About the organisation
We’re the people behind the UK’s digital network. We build and maintain the largest fixed communications network in the country, enabling more than 650 Communications Providers (CPs) to deliver phone, broadband, TV and data services to millions of homes and businesses throughout the UK.
We also manage hundreds of thousands of dedicated, point-to-point circuits (called Ethernet lines) which connect schools, GP surgeries, hospitals, financial institutions, mobile masts and businesses – even CCTV and data centres.
We believe that everyone in the country deserves access to decent and reliable broadband - and our engineers work in every community, every day, to deliver better service, broader coverage and faster speeds across our network.
We’ve invested more than £13bn into the UK’s digital infrastructure over the last ten years, helping to make superfast broadband available to more than 96% of the UK.
We’re now on a mission to build new ultrafast, ultra-reliable and future-proof ‘Full Fibre’ broadband technology to 20 million homes and businesses by the mid-to-late 2020s.
What challenges were you trying to address?
During the coronavirus pandemic, being connected has mattered more than ever – and with the largest phone and broadband network in the UK Openreach has played a crucial role in keeping the nation connected while keeping our people, customers and the public safe.
With lockdown restrictions in place, Openreach had to prioritise the build, maintenance and repair of connections which served the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). This included the newly created NHS Nightingale hospitals, food depots which served major supermarkets and numerous care homes.
Across the business, we had to quickly adapt to the new Public Health England guidelines to make sure our people could remain safe whilst continuing to conduct their critical work.
Adapting to the new regulations, almost instantly, was extremely challenging. We needed to keep serving our customers whilst reengineering lots of our processes to adapt them to new ways of working.
It was also vital that we highlighted the key worker status of our engineers to the wider public, so they could carry out their work in a safe and supported way.
Our number one priority was keeping our engineers and customers safe. And as a business, it was vital that we continued maintaining and delivering Critical National Infrastructure connections during the pandemic. By doing this, we could support the UK’s response to the pandemic, sustain the economy and ensure that emergency services such as 999 remained open.
What was your solution?
Our Chief Medical Officer was integral as we adapted our business to solve the new working challenges. Using his advice, we adapted the way we work to include:
- Social distancing between engineers who commonly worked together
- Developing creative methods to deal with customers (for example, using video calls to update and advise them and avoid close contact visits)
- Investing in thousands of gloves and masks (PPE) to use where appropriate and similar volumes of hand sanitisers and wipes
- Promoting our key worker status to the public - distributing 18,000 key worker signs and conducting a national PR and marketing campaign to raise awareness.
Our pandemic response isn’t over yet, but if there’s one thing it’s reminded us all of – it's that connectivity is a crucial lifeline for all of us.— Paul Hiscocks, Head of Critical National Infrastructure, Openreach
The ability to communicate with our friends, family and colleagues has become vital during lockdown. And keeping the nation connected has been our top priority, day and night, and in particular to ensure that the Critical National Infrastructure can be maintained to serve the UK.
Keeping networks running and investing in them for the future is so important, and it's going to be even more crucial in helping to rebuild the UK's economy as we look to come out of this pandemic.
How did you roll out your approach?
At Openreach we have tried-and-tested business continuity and crisis plans which use pre-determined leaders and a chain of command to discuss issues and make rapid decisions, daily. This played a crucial role during our coronavirus response.
With the largest team of telecoms engineers in the country, we began to develop, test, and learn new processes that could be flexed during the pandemic. And using the chain of command process allowed us to get responses to challenges quickly - as the right decision makers were already bought into and part of the process.
We also developed a comprehensive internal communications plan to share and embed the new ways of working for our business.
The most effective way of sharing this information was using our internal social media platform, Workplace, which has been key in keeping our 34,000 employees updated.
Changes to safety practises were evolving daily and communications were at a frequency and scale we had never seen before at Openreach.
Communicating through this platform allowed us to share information with colleagues all over the country in a timely and accessible way. For example, our engineers were told how to carry out their work safely at all times and there was a strict governance process which was regularly communicated as guidance continued to evolve.
As we move into the next phase of the pandemic, the need to adapt quickly and our business continuity processes will be just as important.
What have the results been?
By redesigning our processes, and focusing our efforts on our priority Critical National Infrastructure work, we have:
- Built 51 emergency connections for NHS temporary hospitals (including the 26 Nightingale sites)
- Connected four food depots enabling food distribution to the vulnerable
- Ensured that 2600 circuits were built for our business customers to be ready to connect when they open for customers again
- And most importantly, reinforced safety in everything we do. This has helped us reassure our people so that they can work safely and securely as key workers whilst also keeping our customers safe too.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to do something similar?
Always be clear on your most important priority in response to a crisis. During the coronavirus pandemic, ours was safety. No revenue targets or essential maintenance of our network would supersede the safety of our engineers and our customers.
Ensure this priority is socialised far and wide internally, so that everyone is abundantly clear that no other priority should take precedence.
With safety at the heart of our coronavirus pandemic response - this simple, but fundamental foundation anchored the whole programme.