As we depart week 4 of our Coronavirus lockdown, Ben Humphrys, our Operations Director takes a look back at how the company has managed to stay open for business.
It’s just gone 8.30 in the evening of Monday 23rd March, a time and date that will stick with me for a long time.
Boris has just informed us all that we need to stop going out unnecessarily and if we can, must work from home. With 84 site based operatives and an office team of 30, many of whom work from desktop PC’s, it was immediately apparent that things had to change pretty quickly. Within 5 minutes of the announcement the mobile started to ring. Firstly our Managing Director, Simon Hobbs and then our Chief Engineer, James Barker. A decision had to be made but we had to be conscious of making the right decision for good of the business, our office and site staff.
At 8.45pm we issued a series of messages; firstly to our site staff. We are suspending all site works on Tuesday 24th. The second message was to our office team. The office would be closed from 10am on Tuesday 24th. With some forward planning the previous week, our IT department had made laptops available to everyone, to enable home working should the need arise. It had. We then sent our third message. To our clients. To let them know what our immediate plan was but to also try and understand theirs.
Tuesday 24th 7am and the office was opened. Monitors and laptops were loaded in to cars and our contingency plans were being put into effect. We had phone calls from clients suspending works and then resuming works, it was fair to say that the message from the UK Government the previous evening had confused many. We discussed and dissected the briefing, but to us it was clear. Both ETL Highways & ETL Connections provide an essential service to the UKs Highway Network and therefore by putting the correct health & safety, welfare and social distancing measures in place, we could continue to operate, and by 10am this message was communicated to our workforce.
During that first week, our clients and their clients implemented measures which we had to adapt to. Some contracts were suspended and then resumed and then suspended again, but by Friday 27th, we had a structure in place. All of our operatives were working on contracts within 90minutes of their homes, so there was no requirement to stay away in hotels. Our ‘remote office’ workers were functioning well despite a few teething problems which IT were able to resolve quickly and on the whole, things were working.
Within ETL Connections, the challenge was to ensure that our teams could be reduced to just 2 operatives and thereby ensure that social distancing measures were being followed. When works required more than 2 operatives on site, we made additional vehicles available, so that everyone could travel to and from site separately. Due to the suspension of some contract works by our clients, we were able to increase the resources on contracts that were continuing. This kept all staff working who were able and available to work.
In our ETL Highways business, a number of our operatives spend the working week away from home. The challenge was to get as many of these operatives working closer to home as soon as possible, which meant that they could be sleeping in their own beds every evening rather than in hotels across the UK as is normally the case. By the end of the first week, we managed to have over 40 operatives working on contracts close to home and I’m pleased to say that this remains the case in week 4.
New ways of working for our office teams are becoming the norm with video conferencing the new buzz word. Zoom, Skype, Hangout, Teams, have all been utilised to communicate with office colleagues who now find themselves spread between North Norfolk, South Essex and everywhere in between. We hold daily meetings which are fixed in the calendar to ensure everybody has what they need to function and keep our business operating. Video conferencing from home has given us the opportunity to meet each others families, as wives and husbands wander around in the background. Our children want to say hello to everyone and we even have the occasional squawking parrot or barking dog!
Our communication with site operatives continues through our electronic network infrastructure, with weekly briefings and safety updates being shared as the current covid-19 situation develops. Communication and feedback from site has been fantastic as we have all adapted to this new way of working.
As we come to the end of week 4, I am pleased to say that remote working appears to have become the norm for the office team. Across the business, we still have over 80 operatives on site on a daily basis, all working safely and being supported by our office teams. Fleet, stores, IT and operational support are still there for them and I believe that from the outside looking in, it appears that nothing has changed, but believe me it has. Thanks to the dedication, commitment and support of an amazing team of people
Having spent over 20 years in the Highways and Utilities industry I have never worked with another team who could have achieved what we have in the past 4 weeks, and I’m proud to lead and be part of such a strong team at Electrical Testing.