Peter Jackson, managing director at Bolton-based Seddon Construction, said working to allay the anxieties of employees was vital as the firm looks to adapt to the challenges thrown up by the coronavirus outbreak.
He told Place North West: “We are only as strong as our people. We need to look at all the ways we can support them but I think a lot of this is going to be a test of our mettle and our own individual resilience. It is a challenge.”
Communication, he added, was key to maintaining high levels of morale with a focus being placed on remote contact and the use of tools such as Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp and Yammer.
He said: “The big thing is about managing people’s anxiety. People are anxious about things and it is two-fold; you’ve got people working at home who are isolated so you have to maintain their morale and mental health, and then there are people on site, which is a polar-opposite challenge.
“You need to keep in contact with your boss, make sure you can get some exercise, make sure you plan your day properly. We need to chat to each other and make sure we’re all okay.”
At Seddon, office workers are being encouraged to work from home and Jackson admitted putting processes into place to allow this had taken time.
“We did a business continuity test about two weeks ago to test everything works. It has been a test of IT and we have been working 24 hours a day and at weekends to get better communications and connections for everybody. The majority of our teams can now work from home.”
Work at Seddon sites, which include the construction of 120 homes off Whalley Road in Skelmersdale and the £3.8m extension of Bolton sixth form college, is continuing for the time being with a number of measures being taken in order to ensure the safety of workers.
“There is now a hygiene champion on site to make sure everyone is following the right personal hygiene measures. We have been doing shifts for lunch and asking people to have their lunch in their car or their van which we don’t normally want people to do.
“We are doing social distancing on site so if we are building houses it’s one or two people per house. We are doing as much as we can.”
Jackson also explained collaboration between different strands of the workforce was allowing Seddon to keep operations running smoothly, and said that the company was employing a “squad rotation” policy to compensate for a “10-15%” drop in numbers on site.
“We are trying to keep the machine going as best we can whilst trying to keep people safe which is a real challenge,” he said.
He added that Seddon was “scenario planning” for the possibility of sites closing but hoped construction and infrastructure work would be viewed as essential to the economy and sites would therefore be allowed to remain open.