Written By Alison Orrells, CEO and Managing Director, The Safety Letterbox Company
12 months ago, we had just spent thousands of pounds on acrylic screens for desks, one way systems, additional cleaning and procedures, temp testing, splitting offices up and laptops for office staff (to work from home if we had to) plus switching our phone system to run through everyone’s laptops. Then on 23rd March 2020, like most, we closed our doors. It was absolutely shocking and surreal but there was a definite feeling of solidarity as we were trying to do the right thing and to protect our NHS. We even started printing visors on our 3D printers at home in an attempt to help the crisis, with a core team of 10 working around the clock from home.
“We paused our production but not our business”
We paused production but not our business. It was brutal, with very long days and so much uncertainty. On the day the government stepped in to offer help through furlough and other support, I was relieved beyond words. I’d hardly slept and was doing all I could to work a way through this. Like many heads of companies, I never ever forget the responsibility I carry for the livelihoods, safety and job security of all my team and their families.
“Never forgetting our responsibility for employees, families and livelihoods”
Every day brought a new scenario and a new rulebook, with constantly changing situations that we had to react to and try to control. Fortunately for us, after three weeks we were able to continue with our manufacturing side of the business and whilst we split the team into three shifts for maximum safety, putting strict Covid secure procedures in place, we were agile and innovative – and found a way through that worked, thanks to the understanding and flexibility of the whole team.
A year on I have to admit that it’s been incredibly challenging – and I’m not proud to say that some of us are yet to have a day off due to our absolute determination to do all we can to pull through. Throughout it all we’ve been here for each other – and our customers. Some customers were slow to return and others wanted their products with no delay – and everything in between – so it’s been unpredictable, immensely challenging and difficult to manage.
“Throughout it all we have hired, promoted, restructured, invested and expanded – gaining re-accreditation and welcoming new customers every week.”
Throughout it all, we have remained flexible, highly proactive and focused. We have employed 12 new people in key roles. We have promoted and restructured. We have invested in new machinery, R&D, testing and processes. We have expanded into new markets and new products. We have improved systems internally – and had so many meetings and virtual demos through Teams, it’s quite unbelievable. And through it all, we have been re-accredited for ISO9001, Investors in People and multiple H&S compliances. Our lead times have remained the same. Our quote and drawings turnarounds have remained constant. And we are delighted to welcome new customers every week.
“Our spirit and determination remains steadfast and strong.”
We may still be physically fragmented with 70% of our office staff remaining at home and a few factory workers still shielding or looking after their children – but our spirit and determination remains steadfast and we are a strong team. We’re considering the merits of hybrid working – and managing a new way of nurturing the buzz and the opportunities that come from working within ‘a normal’ busy collaborative office environment. Mental health and well-being are at the forefront of everything we do and, just as our priorities are always driven by the safety and physical health of our employees and our community, we’re now concentrating our attention on the invisible impacts of Covid from the last 12 months – and moving forward positively as a team working in a new way. We have many plans for the future and even though we recognise that we are not out of the woods yet, we hope to emerge stronger, just as we did in the recession of 2008-2012.
“Working in a new way to emerge stronger than ever before”
As tough as it’s been, my thoughts go out to those businesses who are still stuck in a limbo and unable to work. I’m so inspired by the determination and innovation they have shown, looking for any way to push through. It’s incredibly hard to even imagine what it must feel like to have a business and yet be unable to try to make it work. With the UK leading the way with the vaccination roll-out, I hope it ensures we eventually reopen as safely as possible, with minimal further impact to health, the NHS and our economy.
We are not just planning to emerge stronger, but we are embracing the future proofing we need as a business: ‘digitalisation’, ‘automation’, ‘upskilling’, ‘decarbonisation’ and ‘continuous improvement’ are all words we use daily now. As we harness the support available, the links to expertise in academia and the process innovations that we’re working through, there’s no doubt Covid has propelled us five years ahead on our plan.
“Now more than ever, we must realise the impact of buying British, enabling our businesses to reinvest and succeed.”
In amongst the challenges of the pandemic, we’ve all had Brexit to deal with: many days and weeks of preparation, stockpiling, contingency and searching for clarity. We’re currently three months “in” and we still face delays, containers stuck at ports, price increases, administration challenges and continued confusion. I really hope, now more than ever, that as a country we’ll recognise the power of collaboration and the impact and value of Buying British – protecting the bigger economic picture, enabling our business to reinvest and emerge in a strong place, continuing to put the UK on the map as a resilient and agile country to be admired and respected.
“I feel the camaraderie and unity in the business community – and hope we get the opportunity to show what we can really do and what we really stand for.”
I certainly feel the camaraderie and unity in the business community. I see and hear the mammoth efforts being made everywhere, through my involvement in Manufacturing Wales, CBI and Swansea Bay Business Club. Regardless of the sector, there’s a strong undercurrent of respect for any business, large or small, that has navigated its way through more than a year of stormy seas to keep fighting – staying determined and focused on the job of recovery and perhaps even building back better than ever before.
I really hope we eventually get what we deserve – the real opportunity to show what we can do and what we stand for – resilience, tenacity, determination, perseverance, collaboration, agility and innovation.