiful words of, “I can’t f*cking believe that client never bought the pink Lama idea”, vibrated with much vivaciousness through the studio. We were alive again and we were one.

That was until 15h30 on Tuesday of Week 16, when we got a call from the Western Cape’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism, informing us that they received an anonymous call from one of our staff. It appeared that not everyone in the agency was standing two meters apart and it was believed that a few employees were not wearing their masks 24/7. We had 48 hours to ensure that this was rectified, or they would shut us down with immediate effect.

Us: Silence. Gobsmacked.

We now have a team of dedicated Covid personnel to monitor everyone’s move, every hour, of every day. Some staff feel betrayed, others relieved and commercially, we’re still a deer in the headlights. It feels like Groundhog Day, but of a slightly different kind – as we’re about to enter a new and improved trifecta sh*t show, now of our own doing. God be with us all.

Lockdown Lesson #2: Anything and everything will happen in this time of chaos. Maintain social distance.

For more – CEO’s Covid Diary: Lockdown Lessons 1.


Wayne Naidoo is founder and CEO of DUKE Group. He started out in the industry as Marketing Manager of the Cape Town 2004 Olympic Bid Committee. Seduced by the world of advertising, he joined Lowe Bull soon after its inception, where he started out in Account Management and grew through the ranks to business development director, where he worked on a range of blue chip clients, and eventually Group CEO of the Lowe Group. After a stint at fintech startup afb (now known as JUMO World); Naidoo returned to advertising and started Duke five years ago. He is current Chairman for the Association for Communication and Advertising in South Africa (ACA); a board member for the AAA School of Advertising; and Chairman of the Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO) in Cape Town.


– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Monday and Thursday • Subscribe here

– Take advantage of Retailing Africa’s ‘Pay-what-you-can’ business support package • Read more