COVID19 Lockdown Diary – Sheena Archer
Back to Work
On Monday 11th May, I returned to my job in the office. We’ve been given the green light to reopen the business with a skeleton staff given our status within the construction industry.
It’s a very different atmosphere to the environment I left back in March. Very strict rules are in place to ensure social distancing and currently there are only three of us are working in the open plan sales office, where we would normally have up to 12 staff.
We now have rigid rules in place around customers placing orders for collection and unfortunately, they cannot enter the trade counter. There is a one-way system around the corridors and lots of yellow and black tape, new signage and Perspex between desks.
The canteens are now furnished with small ‘tables for one’.
It has been extremely busy, especially on Monday and I get the feeling that many smaller businesses are extremely grateful that we are open again as they struggle to keep the wolf from the door in these unique times.
Next week we hope to see more of our aluminium and PVCU fabricators back at work in NI and in southern Ireland as construction sites are allowed to reopen there also.
Sooner rather than later, I would like to see all my colleagues back at work, even if this means a rota for working from home, which we are all now set up to do so as to maintain numbers for social distancing.
I would like to be chatting again each day to all our busy customers and business returning to normal. I would also like us to be discussing plans for a carefree weekend or a night out. Here’s hoping & praying!
I wrote a diary a few weeks back to share my lockdown experience with you all and I often wondered how similar your own experience was.
Adapting to a new normal
This is the fourth week of lockdown since finishing work on Thursday 26th March, in line with government requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company remains closed indefinitely.
The end of March is always our company’s year-end, which culminates in a stock take. However, this year, stock take was cancelled. Sales targets were close to being realised and employees and directors alike are always interested in how we do overall.
The team at APS are fantastic. From estimating, designing, technical, sales, warehouse, distribution and accounts. We are keen to hear if the hard work all year is likely to allow us to achieve our targets, especially given this financial year ended sooner than we expected.
We closed at a very busy time of the year when business was strong. I hope I’m not being naive when I say that when we return to work, I wish we can all just start from where we left off. I hope that all our customers, suppliers and business partners will also be back at work when we get to the ‘other side’.
We’ve all no doubt heard much about the sad news from China and parts of Europe that have been so significantly impacted by this virus. The lockdown has hit hard here in the UK and Ireland, and no doubt the world over, with busy offices brought to a halt.
Impact on customers
We have a wide customer base in the Republic of Ireland and as we were working to slightly different lockdown rules initially, negotiating the lockdown seemed even more complicated. By Thursday 26th March, it was all sorted as government regulations came more closely into line with those in the south.
Changes at APS
From Monday 23rd March, I was set up to work from home and I was helping to tidy up as many loose ends as possible and complete customer deliveries within a very short time frame – some of these orders were aluminium architectural contracts for hospitals in the Republic of Ireland that were required urgently.
The initial fear I had of being made redundant or monthly salaries running out has dissipated, with the announcement that APS will be availing of the job retention scheme – where staff are furloughed for three months with the government promise of 80% pay.
From too many to none
Occasionally, I check my APS email inbox which would usually have been overflowing with emails. Never-ending emails of customer orders, inquiries, queries and supplier correspondence that I sometimes hoped I’d get a break from has ceased. Now, there’s sadly only spam, telling me that customers are not working either.
Today, a customer whose company is closed, inquired about hinges required to finish a hospital contract in Scotland – only essential work is the stipulation and this is certainly the case in this example. I’ve also noticed this week that Spanish and Italian suppliers have informed me that their governments have allowed their production to go back to work. I also saw this on the news and I only hope that this easing of lockdown isn’t premature and works out for them. Hopefully it is positive news and we will follow soon also.
My days at work are normally very busy with customer interaction non-stop. I really enjoy what I do. Friday mornings are spent working from home on APS digital marketing, another aspect I enjoy, even though then the inbox is swamped by our valued customers in the wake of our weekly marketing email.
We are the lucky ones
Being told you can’t go to work and your employer is closed indefinitely is a surreal feeling – one which it appears many of us have experienced in the last month. I know thousands of people are in the same boat and we are the lucky ones, because this should only be temporary.
My free time has been spent supervising home schooling, turning into a Domestic Goddess by cooking, baking and gardening. My daily walk close by my home is along a steep country road on the outskirts of East Belfast from where I have super views of the city, Stormont etc. I also look out for an elderly couple who live nearby who have no close family nearby. I have been helping by bringing their groceries and some home baking around as well as phone calls to have a chat mostly about my gardening exploits as they are expert gardeners.
The weather has certainly helped being on furlough. The time is going past quickly with every Clap For Our Heroes Thursday coming around so fast. I’m sure others who live alone or are vulnerable find the time passing much more slowly. Or indeed, those on the frontline and those who have experienced COVID-19 and survived or those less fortunate. Being out of work temporarily is a very small price to pay in the context of what is happening not just around the world but on our very own doorstep.
Lockdown into May
News came last week that the lockdown has been extended into May and I hope that by the end of May, the pandemic will have passed, and we can gradually return to normality, but only so long as it is safe to do so.
I’m not experienced in the overall running of a business, so I can’t tell what effect missing two to three months turnover might have. I can only assume it will have a considerable impact. I’m sure it is a very worrying time for business owners, something they could never have imagined or included in their planning.
In our case with the construction industry that seemed so buoyant beforehand, I wonder will it spring back into gear just a few months behind schedule?
The economic forecasts that appeared on the news regarding the recession that will ensue are foreboding, something that we all hope is incorrect. Perhaps, like the overwhelming amount of goodness this episode has brought in its wake, some new business opportunities will arise like we have seen so many times in the past.
I hope you’re all keeping safe and well and I hope it’s not too long before we’re back in regular contact again.