Long reads

How are people teams responding to coronavirus? ...Skanska UK

22 Jun 2020 By Elizabeth Howlett

The construction firm played a key role in developing sector guidelines and has implemented measures such as one-way systems and staggered start times at its sites

The organisation

Skanska UK is one of the country’s largest construction and engineering companies, helping to maintain buildings and infrastructure. Employing more than 5,000 workers in the UK, the contractor was behind the construction of London’s iconic 30 St Mary Axe – more commonly known as ‘The Gherkin’ – and the widening of the M25 in 2012.   

The impact so far

As soon as the government announced lockdown in March, Skanska closed its corporate offices in Maple Cross and Moorgate and paused site work in order to understand the unprecedented situation and conduct a proper risk assessment.

Government guidance on whether the construction sector could continue working was initially piecemeal, says Harvey Francis, chief HR officer and executive vice president. But, prompted by an open letter to business secretary Alok Sharma from Lem Bingley, editor of a trade press magazine, the government collaborated with Public Health England and the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) to develop a ‘site operating procedures’ document.

Skanska played an important part in contributing to these, says Francis: “The CLC issued a set of site operating procedures – which Skanska played a significant role in developing – which clearly outlined the things you needed to consider and have in place. That was very helpful and we have complied with that to the absolute letter.”

Skanska now has several thousand people working safely in accordance with government and CLC guidance. Most of its sites are fully operational but are at restricted production levels because of social distancing.

Social distancing onsite

Social distancing on Skanska’s sites has also extended to welfare facilities such as canteens and drying rooms to avoid bottlenecks. “The sites are now operating with one-way systems,” says Francis. “Everything has been laid out properly and signage is on all of the floors to show safe walking routes and to minimise the amount of people crossing each other in corridors and walkways.” He adds that this has informed the approach taken to the safe opening of its offices in Maple Cross and Moorgate. 

London and public transport

For many construction companies, sites operating in the capital city have been particularly challenging. Skanska does a lot of work in London’s commercial office spaces, which has been “a particular issue”, confirms Francis. But the firm has managed to navigate the obstacles while retaining its company values of ‘care for life’.

“Sites that are heavily reliant on people travelling by public transport have been the most impacted,” explains Francis. “We don't want our people to take risks travelling in peak times so we’ve been looking at things like staggered start times.

“We have also been encouraging people to find other ways to get to work such as use of private vehicles, and have arranged to take parking spaces in London on a part-time basis to allow our people to drive in.”

Remote working

Remote working is not a possibility for those required on site, but for many of Skanska’s office-based staff this became a necessity when the coronavirus restrictions were brought in. A number of its people took home necessary equipment from the office – such as displays and keyboards – before lockdown, but some did not get the opportunity. “We ran two pulse surveys and it quickly became clear that a number of people were finding remote working challenging as they didn’t have the right equipment or set up,” says Francis.

The company sent out a ‘display screen equipment training assessment package’ to educate people on how to set up their workspace safely and allow them to identify any additional items needed. “We are now in the process of placing orders to have equipment shipped to people’s homes directly. That’s everything from screens, mice and webcams through to small desks and chairs,” adds Francis.

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