We are living through unprecedented times, there is no best practice to follow and few examples to learn from. We hope that by sharing our response to the situation we can all learn together and get through this stronger.
On the evening of Monday 23rd March, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that the UK would be entering lock-down. All non-essential travel was to cease. Employees working in jobs not identified as “key” were to stay at home. As we are manufacturers producing product for the construction industry, we were eligible to continue work. However, it was clear that we could not continue to operate the workshop in the same way.
The need to maintain social distancing meant that how we worked had to change. After much consideration all but 15 workshop and 2 office employees were placed on furlough, which reduced numbers enough to enable social distancing. All employees were working 2m apart and wore masks when big pieces required 2 or more people to work on them or when plans were discussed.
We initially closed our in-house canteen and asked staff to eat their lunch outside or in their cars. With numbers reduced in the factory colleagues were able to work while maintaining distance. Covid Marshalls were appointed and tasked with assisting colleagues to work safely, markings were placed on the floor to demonstrate the safe distance and one-way pathways.
As time passed, plastic shielding was installed in the canteen to enable people to use the tables safely. The canteen was re-opened in a takeaway only capacity and we launched a web page to enable everyone to order safely, with the minimum of exposure.
Machinery in the factory was moved and workflow was reviewed, enabling us to take some people off furlough.
We have been in contact with all staff at least once a week detailing the situation and the steps we are taking. We do this because it is important that we not only create a safe environment to work in, but we also ensure that our colleagues feel safe to come in to work. By communicating our efforts and deliberations to staff we have been working to live up to the trust placed in us.
We recognise the strains that people placed on furlough can face. To help our colleagues deal with that we have been providing wellbeing information and highlighting resources to assist, which included promoting the free use of our inhouse counsellor.
As things stand now, it is clear that we cannot return to previously normal working practices any time soon. The hard truth of that is that due to the ongoing need to socially distance we may not be able to bring back all the workshop workforce. In order to avoid redundancies, the management team has started a consultation, to make permanent changes to the shift patterns, which would spread staff out over the 24 hours of the day. Three options were drawn up and the details sent to all staff, outlining the proposed change and the impact on working hours and worst case, possible redundancies.
Throughout all of this we continue to believe that our greatest asset is our workforce and the mutual trust and respect that exists. This is why we have pursued a policy of openness and honesty, ensuring that nobody is left in the dark or has reason to feel left behind or marginalised. Thanks to the great working relationships we have and our flexibility as a company we know that we can weather this storm and continue to grow Airtrace into the future.