About the organisation
SafetyLetterbox are a Welsh manufacturer and market leader of mail and parcel boxes. We started with one product and one person. Now, in our thirty forth year, we employ 55 local people and 96% of our products are manufactured from our factory in Neath. Products are supplied to construction, universities, residential, commercial, public sector in the UK and worldwide.
Innovation is the backbone of our business. Everything is made by us – from design to delivery to the market.
What challenges were you trying to address?
As soon as the implications of the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold, we reacted very quickly. Being an SME allowed us to be sharp and proactive. Running a lean operation meant we could respond with speed.
From the outset, we took responsibility for protecting our employees whilst trading for as long as we could in the safest possible way. Our ultimate goal was to continue to build our business, with the safety of our employees at the forefront of everything we do.
What was your solution?
We set up a COVID taskforce at the end of February, and by mid-March all plans were in place. This included sourcing PPE for employees and creating processes for safer working – from putting hand sanitiser on desks to splitting where people were working. At this point, we were going beyond what government was advising business to do.
However, in line with further announcements made by the Prime Minister, we made the decision to pause operations for three weeks. This created a switch in our thinking – from being proactive to reactive, to be in line with government messaging. This pause allowed us to take stock and think about how we could communicate a phased re-opening with our employees as well as customers.
During this time, we created a phased messaging action plan – each stage of re-opening was categorised and put in a clear, tangible way for the team to understand. Communication of the plan was crucial – information was continuously cascaded throughout the entire organisation to understand where we were going as a business.
Often during a crisis, we can become fixated on looking at where the business is now, rather than looking forward. I did not want to fall into this mindset, so thought about how we could continue to move forward as a business. For example, we set up weekly priority setting meetings with each department across the business to set KPIs for that week. We would then review these at the end of each week and reflect on what we could learn. This worked well and gave the team something tangible to work towards. The proactiveness of continuously moving and planning ahead allowed us to grow and learn as a business despite the challenging circumstances.
Safety Letterbox COVID-19 action plan
Early March - 'Set up and prepare’
- Started regular meetings with department heads
- Purchased PPE - gloves, masks, glasses, etc
- Set up cleaning regimes
- Tissues, anti-bac gel, hand wash and surface cleaner in every station and work desk
- Stopped visitors to site
- Stopped all visits to customers and installations and visits to sites
- Purchased thermometers and started temperature checking
- Started regular communications to all staff - what is COVID, measures we were taking, procedures for hygiene
- Switched on Microsoft Teams
- Set up phone lines and comms on our website
- Stocked up on any materials that we import in case of import problems
- Started regular comms to customers via e-shot
- Set up lists of contact details.
Mid-March - 'Prevent and secure'
- Approach was ‘act like you have it, treat others like they have it’
- Strict regimes and procedures put in place
- Isolated those high-risk individuals
- Encouraged staff to ‘do the right thing’ and call in sick if feeling unwell - matched Statutory Sick Pay contributions
- For those on Statutory Sick Pay, we offered a ‘Food fund’ to buy essentials (during the panic buying phase)
- Zero tolerance on those feeling unwell, with household members feeling unwell or anyone travelling
- Anyone returning from travel had to self-isolate for two weeks
- Quarantined materials coming in
- Issued PPE as required
- Set up operation as a ‘clean bubble’
- Comms sent to employees and customers
- Started segregation of vulnerable individuals and teams in close proximity
- Started moving people to remote / home working by setting up VPN and all IT.
23 March - ‘Pause and flatten the curve'
- To understand our market activity and protect everyone, full closure of the site
- All furloughed staff issued with letters and comms about the company plans
- Senior Team of 10 remained working, switched to home
- All employees on 100% pay for three weeks
- Message to employees and customers regarding supporting NHS, flattening the curve, doing the right thing
- Planned for a cautious restart and how we could improve in areas
- Wellbeing survey conducted
- Routines put in place for regular updates and employee engagement
- Department heads called all employees regularly
- Planned shift working, supervision, wardens to police procedures
- Commitment made to pay all suppliers absolutely on time
- Updated policies and code of conduct, created specific workplace guidelines
- SafetyLetterbox started joining CBI Webex briefings every day - notes and cascading relevant info to the team daily
- Creation of easy to log and follow furlough charts and spreadsheets for accurate calculations with all rates, NI and pension calculations created and double checked and plotted for future calculations.
20 April - 'Cautious re-start'
- Established three weeks on, three weeks off system for factory staff (shifts), office staff remained at home Staggered entry into building
- Signage and procedures including temperature checks and records
- Canteen split from 24 to four at a time
- One-way system
- Cleaning regimes including a cleaning company twice a day - morning and midday
- PPE made available - gloves, visors, masks, goggles, hand wash, spray
- Workplace guidelines issued before returning including how to travel to work, how to get into the building, new procedures, etc
- Full communications to customers regarding measures in place
- Applied for economic resilience fund
- Gifts sent to those at home who have worked through - to lift spirits and as a thank you.
4 May - 'Increase safely - COVID secure’
- First Furlough claim actioned for 47 employees
- Customers returned to construction and demand significantly increased
- Much discussion regarding increasing output whilst no compromise on safety- weekends, nights, split shifts
- Consulted workforce and switched to two shifts 6-2, 2-10 with staggered starts
- Office staff still at home were furloughed, except key roles required to support manufacturing
- Full communication to customers regarding capacity, flexibility and collaboration
- Vacancies advertised for temps to cover shielding etc
- Conducted Risk and COSHH assessments.
18 May - Planning the 'new norm’ - longer term COVID Secure
- IT audit for efficiency and to respond to frustrations of home workers
- Internal auditing of COVID-secure procedures in line with all government guidelines
- Investment in more permanent COVID instruction signage and equipment
- Slowly bringing office staff back off furlough (at home)
- Clarified PPE usage - both benefits and rules
- Instructed managers on how to recruit and train new personnel with two metre rule
- Concerns about confused messages England / Wales so working on clarity in comms to customers and employees
- Finding transport solutions for those who would normally rely on public transport
- Planning for scenarios based on various levels of activity
- Financial ‘clinic’ for employees furloughed with particular financial or wellbeing issues
- Established a solution for installing our products on site based on two metre rules, logistics of travel and safe handling of goods.
Crises offer a very sobering opportunity to shout about what you are good at and be clear to the customer, market, and your own team about what you can do. It has got to be an opportunity to build a stronger business.— Alison Orrells, CEO and MD, Safety Letterbox
Did you face any challenges or setbacks?
As an SME, we do not have a great amount of resource and contingency in all departments that larger companies may have. In such an unprecedented situation, it has exposed areas for further investment such as in specific skills and resilience, which sometimes comes from running lean. The pandemic has accentuated these gaps. It resulted in myself and a core team personally having to fill these gaps – working extremely long-hours for a sustained period which is a difficult situation for all. I knew this was not sustainable or a long-term solution. The structure of the business and its skills gap is certainly something to consider in the future.
Also, as key decision makers working from home, you can become incredibly isolated and focused on just your industry and business. For me, being a part of the CBI has really allowed me to think outside the box and see what other businesses are doing across sectors and the UK. This has been a lifeline for me. Constantly making decisions can be draining and intense – you are constantly wondering if you’ve done enough. By joining the CBI’s webinars and working groups, I have been able to benchmark myself against where other businesses are at. This has been incredibly helpful to our efforts.
What have the results been?
The biggest success from this approach has been that, even if employees are not working, they still feel that they are part of the team and that they can rely on strong leadership to be open and honest about what the future looks like. It may not always be good news that you are delivering, but nothing should be a shock to your team.