We have the means to work safely

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell argues that returning to work appears daunting, but we have the tools at our disposal to.

I like to think of myself of a glass half full kind of person, and during these last six weeks I’ve been looking for the silver lining.

Once thing that has caught my attention – and everyone else’s it seems – is how straightforward it has been to continue an element of work throughout the lockdown; even if your business operations have shut down completely, it is reassuring to learn that much of what we do can be done remotely.

One winner of the lockdown has been the developer of Zoom, the software that facilitates video conference calls. While I have used other platforms, Zoom appears to have captured the imagination, and it is certainly a straightforward piece of software to use – even grandparents are reportedly in on the act.

Like any new way of working, there will be a learning curve (I could write a book based on the hilarious mishaps I’ve witnessed on my gallery view) but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

The truth is, we had become accustomed to conducting business face to face, and the UK is just about small enough to justify a day-long round trip to effect a 90-minute meeting. But is that really a good use of time, or is it just habit?

As we step out into a Covid-19 world, we will have to maintain social distancing measures as a practical and necessary way of preventing a second devasting wave of infection.
Talking to people like Sunil Patel of Unique Windows, it is clear that it needn’t be a cumbersome practice to accommodate.

“Social distancing will be with us until the end of the year at least,” he said. “Face-to-face meetings are going to be few and far between for the foreseeable future, and replaced with more virtual meetings instead.”

Sunil explained that Unique had quickly adopted Skype as its favoured meeting platform, via which its commercial manager is regularly having pre-contract meetings, for example.

“It will be commonplace to do these meetings online where before it was the accepted way to sit around a table,” Sunil said.

Elsewhere in the business, the accounts team largely work from their home, and the company’s offices are large enough to distance other people sufficiently.

“In the end, it doesn’t matter how or where work gets done,” he said. “You have to trust people. If you don’t trust them, then you shouldn’t be employing them in the first place.”

Most of Unique’s work is generated by the commercial sector, and Sunil said the company hadn’t slowed down on that front. The factory should be coming back online on May 11 – tentatively at first – and has been prepared to encourage safe working. This includes tape on the floor to demarcate personal areas, and by limiting one person to each machine.

For other companies – those supplying the retail side of the market especially – will have different obstacles to overcome, but the industry is already developing new ways of working. For example, there are already a number of checklists that have been drawn up by companies and organisations to enable work to commence without necessitating human contact, thus risk spreading the virus.

When the government starts lifting restrictions, I think we have enough tools at our disposal to work safely and productively.