Liam Hanlon, The Forshaw Group’s managing director, takes us through the company’s lockdown journey to where we are today.
The last few months have been challenging for everyone, and people and businesses have been affected in many different ways. As we approach a ‘new normal’, I thought it would be interesting to look how we arrived here. Our everyday workplace behaviour has changed so much – we have had to adapt our procedures and adopt new ones, in light of the virus and the resultant nationwide lockdown.
The welfare of both our staff and our customers has remained paramount. However, good news is that following the latest update from the government regarding the Construction Industry Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) we are now, following a phased return, operating our business as usual. This day felt a long way off when the lockdown was initially enforced in March.
Following the Rules
Our flexible business processes have enabled us to respond quickly and efficiently to changes in government guidelines throughout. And we have stayed in touch with our customers, providing them with the same high level of service they have come to expect. Following the initial shock created by the uncertainty of the impact of COVID-19, many supply chain companies complied with government instructions and closed down and stayed at home. At The Forshaw Group, we spent the early weeks completing the jobs we were able to and clearing jobs we couldn’t.
With the constant requests for status updates on capacities and volumes, a new form of COVID-19 Business Interruption Plan was created. All those who could, worked from home using iPhones, iPads and PCs, while many of our construction-related staff were furloughed.
New Lessons Learned
By week five of the lockdown, site activities other than emergency or essential work had ground to a halt and the new terminology of ‘self-isolation’ and ‘social-distancing’ were becoming the norm. This severely restricted everyone’s movements, except those designated key workers and frontline staff.
The social distance markers, direction of travel, face masks and contactless Perspex screens became familiar necessities of ‘click n collect’ material orders. Members of staff who usually travelled to meetings and attended conferences, events and client meetings had to quickly adapt to a new world of virtual interaction and remote working, via platforms such as WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom and Teams.
With weekly updates for our clients and customers, IT and video technology became our most valuable working tools, as site inspections and surveys were carried out remotely. Customers were directed to provide the required measurements and material details.
By week eight, our apprentices had used the time to practice and improve their skills, with YouTube tutorials and online training replacing day release and college attendance. Our professional services staff engaged in remote learning and online tutoring too.
Thankfully by week 10, the restrictions began to ease. We were able to add new Standard Operating Procedures, Personal Protective Equipment and COVID-19 Risk Assessments to the Reactive and Recovery Plans.
We are now providing a COVID-19 Sanitisation Treatment for our clients, in anticipation of safe access to buildings following the lockdown. This involves the deployment of a Cold Fogger Machine, which sanitises surfaces and spaces, and kills all but 0.0001% of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Lone working, social distancing and sanitising our own space will remain expected practices for the foreseeable future.
Back to the new normal
As a result of the new government guidelines to allow the construction industry to commence work, we are now able to allocate labour to all work sites that are accessible and safe. However, we are still monitoring a number of issues around material availability. This is partly due to the number of suppliers that have returned to work and partly to material availability and stock levels.
Our measuring and surveying, meetings and conferences have all been streamlined, to deliver the pertinent points and decision-making via video link.
Our furloughed staff have been reintroduced to the workplace and as we have continued throughout lockdown, we will still provide full emergency, urgent and essential works service.
Over the past 20 weeks, we have developed a better understanding of our customers’ needs and the vulnerabilities present in all sectors. Our senior leadership team has mapped out and formulated the route back to the new ‘Business as Usual’, which will enable The Forshaw Group to emerge from this crisis stronger and in better shape for a positive future.