Swift reactions and a ‘people-first’ approach kept us strong during the pandemic, says Karen Sloan, Managing Director of Heating and Compliance at Liberty Group.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke, no one could have predicted the scale at which it would affect life, as we knew it. The impact has hit some organisations harder than others, with those that have steered through these turbulent waters the most effectively having shown quick thinking and an ability to pivot their normal way of doing things.
At Liberty we have long learned never to rest on our laurels. Early intervention, in the case of any crisis, is critical in preparing for whatever follows. Our whole team was quick to act on the potential of a pandemic before it became a stark reality.
As a sector, we should always ensure we are prepared for anything that might be thrown as us, and at the same time remain committed to maintaining high standards of service delivery.
While no one could have envisaged the events of 2020, we were proactive in preparing for the pandemic rather than reactive. We moved quickly to mitigate potential risks on the business and understand the actions we would need to take to ensure operations would run smoothly during lockdown. All this had to be considered alongside the safety of our employees, clients and their tenants.
We’ve worked hard to ensure we kept people safe in their homes and at work, from having robust risk assessments to ensuring that engineers and admin staff had the correct tools and PPE to carry out their roles safely.
We maintained effective communication with clients and customers so that they knew their safety was paramount and our early intervention on these health and safety issues meant limited disruption and a more streamlined service.
Impact on services
With only emergency and essential maintenance permitted, revenue streams across the sector were impacted, but at Liberty we were able to transition to a summer operating model — where demand on our services naturally reduces — earlier to allow us to maintain work levels.
There was initially an impact on gas servicing compliance due to customers not wanting or not able to allow access to their homes, but after close consultation and collaboration with our clients we adjusted our customer contact points and changed the way we communicated with customers regarding essential works.
Practices to complete the work were revised and we worked hard to keep to our contract commitments while ensuring we followed all processes in line with government guidelines and client requirements.
These efforts have been recognised by clients across the country. We helped Shropshire Towns and Rural Housing meet 100% compliance on gas servicing, with Managing Director Sue Adams writing to place on record her thanks for all Liberty’s work.
North Devon Homes hit 99.94% compliance in May during the peak of the lockdown compared to a sector average of just 89.6%. We also played a key role in national landlord Muir’s remobilisation efforts with Compliance Manager Mike Proudfoot praising “the outstanding work Liberty has completed during the lockdown period.
“From the engineers to the management team, everyone has worked very hard to keep us as close to compliance as it is possible to be.”
People first approach
The needs of the people we employ and those we work with have been our biggest consideration throughout the pandemic.
While engineers carrying out essential repairs and servicing remained at work, Liberty did initially furlough staff employed in back office and planned works roles. The vast majority of staff have now returned to work.
Understandably, people were, and still are, concerned about COVID-19, so our approach throughout has been to ensure our teams, our clients and their tenants felt safe, with effective communication a priority. Through this approach, and our ability to react swiftly and effectively, the impact on our business was reduced, we have kept people feeling safe and secure and we have safeguarded the futures of those who work for us.
There is always something to learn from a crisis, and the lesson we will take into the future — and encourage others to follow — is to reaffirm our approach of putting people first. By looking at the safety of people we were able to maintain a great service to clients and keep their tenants safe. Staff know they are an essential part of our business and not just a number.
There will be further challenges ahead, but we remain confident we’re leading the way in the response to what has been an era-defining moment.