In March 2020, along with the rest of the world, the UK Construction industry was disrupted in a way that none of us had experienced before by the coronavirus pandemic. At Baily Garner, like most other businesses, we had to react quickly to enable our operations to continue, whilst keeping our employees safe as we went into a nationwide lockdown.
Our first key task was ensuring that our whole team could work from home. This took coordination between our managers and IT team to ensure that everyone had the right equipment to be able to do their jobs successfully away from the office. Our staff have allocated desks when they are in the office and a large number also had desktop computers that had never needed to work outside an office network before. With everybody pitching in, we managed to get all 183 staff successfully set up to work from home in three and a half days, with many team members helping to transport hardware to people’s homes. During the months that have followed, we have now moved to a significant number of staff being given laptops so that they can be more agile in the way that they work. This programme aims to give all staff the option of a laptop by the end of 2021.
Our company culture has always been very much based on openness, availability and face to face communication, so it was essential to us that we maintain this as best we can. From the first day of the lockdown when it became necessary to close our offices, we rolled out Microsoft Teams as an additional method of communication. This allowed everyone in the business to replace the face-to-face conversations they were used to with video calls. We’ve implemented a policy that, wherever possible, people should always have their cameras on during these calls, such that video calls become as close to face-to-face chats as they can in the remote world.
With this in place, we were able to maintain close communication across the business by setting up regular practice briefings to provide staff with updates (initially weekly and now fortnightly), continuing our programme of monthly one-to-ones for all staff with their line manager and arranging weekly ‘keep in touch’ calls for staff on furlough. We also still managed to hold our practice-wide quality summit for over 160 staff on a virtual platform and, during the time when restrictions were eased, some teams managed to meet socially.
From a financial perspective, our management group undertook a review and decided to revise turnover targets for the year, reducing them by 10%. In line with this, the projected 10% decrease in income led to the difficult decision to also reduce all staff salaries by 10%. This decrease was initially intended to be permanent and although the news was disappointing, employees understood the necessity for the business and collectively accepted the proposal. Also, due primarily to the initial closure of building sites, we had to furlough 23 of our staff, but we were able to bring back almost all of them as the restrictions began to lift over the summer. Then, as early as August 2020, by looking at key indices related to new business generation and money brought into the business, it was clear that we were in a stronger position than we had expected to be. The core sectors in which we operate had remained strong and we were able to reinstate salaries across the practice from 1st September.
Another challenge faced during the pandemic was onboarding new staff whilst working from home and without any clear indication of when a return to the office might be possible. Our HR and IT teams worked together to ensure all equipment was delivered to the homes of the new starters and our comprehensive induction process was delivered virtually via Teams. Each new team member would start with a video call from the IT team to help them with setting up their equipment, who then handed them over to their manager to begin their induction into the business. In total we’ve inducted 31 new starters remotely to date and have had excellent feedback across the board about their experience.
Wellbeing is a priority
Over the last 9 months, the wellbeing of our staff has always been at the top of our agenda. To ensure we kept on top of how they were coping with the new reality, we completed two staff surveys during the lockdown period. The first, in May, was a review of how they were coping with working remotely and whether they felt they could still successfully carry out their work. Responses to this allowed us to identify the small number of people whose wellbeing may be at risk if they were asked to continue working from home, which allowed us to shape our plan for returning to the office when restrictions allowed.
Following this, we successfully opened our head office in Eltham in June, closely followed by our Birmingham office in July, for a small number of staff and with all necessary safety measures in place to comply with government guidelines.
Our second staff survey was more comprehensive with the intention that it would help shape our future working practices as we develop our ‘new normal’. It asked staff how they had found their time working at home and their preferences on how they would like to work going forward. We have taken the results of this survey and, blended with a desire by management to be proactive about how we want our business to work, we are reviewing how we can be more flexible with our working practices going forward in a post-COVID landscape (both with or without pandemic conditions). In 2021, dependent on restrictions at the time, we will be carrying out a pilot scheme to test our proposed changes to working arrangements with a view to eventually incorporating these changes into our employment contracts, reflecting a new flexibility in both working location and contracted hours.
We really believe that our people-focused culture is one of Baily Garner’s greatest assets and it became clear this year that our culture could have been threatened if we hadn’t proactively taken steps to adjust to this ‘new world’. As we come to the end of 2020, the market conditions are still difficult, but the business signs are positive. Our financial indicators are sound, we continue to support our clients effectively with the best customer feedback KPI scores we’ve ever had and feedback from staff reinforces the business’ vision to be a great place to work. Something that we are determined to continue into 2021 and beyond.