Dealing with now, planning for the future

27th April 2020

Gemma Quirke, Managing Director for Security Services, shares what Wilson James is doing to manage the needs of customers and employees in the very challenging circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and explains how Wilson James is planning for the eventual easing of lockdown and the return to normality.

Difficult decisions

Our priority over the last month has been to maintain clear communications and collaborate closely with employees and clients. Despite the immediate challenges faced, we have tried not to rush to make decisions. Instead, we have looked at an ever-changing situation methodically, based on an understanding of our employees’ roles and what needs to be done to keep clients safe – all the while balancing that with the needs of our employees.

As part of this process, we have had to make very difficult decisions, some of which have led to colleagues being furloughed. Where some level of service for the client has been maintained, we have had to make tough decisions based on the different functions that our people carry out. While this has involved furloughing some, throughout this entire process I have been struck by the dedication and focus of everyone across the Wilson James organisation.

Maintaining support

We are holding conversations in tandem with employees and clients to ensure that we continue to maintain the highest possible levels of service, calling on different areas within Wilson James for help, such as the recently launched Risk Advisory Service.

These conversations start with the fact that our clients’ risk profiles have changed dramatically over the last few weeks. Typically, their premises are now lying empty, so the requirement is now about being increasingly vigilant and protecting newly vulnerable sites. Only a matter of weeks ago our work might instead have involved keeping people safe, ensuring data is secure and providing visitor support, among other functions. Many clients were quick to recognise this change in risk, but many have looked to us as, the experts, to advise them – a role we have been proud to play.

New approaches

We are now hard at work to keep those employees who have been furloughed engaged and motivated through online training that helps develop their skills. We have been heavily promoting our ‘Keeping Well’ campaign to ensure our people remain safe and healthy when at home, or at now empty customer sites. Our WJ Hub has been filled with practical advice for employees and is regularly updated with news on the situation and how it affects the service we provide our clients.

Maintaining the same high service levels has required even greater levels of innovation and trust between Wilson James and our customers, and it’s true we are now engaging very differently with many clients, especially when it comes to their work with third parties. The Wellcome Trust, for example, has opened up parts of its building to those in the frontline of the battle against the virus at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH).

The Trust is providing those who work in ICUs at UCLH with much-needed space to rest and recover in between shifts. Our people are on-site to keep the area secure and have been trained in the extraordinary distancing and hygiene measures this protection demands. We are also ensuring that those working at the Francis Crick Institute to provide COVID-19 antigen testing to NHS workers are safe to do their vital work.

Preparing for recovery

Finally, we have a close eye on the next stages of the pandemic and the relaxation of lockdown and a gradual return to normality. This will see our customers’ risk profiles change once again, so we are already working with clients and employees to manage the transition to more traditional working habits.

In the absence at present of a definitive exit strategy from UK Government, this requires testing different exit scenarios, working in variables such as the status of public transport, the maintenance of social distancing measures, and the availability and use of PPE. It’s another example of Wilson James bringing its expertise to the situation. Yet there are also internal considerations to be made. How and when do we reopen our own offices, including our Fleet Street offices in Central London?

Aviation has indeed seen dramatic changes as a result of far fewer flights, and it would not be unrealistic to expect a lengthier delay before normal service is resumed in the sector. We have daily conversations with clients on what recovery will look like, and the situation looks different from airport to airport, based on the nature of the air transport they are centred around.

People at the centre

The massive impact that the pandemic has had on air travel also has a bearing on the wellbeing of our employees, as many are foreign nationals who are concerned about family and friends far from home. It’s a reminder of the personal cost of the pandemic.

Of course that personal cost is seen most clearly among those involved in the frontline battle against the virus, working in hospitals such as NHS Nightingale, in whose construction Wilson James was heavily involved. The effort and dedication of those hard at work in hospitals and laboratories around the UK are astounding. I am very proud of the role that our own people play supporting them.

Stay safe.