Shock – 23/03/20 was a day that nobody will ever forget. Being ordered by your Government to close your doors to your customers is a shock that takes some getting used to. “shut your doors for something that’s just like the flu – no chance” was a common sentiment in early March. Then we all saw the news stories coming out of Italy and Spain. Then the inevitable lockdown. It was frightening. In our particular case, we were left in no doubt as to how serious things were when one of our staff and his family became ill shortly after lockdown began – with another staff member losing two members of his family to this deadly disease within a month.
Confusion – naturally all of our existing customer base wanted answers – they had orders in the pipeline and wanted to know when we were going to fulfil their contracts. Some were desperate for us to complete work, some didn’t want to see us for 12 months, frightened of the prospect of having installers in their home. Some wanted reassurance that we were not terminally ill as a company – everybody wanted some kind of news – but all we could do was to reassure that we were simply in hibernation mode – enforced into a state of hiatus. With no real idea as to when we could fire back up again. Feeling frustrated. Watching the daily briefings in horror – seeing businesses die / witnessing people losing their lives & livelihoods. Watching the numbers of cases – hoping for the green light so we could return to work – dreading the uncertainty of what that meant in reality. Clapping for the NHS feeling utterly useless – raising money for them in the hope it might do some good for somebody.
What are we? – As a double glazing company we don’t fall neatly into any category. The directions coming from Government sound definitive but when you’re not strictly ‘construction’ or ‘essential retail’ or ‘manufacturing’ – how do you know where you stand, what guidance do you follow? Geared to working 99% of the time for the general public in domestic homes we landed in the ‘Retail’ space and followed guidance accordingly. Open, shut, half open, open but by appointment only – we’ve been them all. Normally we only close for Sundays and Christmas and even then only for a few days. Suddenly we were turning customers away – following guidelines – a very painful experience.
Juggling – prioritising the demands of running a business and responding to valued customers whilst simultaneously looking after children and maintaining their education at home is demanding on a whole new level. But it’s amazing what can be achieved in the absence of any other alternative.
Zoom/Teams/Facetime/Emails/WhatsApp & Texts! – For a company that has offered face to face personalised advice on solutions in homes for 40 years to suddenly switch to ‘virtual reality’ has been a 180 degree about turn. Which we’ve done. And it’s been extraordinarily frustrating and enlightening all at the same time. We’ve functioned with at least ½ the staff working remotely at times. Our virtual office solution we implemented slowly over 2 years prior to Covid has come into it’s own in a whole new way that nobody could have predicted.
Suppliers – everybody is in the same boat on this journey. In years gone by – if a supplier was finding it tough to source product there would normally be a way around the problem. They could switch a component part or modify a part of their supply chain. This isn’t possible in Covid 2020. Something so seemingly simple becomes incredibly difficult when your supply system isn’t functioning. Our suppliers struggled along – and their suppliers were evidently doing the same. Struggle upon struggle culminates in a very disconnected & time consuming supply chain. This affects everybody including and most importantly the end user. Silicone, UPVC, trims, glass, plaster, timber – all of the most basic components have become a major supply issue from time to time in the last 9 months. It’s been emotional!
Re-opening – Being responsible for Health and Safety of staff and customers supersedes everything else full stop. It always has done. But now there’s a bigger challenge. How do you protect everyone you care for – all your staff including those that have given one, two, three decades of service to your company – all the clients that have placed their trust in you to complete work safely – some of whom have loyally bought from us for one, two, three decades. Never mind protecting your own family who you return home to every day after being out of the home all day. The virus is invisible but as real as any threat we have ever faced. Everyone has their own feeling as to their own level of risk that they feel comfortable with. All of that is irrelevant for the business owner who has to interpret the changing directives and create a company-wide interpretation of the rules and enforce them equally across the full spectrum of staff/clients/suppliers/delivery drivers/visitors/sub-contractors. Covid Secure! Published on websites, endorsed by health & safety advisers, spot checked by the HSE.
Isolations – all businesses get through mini periods of staff absence due to illness. Half a day here and maybe a couple of days there is par for the course. But suddenly there’s 2 weeks at a time to cope with – from all areas of the business – for key skilled staff. Because an alert on a phone commands – or a judgment call you have to make after a chance meeting. The team responds and stiches together a new plan to find a way – again.
Masks, gel, distance – keeping distance and wearing masks has become commonplace for us both inside and outside our factory – we are constantly re-applying sanitizer which is positioned everywhere. We long to breathe fresh air & have non-itchy hands! A minor price to pay for safety in our opinion. Fitters, fabricators, office staff – mask-wearing superheroes.