With all four brands in the Fexco Property Services group relying on the services of external suppliers and contractors, we knew that for many, maintaining operations during COVID19 was never going to be simple or easy. We spoke to one of our approved contractors to get their perspective on how life has changed for their business, and what predictions they had for ‘business as usual’ in the future.
Stephen Day and Tom Lloyd are Directors of Dayco, a property maintenance services company who supply a wide range of services from electrical, decorating, cleaning and general maintenance repairs to major works. Tom was originally the founder of Lloyds Cleaning & Maintenance Services Ltd, providing maintenance services to property management companies, until he merged his company with Dayco. Steve (CEO) and Tom (COO) shared their experiences and key insights into how their business had to adapt to not only keep business running but keep their staff safe as lockdown took hold on the Nation.
What was your reaction to the lockdown when it was initially announced?
We noticed trends and patterns across the business that emerged immediately it was announced, but I have to say we saw changes approaching before lockdown so Tom and I had already put a strategy plan in place that would focus on emergency works, putting non-essential small scale works on hold. As Boris announced lockdown, we immediately had an influx of messages from suppliers of materials and parts, who reacted by closing their doors. Two days later and with further clarity they partially opened, but only for ‘click and collect’. This did ease the problem, however, we then had to negotiate long queues which meant that simple repairs that should have been a quick job, such as changing a tap washer now takes twice as long.
Has stress on the supply chain affected you?
Yes, it has, with large builder’s merchants started to struggle with not having enough stock, as larger warehouses were not getting supplies in, and as a result, some have since closed down. One noticeable product affected by this was wall plaster, which rapidly became hard to find. Supply & demand has generally created cost issues and prices have noticeably risen across many items. Cleaning supplies have obviously been in extremely high demand even with price rises on essential products and materials.
Have any of your services been affected?
Indeed, some have, most notably with our cleaning services. Regular cleans turned into major cleaning tasks (or deep cleans) which meant that we had to provide protective clothing and products to our staff, not all of whom were comfortable wearing restrictive PPE. In general, we think preparation time scales were not realistic and with the demand for cleaning equipment and clothing etc being so high it meant some changes to our business – at the time the lockdown came, we were running around 80 cleaning contracts. You couldn’t set up a contract with a new supplier as demand was too great – it limited who we could buy from, but we had to ensure that all of our workers were complying to the government guidelines and issued with the right protective equipment and clothing.
Has this had an impact on your business?
It has to a degree; whilst the cleaning contracts have thrived due to high demand, our maintenance contacts have reduced somewhat. Cleaning contracts generate less profit but with the volume of contracts increasing we have maintained margins and ensured business continuity.
What changes have you had to implement?
Several changes were made almost immediately because we had already discussed a plan that we could roll out if necessary, which included putting provisions in place to set people up to work from home – which we did straight away with some of our office staff. We had to reassess the company's financial status – financial holidays, furloughs etc. to protect the business, and we also had to change our entire assessment for working on site.
How important is H&S?
H&S is a major part of what we do – so it certainly became a main focus in the early days of lockdown, we had to ensure everything was in line with government guidelines and we were fully prepared to keep our clients, the public and staff safe. As well as our in-house H&S team we work closely with an independent H&S consultant firm which has been a big help. How to interpret the information as it constantly changes and processing the changes into correct procedures has taken a lot of time. We needed ideas and strategies to adapt and having those resources to hand has played a massive part in helping us to make the right changes.
What have you done for your clients?
We’ve had to install Perspex screens at concierge desks. We’ve put in road barriers and other measures to instruct social distancing, as well as full sanitisation services where we can. We’ve worked on a number of sites with confirmed COVID cases, but the Property Managers have been very good at keeping us informed at all times. We set up a special sanitisation team to provide a reactive service where ‘deep cleans’ were instructed - as soon as we were advised we would go in and carry out full sanitation clean. We have ramped up this service to accommodate the client’s needs.
How have your staff reacted to the change?
Staff have generally been ok with the changes. Before lockdown, there were whispers about people stopping work and some operatives felt uncomfortable about working with the threat of the virus all around. We decided pretty quickly that we would not enforce working on site for anyone who decided the risk was too great. By the end of March we assessed the workload situation and any issues arising from staff concerns, providing a statement to staff about being able to work from home and since then Teams and Zoom have kept us all in touch. Now people are beginning to feel more confident about the situation, but we will not be forcing any change of work circumstances for any of our staff. We are blessed to have a great team.
What measures do you have in place to cope with staff morale?
When you start a company, no one tells you how to choose the right people. Listening to staff is key – we’re stress-testing all the time to eliminate problems and not repeat them. Looking within is a team approach and as a nation, we need to keep it front of mind.
We focus on wellbeing which ensures our staff is listened to and communicated within the best way. We took things very seriously right from the beginning - in Jan/Feb we ramped up our whole H&S and wellbeing ethos within the company. We stopped physical handshakes very early on, and one of the storerooms was set up with a hand washing station. We are constantly looking at each staff member’s individual needs. It may be that they are in the ‘at risk’ category themselves, or they may have a family member who is vulnerable so we factored that in as well.
The Covid situation has enforced a culture change across all businesses to be more aware of staff, colleagues, friends and families’ wellbeing – but we have always been in that zone, we make sure that we don’t overload staff. It’s a critical thing right now but we’ve always had that as part of our company ethic. We have regular 1 - 1s and an open-door policy so that everyone feels they can come to us for anything. We are both aware that health of any kind is important – we’re alert to stress levels, and due to the nature of reactive works the job can be challenging at times. Our staff care about what they do so it’s key to watch for people taking on too much, and our HR Manager is very mindful of that. At the end of the day, your business is only as good as the staff you have – we’re very lucky to have the people we do.
What does the future look like?
The future is hard to predict – we’re assessing things day by day, but we have put a plan in place for how things may need to change in the future. Social distancing will continue on some level as will PPE and guidelines for safe working, which is the main consideration for our operatives on site. As a company, we are assessing whether we will continue working from home and utilising Teams etc to keep communications going.
Contracts that require two people or more to complete tasks such as working on balconies have had to be put on hold. The 2-meter rule has made these tasks very difficult to carry out, but as time goes on, we see these guidelines changing to a more sensible approach. Scaffolders for example need to work safely, but it’s not always possible to keep within a 2-meter zone as poles are passed between the crew, so maybe we need to adopt a new strategy - be sensible, stay safe, reduce risk. You will never remove risk completely, but we must resume in some way and work around these rules.
When it comes to guidelines lots of industries have a different set to work from – different to the governments, so which should we follow? It is a learning curve for everyone. The market has changed for the foreseeable future – we need to phase getting back to some level of normality, but that level has totally shifted. People who have been in hibernation will struggle to return to working with people again. Time will tell, I guess?
Thanks to Stephen Day and Tom Lloyd for sharing your thoughts and insights.