Cadent is the UK’s biggest gas distribution network, maintaining 80,000 miles of pipes across four regions (north west, west midlands, east of England and north London). It employs around 4,000 labour workers and more than 900 contractors who help distribute gas to 11 million-plus properties.
Impact so far
If forearmed is forewarned then Cadent had an arsenal of preparedness behind it. Forming part of the Critical National Infrastructure means it has an obligation to have robust business continuity plans.
Rapid adoption of the existing processes, protocols and procedures meant risk was minimised and work was able to continue with little impact or disruption. The result has been a split of critical workers carrying out essential maintenance and repair work in the public space, and employees in back office support roles working from home, in a matter of days.
Cadent has no current plans to furlough employees and sees all of its workforce as critical, regardless of official status.
“Our primary concern is obviously maintaining the gas network and its safety, but our secondary concern is the wellbeing of our people, both physically and mentally,” says Martin Rimmer, chief people officer.
“We quickly managed to adapt to minimise risk but continue to look forward and maintain a positive stance. Any situation, no matter how dire, will lead to positive opportunities.”
Any customers of Cadent who are unfortunate enough to have a gas leak amid the coronavirus outbreak can rest easy that an engineer will be able to attend.
Rimmer explains that it is looking to maintain 60 per cent of its work stack but focusing on non-customer invasive work. Engineers who do have to carry out critical work are – where possible – working alone with one worker per vehicle. “We won't come to a house to fit a new gas meter or a new connection, but we will do the work that relates to maintaining safety. Our gas emergency response service is operating as normal,” says Rimmer.
“We’ve implemented a social distancing policy and process for engineers entering people’s homes for gas emergencies. We are asking the resident to stay in a separate room so we can conduct the repair. Our engineer will clean and sanitise the area they have been working on once the work is complete.”
Alongside a reduction to non-essential work, Cadent has been “focusing on PPE, deep cleansing sanitisers and sanitary wipes to ensure we keep our operational workforce safe”, reports Rimmer.
Another critical service under Cadent’s remit is its gas emergency line. While 70 per cent of the team are working from home, the remaining 30 per cent who respond to emergency calls have been dispersed over three offices, with social distancing measures in place.
Rimmer adds: “Our procurement teams have done a great job of sourcing appropriate PPE, sanitiser, wipes and the like, although that’s not as easy as it normally would be at the moment.”
Unfortunately for Cadent, its workforce has come under fire from a few concerned members of the public, especially when repairing gas lines. Rimmer says communication has been key in raising awareness of what its workers are doing and why.
“We have had some members of the public saying ‘I can't work so why are you continuing to dig holes’, but obviously there is a more important side to what appears to be ‘digging a hole’,” Rimmer explains. “Which is obviously making repairs to gas lines and keeping people safe.
“We have implemented van stickers and additional signage, and we’ve got a radio campaign to explain why we are working and why it is important. We are maintaining the national infrastructure.”
Misguided criticism aside, Cadent has been making big strides to enable its employees to help the community during these difficult times. It has offered all of its 4,000 employees the opportunity to volunteer for two days a month on full pay throughout April and May, a decision that Rimmer says “didn’t need any debate”.
“It felt like the right thing to do. We work in the public space and do an awful lot of work in people’s homes, the public knows who we are and we are an integral part of the community,” he says.
“We have employees with the potential to support the community and we are encouraging people to take advantage of that. All they need to do is complete a request.”
Cadent has delivered on its primary focus of keeping the gas network maintained and safe, but it’s secondary focus of employee wellbeing hasn’t fallen by the wayside. Rimmer says it was an “immediate business decision” to grant full pay to all employees until at least 31 May.
“[Granting full pay] takes away what was effectively a two-month period of financial worry to ensure our employees were safe and well, and primed to continue working,” adds Rimmer.
Rimmer has also asked the organisation’s HR and wellbeing team to reach out to employees that were on (non-coronavirus related) extended sick leave.
“We wanted to keep them informed of developments, let them know they are still part of the Cadent family and are valued members of the team. We have put in a programme of proactive reaching out through our HR and wellbeing team to call those people and ask if they are OK and relieve any concerns, and generally check on their wellbeing,” says Rimmer.
Retirees and returners
“We have had more than 200 people return to work following a period of self-isolation. They have recovered fully and wish to return, which gives you a real feel for our company culture,” reports Rimmer.
“We also have seven employees (so far) deferring retirement because they can see the challenge to resources, and shows that we are like a family. We are happy to continue paying their salary until this is all over or until they chose otherwise.”