Adapting to a socially distant world

Posted on 26 May 2020 | Author: Sarah Brown

Recently we reported on how ArcelorMittal Sheffield, manufacturer of the EstateWIRE brand of fencing, were dealing with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures they had put into force to deal with it. Two months on, we’ve checked back in with them to see how things have progressed, and how they are adapting to our socially distant world.

“The best news is that up to now, we have had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in any of our team members or their families” started CEO, Tony Hinchliffe. “In the initial few weeks, we had a number of our team self isolating due to symptoms either in themselves or family members, but this has now settled down and we are running at almost normal levels”.

This is extremely fortunate as ArcelorMittal Sheffield have just recorded their best sales months ever for fencing products achieving sales 30% higher than they have sold in a single month in their history.

“April was a phenomenal month for us and the fact we were right in the middle of lockdown and the height of the pandemic is just incredible” stated Tony. “The team worked incredibly hard to achieve this whilst still maintaining our H&S standards, as well as all the new procedures we have put in place to control COVID-19”.

With social distancing set to be the norm for a while, ArcelorMittal Sheffield have introduced new measures to ensure social distancing can be effectively maintained in the work place.

“The main social distancing concern for us was around shift change over times” commented Health and Safety Co-ordinator, Andre Potgieter. “To overcome this, we have introduced new changing facilities, and a One-in, One-out system for our production team. We now have 4 separate changing areas with each team member having a designated area to change in. Once changed and ready for work, the new shift operators report to their individual work stations to dismiss the operator from their machine to end their shift” explained Andre. “This reduces the number of people in communal areas and limits the number of personal interactions”.

Apart from production staff, there are very few people working on site with all those who can work from home continuing to do so. “Technologically, we were in a good position at the start of lockdown as we already had an IT infrastructure that could facilitate home working” the CEO commented. “The challenge for us in this area is ensuring all our team working at home still feel connected with the business and with their team. The sacrifice home workers are making should not be underestimated. The majority of our home workers have been at home for 12 weeks and when you are used to coming into a work place 5 days a week and interacting with others, that is a huge change combined with the personal lockdown changes too”.

A weekly “Big Chat” video meeting now takes places that brings together the whole of the office working staff team together once a week. “The idea of the weekly Big Chat is to provide an interactive forum where we can update the team and they can ask questions, raise concerns, that kind of thing” explained Tony. “But more than that, it is where they can see each others faces, hear each others voices, have some banter about lockdown hair cuts or the football team shirt someone is wearing, talk about their personal lockdown experiences etc. We’ve found The Big Chat to be a great mood lifter”.

With Government advice still to keep home workers working from home, this is ArcelorMittal Sheffield’s plan for the time being but the CEO is keen to re-introduce home workers back to the plant as soon as possible. “We have already started making plans on how we can safely re-introduce those who are home working whilst maintaining and respecting social distancing measures” Tony commented. “We are lucky in that we have enough space to be able to accommodate everybody comfortably and with safe working distances between them. As soon as we can get our team back together under one roof it is our intention to do so, following of course all expert advice and guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing. We’ve proven we can function effectively in this extremely distant nature but all together, bouncing ideas off each other, debating and discussing, talking and laughing is definitely what we aim to get back to”.