In mid-July I started looking back at the lessons we have learnt keeping our business running throughout the Coronavirus crisis since March. I hoped to find out all the things we, as a company, did well and those which, in hindsight, could have been done better. At the time it felt more like a business continuity wrap-up exercise and I am glad to say the Business Continuity team did a good job and managed to continue to operate at around 90+% capacity throughout. However, it is now clear that these lessons are going to be an essential part of our business continuity-planning going forward in preparation for a second COVID wave.
Overall, I have full confidence that the team at Butterworth will again succeed in putting together a comprehensive and effective plan for dealing with a second wave and ensuring we remain capable of meeting our clients’ needs throughout. Technology has a very important part to play in all of this, we can already see the benefits it has brought in facilitating home working, and streamlining processes involving hard-copy documentation. We have also been able to seamlessly host client and regulatory audits remotely throughout the year. We now have the opportunity to adopt further technological solutions to further improve our efficiency along with the safety and well-being of everyone.
Looking back, it is pleasing to see how quickly we were able to react to the constantly changing situation and put in place measures which at times were slightly ahead of the government’s announcements leading up to lock-down. Vulnerable colleagues and those whose role allowed them to work from home were equipped to do so and the adoption of shift patterns encompassing the weekends meant that we were able to maintain lab capacity whilst reducing the daily occupancy. Butterworth did not rely on the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme and only those employees who were clinically vulnerable or were shielding a household member who was and could not work from home were furloughed.
Many of the actions were taken at very short notice and as a result, some of these were not optimal. They achieved what we needed at the time but ultimately in some cases did not result in the most efficient processes. There were gaps such as our inability to equip home workers with telephones connected to our internal exchange and the initial shortage of printer/scanners. However, we have been able to evolve and adapt our working practices as we settled into a new way of working and this will continue in all areas.
The consensus is there will be a second COVID wave in the UK and you might think that having already gone through the “first wave” we would just be able to roll out the same plan with the odd enhancement and adjustment here and there. Unfortunately, life is never that simple and we do not yet know what any second wave will actually look like. Businesses have to adapt to the measures, restrictions put in place by the authorities and these will be different second time round as they also learn from their previous experience. Lock downs might be national or local and the measures may vary from lock down to lock down depending on the local situation. Financial support for businesses is also likely to be less generous than it has been and the job retention scheme grants may no longer be available.
There are two main aims in our preparation for a second wave. Firstly make sure we are focused on our priorities. It is too easy to fall into the trap of reacting in a knee-jerk fashion to the first challenge we are faced with rather than having a broader and longer ranging view. For Butterworth, the high-level priorities are simple: Keeping our employees safe and to continue to provide an unbroken service to our clients. Clearly this isn’t as simple in reality; although these priorities are not mutually exclusive, there is more than enough scope for conflict. For example, to maintain service levels we also need to operate with a full complement of staff which presents challenges to maintaining social distancing and safety. Shift working and other mitigation measures such as Perspex screens have proven to be effective, along with good staff discipline and strict hygiene rules.
Secondly, we need to build on what we learnt the first time round. Gathering feedback from people working in all areas has given us an insight into where worthwhile improvements can be made to both our operations and safety. It is also important to identify where we got things right the first time so that we don’t waste time trying to make pointless improvements.
Much of the feedback has been in relation to the employment of further technological solutions to make home working easier and more efficient. Laboratories are complex operations sometimes employing many discreet electronic systems and processes and being able to pull all this information together so that it can be easily accessed from home will provide undoubted benefits. We are also now looking closely at employing digital signature systems, new workflow processes, making more use of electronic documentation systems and moving further away from our reliance on hard copy documentation.
Looking further ahead, it is hard to see when we might be free from the uncertainty the COVID crisis brings. Carefully chosen and implemented systems and working practices will not only help us deal with the second wave but also pave the way for more efficient processes in the future. Maybe COVID has provided us with the required driver for change and has presented an opportunity to take a hard look at how we do things from this point on. Although our eyes are on the risks which COVID presents, we are actually planning for the future and not just a second wave.