From Neil McDougall, Monday 16 March 2020

The situation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak remains dynamic, so I thought I would provide you with my next update describing some of the steps that are taking this week. What I would observe is that “pace” is key. The situation requires us all to work with some speed, and we may need to do other things this week that I don’t mention below. We’ll keep talking.

Last week I described the three main risks that we face as a business: 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. These risks are real, but I don’t think that they threaten the viability of us as a business. We can’t be complacent, but all of the evidence I have seen so far is that we are well prepared. Our IT resilience testing was a success (we had issues but James McGee and his team got them sorted quickly), and we are now focused on establishing closer digital links with our key customers or on key projects so that we may still provide them with the support that they will need. We have a lot of work to do, and we may not have a lot of time to complete it, but we’ll get there.

Our People

The well-being of our people is and will remain our main concern. We are and will continue to comply with all relevant advice from the health authorities in the UK and Australia. We are emphasising hygiene and, in accordance with government advice, anyone with symptoms of coronavirus infection (COVID-19), however mild, should not leave home for 7 days from when symptoms started.

Hygiene. To help us keep our working environment clean I would ask that you take fifteen minutes during today to clear the working surface of your desk. Papers and knick-knacks in a drawer, please! This will enable thorough cleaning, allowing our cleaners to work efficiently and to focus on the desktop, keyboard and telephone. This will be important. We are planning for the introduction of measures that will promote “social distancing” and may require you to work from a desk other than your own. We want that “other” desk to be clean.

I would remind you that other “social-distancing” measures such as conducting client engagements electronically, rather than face-to-face, should be promoted (I am taking as a given that we are already doing this internally).

When someone is diagnosed with the virus in one of our offices the government advice is that we should not close the office, but seek guidance by Public Health England local Health Protection Team. They will work with us to conduct a risk assessment and we’ll then advise staff what to do. Only staff who have had close contact with the individual need to self-isolate. Staff who have not had close contact with the original confirmed case do not need to take any precautions and can continue to attend work.

For staff working internationally (USA), we have a member of our HR team dedicated to reviewing the situation, especially since the introduction of travel restrictions within Europe and between the UK and the USA. I would remind you that we are reviewing the position daily and updating the advice to our staff as required.

Our Business

I have said that 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. It doesn’t look like this will be a major risk for us, as long as the internet is in place. I am pleased to report that the recent tests of working from home were successful with almost 60% of our UK staff working remotely on Friday. It is clear that we will be able to continue to operate with a mix of staff working from our offices and remotely, but we will need to manage the situation. This will enable us to make the best use of our remote working facilities, giving additional flexibility for those that need to self-isolate, those that really need to use the facility.

Staff Shortages. We aim to complete the identification of critical roles and “reserves” who could fulfil roles if needed. The information we will have by the end of today will allow us to split the company into Teams “A” and “B” who will attend our offices on different days. This will allow us to reduce the risk of person-to-person transmission through increased social distancing – both by reducing face-to-face interaction and by the fact that the numbers of people in the offices will be reduced so we can sit further apart.

Running out of Work. We think that this is our main risk.  We are helped by the fact that many of our customers deliver critical national infrastructure and are therefore already in discussions about our capacity to ramp up services to them should they need it. We have a plan being led and executed by our Group Business Managers and John Devlin is being updated daily on progress here.

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. We will still help customers get important things done even if we only deliver a basic service, we may even get new opportunities to help customers in distress. We will get through this.