From Neil McDougall, Friday 13 March 2020:
I want to set out how we as a company are responding to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, by gathering together all of the various strands of activity into a single, short communication. A great deal of what I am about to write can be captured in two words: “we care”.
What I describe below is the status today, 13 March 2020. The situation is dynamic and will be different by Monday. I therefore plan to provide regular updates in this format going forward.
Our main concern is the well-being of our people, those who work closely alongside us in whatever capacity. We are complying and will continue to comply with all relevant advice from the health authorities in the UK and Australia. We are emphasising hygiene and asking individuals with even mild cold or flu like symptoms to work from home. We have introduced additional business continuity measures aimed at reducing person-to-person contact following the most recent health advice aimed at slowing the transmission of the virus. This includes, where possible, conducting client engagements electronically, rather than face-to-face. For staff working internationally (Europe and the USA), we are reviewing the situation with their specific needs in mind. In general, we are reviewing the position daily and updating the advice to our staff as required.
Within Frazer-Nash we have identified three key risks from the virus: it threatens our ability to discharge work; we will have shortages of staff in key areas when people are unwell; and we might run out of useful work to do.
Discharging Work. The recent tests of working from home have been designed to test the resilience of our systems such that staff who are fit to work (but perhaps self-isolating) are able to do so. It will also enable us to react if access to an office is denied for a period when someone is diagnosed with the virus in one of our offices. (As of today, if that were to happen our plan is to send everyone home from that office for 24 hours to give us time to get the relevant government advice and implement it.)
Staff Shortages. We don’t know how many people will be unwell with the virus, but we are expecting high levels of sickness within the company. Estimates vary, but 20% of staff unwell at any one time has been estimated by the UK Government health experts. In anticipation of this we will be coming out later today with a request for line managers to identify critical roles and “reserves” who could fulfil the role if needed. In anticipation of a requirement to increase inter-personal space we will also be gathering information with a view to splitting the company into “Teams” who only attend the office on specific (different) days. We may not use this but we might need it.
Running out of Work. It’s going to be tough. Our order backlog isn’t as strong as we would like at the moment so we will need to do everything we can to ensure that we can still talk to customers whilst businesses (ours and theirs) are disrupted. This is so important that I am writing a separate piece on it below.
We do not plan to stop working and will need to continue to support our clients as best we can during these challenging times. Remember, a great deal of what we do is in support of critical national infrastructure – that support must continue for the benefit of society as a whole.
In every scenario we have considered our ability to communicate is the key link. So we are working to ensure that we are able to communicate with our key customers, enabling closer IT links where possible and practicable. Led by our Group Business Managers and Business Managers, we should be identifying critical projects and working through with our customers how to ensure continuity. For support provided on customer sites we should be working to persuade the client that this can be delivered remotely. We expect that several of our client sites will move to restricting access to all but key staff in the near future. We need to prepare for this. We don’t have long to make those preparations. The conversations you can have with your customer today can help this.
This is a difficult but not insurmountable situation. If we react with agility we will not only keep our people as safe as we can but also keep our levels of support for customers at a level that enables them to maintain their services. It won’t always be pretty, and we may have to “play out of position” to get important things done and deliver a basic service, but we will get through this.