Global Pandemic. Lockdown. Stay Home. At the beginning of 2020, these things belonged in science fiction movies and none of us had ever considered that we could experience them during our lifetime. But now, several months on from the start of the pandemic, we are reflecting on how we manage to operate “business as usual” during these extraordinary times of COVID-19.
Technology is, of course, a big factor for us at Feed4ward but so is culture and teamwork. Being automation engineers, we are naturally technophiles and we relish using technology to make our work lives efficient and effective. We had already introduced a GAMP5-compliant system of secure electronic signatures in PDFs for approval of our documentation, meaning no more posting of documents around the world for clients’ “wet” signatures. Our servers of course have remote access and we host our own Private Cloud to share documents with clients. Our RedMine project management system (again self-hosted for security) is web-accessible to all our engineers and provides an instant view of progress on our work in progress.
So when we first told our staff “go and work from home” we knew that they had access to all the IT tools they needed. We were already using Slack both for one-to-one chat and for group communication, and we quickly added Zoom for video conferencing. The technology was all in place, but what about the human aspects of remote working? After the initial novelty of working from home, feelings of isolation can be a problem for even the most focussed workers. And for those with young families, inquisitive pets or no spare room it can be a real challenge. To help with this we used flexible working, social Zoom rooms, sharing of humour via our #random Slack channel, and occasional staff treats such as surprise snack boxes delivered directly to people’s homes. Regular communication was even more important than usual when working remotely so we had daily catch-ups as a matter of routine not just because we needed a “project meeting”.
Of course some things will always need a physical presence. So to continue with our workshop panel-build, goods-in etc. we still have two people in the office – usually one in the workshop and one in reception. This absolute minimum staffing along with sensible COVID-19 precautions ensured that those people were able to work safely without interruption to our customer deliveries. And keeping office-based staff included in the on-line communications with Slack and Zoom ensures that there is no differentiation between home and office work. Keeping the workshop active also enables us to ship physical equipment (such as PLCs and tools for testing) to engineers’ homes where necessary, returning them to the workshop by courier when the task was complete. It is this sort of outside-the-box thinking that enabled us to continue to meet our promised deliveries, even in these unprecedented circumstances.
As we look back on impact of the first peak of COVID-19 from March 2020, we can reflect that during the lockdown we at Feed4ward really did continue to operate ‘business-as-usual’. Appropriate use of technology, established processes and a great team with a can-do attitude allowed us to ride out the storm in an almost seamless way and will enable us to continue to operate effectively throughout the ongoing challenges of this unprecedented global pandemic.
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