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COVID-19 – The Challenges, Opportunities And Lessons Learned

4 years ago by Bell Group

All businesses are having to adapt to working in a safe and responsible manner to respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19 and none more so than those in construction.

However, that doesn’t mean that once we are back up and running 100% that we want to revert back to how things were before the pandemic came along. The last 3 months have given us the opportunity to review many areas of our business and come up with ideas and options that will make us more efficient, allow us to reduce our carbon footprint and work even more collaboratively with our clients.  

It is evident that being adaptable and flexible about how you work and where you work is key to the future success of businesses across the country.

It will be many months before we are likely to see our office locations open up to anywhere near full staffing levels, so even those people who will end up eventually returning to the office full time will require a different management style in the short term. One of the primary challenges has been how we come up with an approach that takes in to account we are dealing with people who are used to working in an office environment.

For those who will continue to work away from the office, consideration needs to be given as to how we support people faced with challenges such as lack of workspace, isolation, young children, poor internet etc. whilst at the same time we ensure levels of productivity remain where we need them to be in order that people carry out their roles effectively.

How do we deal with those that will see it as an opportunity to drop down a gear and at the same time ensure that other colleagues are not having to ‘take up the slack’ resulting from this?   

We need to decide how do we maintain the environment of a team culture, fundamental to the ethos of Bell Group when colleagues have less interaction than previously – Zoom and Microsoft Teams can only go so far in bridging the gap here but how do we come up with a solution that goes beyond this level of interaction and ensure the team spirit is not something that comes and goes on a laptop screen?

As I see it, the businesses that will be successful will be those who embrace the new times by investing both time and resource in to ensuring that staff are able to fulfil their duties away from the office environment and at the same time ensure that their wellbeing and drive to succeed are as little affected as possible

Looking beyond the office environment, when it comes to carrying out our works on-site or in people’s homes, the way we deliver our projects will be changed in a less obvious way with site-based staff carrying out their tasks in a similar manner to before, albeit with a heightened level of awareness and understanding when it comes to their responsibility towards others, updated safe working practices and the new PPE regime that they will need to follow.

Those contracts staff who have traditionally been used to spending their time part in the office and part on site will have to get used to, in the short term at least, splitting their time between making sure the sites are running smoothly and doing the desk-based part of their role at home or on a rotational basis at offices working to pre-agreed times

We envisage that many of our site teams will deliver the projects in ‘work bubbles’ for the foreseeable future – these are small groups made up of the various trades required to carry out the works. This will reduce risk at the same time as ensuring there is minimal impact on productivity and adherence to programmes of work as well as timescales

Those working in trades who traditionally carry out their roles alone will see less change, although they too will inevitably need to alter some of their habits to reduce risk and help us ensure both their own safety and wellbeing as well as that of those that they deal with on a day to day basis. Visits to office locations and merchants will be kept to a minimum and as a consequence there is a potential that they start to feel a little isolated and removed from the central team, this is something we need to be aware of and we need to make sure that steps we have taken to address this are effective

Looking at the way we have responded to the pandemic across the group it has been a huge plus that we have been able to tap in to our ‘in house’ Health & Safety Division. COVID-19 has made it essential for us to constantly review the steps that have been put in place over recent months. We have also had to spend significant amounts of time reviewing the way we will do things in the future and what other ideas there are to improve the approach we take. With the benefit of the knowledgeable, professional, and committed team at Bell Safety Services we have been able to keep updated and informed on the latest government advice and guidelines and have been able to ensure that decisions taken have been made on how we deal with COVID-19, together with its obvious long lasting impact, are based on sound rationale and with our responsibility toward safe working practices being central to each and every decision made.

As a consequence of the joined-up approach lead by Bell Safety Services it has also been encouraging to see the response we have had from the vast majority of our clients when it has come to their reviews of our response to the COVID-19, which has clearly been and remains, an unprecedented situation faced by all businesses. The number of clients that have given us complimentary feedback gives us the confidence to know that they recognise the major investment made by us to ensure that we come up with robust safe working practices as well as sensible solutions to whatever issues need to be addressed

It has also become evident that the enhanced reputation which has resulted from the way we have been proactive responding to the many aspects of the situation we find ourselves in, together with our willingness to share any new ideas and procedures, will stand us in good stead in the months and years to come . We have, in my opinion, approached the challenges in a manner befitting of a company at the forefront of our industry should, leading the way, setting examples and looking after our people, so to find that this is recognised by others is extremely rewarding.     

Looking beyond the current position where skies are bluer, crime has fallen and everyone has been reminded what a wonderful thing our NHS is, I am convinced many more things will be changed for the better once the pandemic has been overcome, by whatever means. Businesses and communities will show a more altruistic response to day to day issues and problems which would have once been regarded as difficult to resolve will be approached with a sense of improved teamwork. Most people will hopefully be more understanding when it comes to listening to the concerns and worries of colleagues, leading to a more supportive environment in the workplace and greater levels of empathy across the board.

Many organisations in construction have, in recent years, embraced the move toward delivering their services with a greater awareness of the benefits to be gained by working closely with their clients and the communities where they work in. These same organisations now have the opportunity to take this to the next level, promoting even more collaborative working relationships, putting environmental issues at the forefront of decision making, demonstrating how valued the people who work for them are and making Wellbeing an integral part of what is seen as a successful business. Those who see COVID-19 as a wake-up call and who go on to take this opportunity to improve further will be the ones that see their businesses go from strength to strength.      

By Paul Steedman, Bell Group Managing Director