COVID-19: How we are supporting our employees & customers
Extraordinary times seek extraordinary measures, especially when the health, wellbeing and lives of others are at stake.
That is why on the morning of Monday 23rd March 2020, after weeks of closely monitoring national and global developments around the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, including daily senior management meetings, comprehensive risk assessments and various scenario planning, we as a business took the unprecedented step to stand down all non-essential field work for our metering and energy services clients.
The decision to stand down these works was a leading one for our industry, coming hours before the Government’s announcement of strict national lockdown measures. As of Monday morning, we are now prioritising only essential works, such as emergency work, supporting critical national infrastructure or where no social contact is required – ultimately ensuring all our focus is now on vulnerable customers.
In addition to this, we have closed all our UK & Ireland offices and warehouses for the foreseeable future, except for activities required to support essential field work and maintain our critical IT infrastructure (only when these cannot be conducted remotely).
This of course was not a decision we took lightly, knowing the disruption it would have on our business operations, but a measure we consider essential to protecting the wellbeing of our people, of our customers, and of wider society – particularly those who are most vulnerable.
As a major smart metering, energy services, and utility infrastructure business, we are a company at the frontline of the country’s energy supply each day, and so our number one core value is, and always has been, safety. This core value, that our employees live and breathe even in the most normal of circumstances, has never been more relevant than it is now – a time that we all recognise is far from normal.
Now, amid this pandemic, is a time when we must all be at our very best to remain safe and make certain sacrifices to ensure those around us stay healthy too. As a company, we would like to think that we and our fantastic employees – with safety being such an integral part of our DNA – can lead by example on this front. In short, health and safety to us is paramount and is something we just simply will not compromise on.
This explains why we’ve made the decision to substantially reduce our field operations during the COVID-19 outbreak. Fortunately, it is something that our brilliant customers and employees have been wholly supportive of. This public emergency after all is something we’re all in together, so successfully overcoming it won’t just require that we all practise the highest health and safety standards, but that we all stick together, support, and understand each other in the most trying of circumstances.
In this respect, support and understanding must be a two-way process. Now that we have the backing of our clients and our employees around our new COVID-19 processes, we must also show the highest level of support we can to them in return. And that is exactly what we will do in the coming days, weeks and months – as we always endeavour to do.
Firstly, whilst our services are reduced, we will continue to be there for our customers at any time of day throughout this current state of emergency, responding in the very best way we can to any energy emergencies that they or their customers might have. To deliver these essential services during this Coronavirus outbreak, we must also equip our frontline engineers with all the support and resources they need to stay safe.
To this end we have invested and mobilised rapidly to provide our frontline engineers with the protection and training that they require to respond to emergencies safely whilst minimising their risk – and the risk of others – to an absolute minimum. These stringent measures include:
- Updated procedures – via a method statement, risk assessment and e-learning module.
- Revised scripts for our Contact Centre to establish that it is safe for our engineers to attend emergency jobs and ensure that additional calls are made by the engineer on the way to the job.
- Additional Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), including: FFP3 half mask; hooded disposable coveralls; nitrile disposable gloves; safety glasses; disposable boot/shoe covers.
- Additional hygiene items including antibacterial wipes, hand sanitiser and masks which employees can access via an on-line portal.
- New procedures to reduce risk, i.e. not passing hand-held devices to customers and establishing that our engineers can sign on their behalf.
For the remainder of our people – the hundreds of employees who make up our office workforce and operational support who will continue to work and support our customers from home (a tiny minority will travel to the office to support essential work) – we also recognise that these are stressful and challenging times for other reasons. These challenges range from the mental health impacts of drastic changes in routine, anxieties over COVID-19, and the logistical and personal obstacles that some may face when working in a home environment.
To help all our people deal with these challenges – whether home-based, office-based or field-based – we have:
- Issued weekly COVID-19 updates to our people providing advice on: good hygiene; self-isolation; Government helplines and guidelines; clear information regarding childcare; and establishing key worker status.
- Issued homeworking guidance – regarding designated workspaces, having a routine, being prepared, communication, regular breaks and self-care.
- Issued homework guidance for managers – ensuring we are in regular contact with all our staff through technology platforms such as Microsoft Teams.
- Purchased 140 additional laptops to enable our employees to work from home, plus headsets and chargers.
- Shared coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety, i.e. understanding feelings and mental health, healthy eating, exercise, working normal hours, and advice on alcohol intake.
- Created a Frequently Asked Questions document for employees including areas such as self-isolation, our office being closed, new PPE, etc.
- Shared our Employee Assistance Provider’s telephone number and access to online resources – free and accessible 24/7 and managed by trained counsellors who can provide support and guidance on any number of personal issues.
- Shared support available to employees by professional midwives (we are Tommy’s Pregnancy Accredited), particularly for those who are pregnant or may need other support in this area.
Besides the measures outlined above, we also recognise that this situation, whilst temporary, is an ongoing one that may last for an unforeseeable amount of time. This calls for a continued high level of support for our employees throughout this period, and we have therefore put into place an extended communications plan and wellbeing resources which will run concurrently with the reinforcement of measures that we’ve already implemented over the past few weeks. This programme, delivered via an online Company Wellbeing page, includes support with:
- Mindfulness via workshops
- Home Schooling (including virtual tours)
- Financial support
- Remote working
- Mental health
- Exercise classes
- E-learning modules on Resilience & Homeworking
So far our wellbeing initiative – created through participation of our employees – has been well received with lots of positive feedback, and we’ll continue to improve our resources available now and beyond the lockdown. It has also helped our teams feel more connected.
Furthermore, employees across all locations (from engineers to managers) will soon undertake certified online Mental Health First Aid training, supplemented by 100 employees that have previously attended mental health training delivered by the UK charity, Mind. This holistic approach will bolster SMS’s ability to provide wellbeing support to our employees.
For all businesses and workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the current extraordinary period will contain many challenges and many learnings, as you would expect when adapting to an entirely new situation. In this sense, we will continue to adapt and improve our support to employees over this period based on our shared experience and their feedback. As a result, we believe that – despite the very serious and worrying nature of COVID-19 – by continuing to work together and supporting each other, that we as a business, a workforce, and as a society in general, can ultimately be much stronger for it.
Finally, we would like to end by saying to our customers and any other business in our industry that we extend this unwavering commitment of support to you in this time – not just through our continued level of service to you, but for anything you might require. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone to us – we will do whatever we can to help.
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