As 2020 comes to an end I thought I’d share some of the problems and solutions that we’ve come across as a small business due to the Covid crisis.
2020 started well and we were receiving increasing numbers of orders – everything was well with the world except some murmurs in the news regarding a previously unknown virus. I went skiing with the family at half term; when we got back things went much bleaker very quickly and by early March all hell was breaking loose.
Given the government advice to work from home where possible we implemented our disaster recovery plan, went through it with our employees and started remote working. It was a slightly surreal experience being the only one left in the office – not dissimilar to when I started the business sixteen years ago (although the office is bit bigger!). When lockdown 1 started we had already been WFH for several days.
Fortunately, the processes our management team had put in place worked well and after we had ironed out some minor teething problems we were able to work at around 95% normal capacity. However, after a couple of weeks it was apparent that our incoming workload had dropped to less than 50 % of normal. Although not entirely comfortable with it, I placed three members of staff on furlough; the rest of the team carried on remotely.
Around mid-May thankfully orders had picked up to the extent that we were able to get these three employees back to work. As lockdown was further eased in early July we got several members of staff back into the office with the required social distancing and hygiene measures and by early September all staff were back in the office albeit working split shifts rotating between WFH and the office.
Then came lockdown 2 – all staff again started WFH which they currently still are although workload seems to have stayed fairly steady. As I write this the first vaccine was approved this morning so hopefully the end is in sight albeit some time off.
So, what conclusions have I come to from this whole debacle?
We have some great people in our team – from senior managers down, staff have adapted and been slogging away in difficult circumstances
If required we are able to WFH far better than I would have initially envisaged. It’s not ideal, quick communication is more difficult and output is slightly reduced. I also think that it tends to lead to static businesses – we constantly try and improve processes but there is less of a flow of ideas / suggestions / discussions when staff are isolated. Many of the staff much prefer working in the office too and as we own the building and don’t pay millions in rent there’s little financial gain to having staff work at home. It does however provide potential for increased flexibility for both staff and us as a business in the future.
Construction companies and staff are resilient – it’s bred into them by the nature of the job. Construction is full of problems that have to be solved quickly under difficult conditions and the number of our customers that were back up and running in a matter of days after lockdown was impressive! The same can be said for our main suppliers, the utility companies.
Hopefully the Government will crack on with all the promised infrastructure spending in the next few years thus providing work for us all.
Even in adversity there are opportunities to improve; in the month or so that we were quiet we were able to make major improvements to our website that made WFH easier and also gave us better visibility of process / task tracking. The new system is now bedded in and paying dividends in quality management and efficiency.
Already being a web-based business we were lucky in that we could adapt quickly. Many other small companies weren’t so lucky and have seen years of work wiped out in just a few months; that must be heartbreaking for the owners. Many other small companies have done extremely well during the last nine months and have seen massive increase in turnover – not least toilet paper suppliers for example!
Too many companies (and individuals) were too quick to down tools and shut up shop rather than reading and understanding the Government advice which has remained WFH if you can “effectively” – the last word being by far the most important. It seems bizarre that companies that could, and should, have continued working (with required safety measures in place) did not for prolonged periods of time.
I never want to hear the words ‘Zoom meeting’ again! It’s a great tool that showed and continues to show it’s worth – I’ve just had enough of it.
I can’t finish without mentioning those of you who may have lost close friends, colleagues or family during this period. None of the above is important in such circumstances and you have our deepest condolences.
Here’s wishing you all a great Christmas and hoping that the New Year will bring some sort of normality; after all, without hope, we have nothing!
Duncan’s first utilities search was completed from his spare room back in 2004. He came up with the idea of offering Underground Utility Searches whilst managing a small engineering design team in his previous role. They regularly had to contact the utilities for their plans and he soon realised how much hassle and time this took. He quickly turned this idea into action, and with over 57,000+ searches completed to date, has built systems and internal processes that are the envy of the industry.