Business case studies
Case Study: City Building
City Building is one of Scotland’s largest construction companies with around 2,000 employees. No staff were laid off during the pandemic. Many were furloughed, 67% were not working. Not all could be furloughed as a small number of jobs are funded by grant income. Everyone was kept on full pay, including agency and temporary workers
2. Adjusting to lockdown
City Building delivered emergency repairs and kept up core functions, such as finance and communications from its Head Office.
All construction sites closed as well as City Building’s training college and factory which manufactures kitchens and furniture.
As fewer staff were needed, those who continued to work did shorter days. Those who could work from home and needed to deliver services were prioritised for IT kit and support.
The organisation took a task-based and very flexible approach to working from home. They kept a careful eye on workloads and our HR helpline meant people could make contact any time.
“We didn't need [people to work full-time hours] because we said it's task based. So, if you've got invoices to pay, you need to pay your invoices by X date to make the run for the payments etc. We were very flexible, because bearing in mind the schools were off as well, we know that people were balancing.”
Staff wellbeing was a priority. A new intranet section provided access to financial advice, occupational health, virtual physiotherapy sessions and mindfulness training. A counselling service was open to family members too.
The company kept in touch with people who were shielding, and have been doing individual risk assessments to assess when and how it will be safe for them to return to work.
“We had over 100 people that told us that they were shielding at the outset, we just accepted that all at face value, anyone that told us they were self isolating…we've managed through this.”
Communication was a key area priority action, not just by the communications team but for the executive team as a whole. Daily, then twice weekly, then weekly messages were issued. But the onus was on individual managers to keep in touch with their teams as well.
“There's been communication from day one. What we've said is - you need to tell us what's happening with you, we'll tell you what's happening with the business. Please keep in touch.”
During the extreme challenges of lockdown, the business did not measure performance. But feedback from clients showed workers went above and beyond expectations.
“We've had probably more letters of praise and correspondence about how people have approached them in their homes.”
Working flexibly helped to keep the business going.
“I think the home working has worked much better than anybody had envisaged. We've managed to communicate with each other, finally came into the 21st century and we are using Microsoft Teams now.
“The flexibility of shorter days and less shifts worked significantly, albeit people were on full pay. What we found was they were prepared to do a bit more, so we recognise that the flexibility we were offering [meant that] if they were asked to catch a job or whatever, they were happy to do that. There have been benefits to the business.
“The key thing is recognition by our management team that flexibility can work. Now people recognise that it is doable, and it is about output rather than time and location.”
“We're getting there in terms of prioritising the tasks that need doing… and that's been a decent learning curve for managers. They tended to think it would only be senior people or people they would trust that could work from home.”
City Building has realised that managing performance and managing flexible workers are two distinctive things.
They have also realised there will be limited demand for home working in the future as many prefer being in the office; that some routine tasks dropped during lockdown don’t need to be reinstated; and that authentic two-way communication with staff enables greater two-way trust.
Persuading managers to support home working outside lockdown
Some managers doubted remote working could work in more general terms.
“It was about persuading the manager that people would be working and they would do what needed to be done, and making it task based rather than time bound. Some of our managers didn't think that it was going to be able to work. A benefit of lockdown was we didn't have that level of choice, so this has moved us on significantly.”
A working from home policy was developed and managers were reminded they should set an example by continuing to work from home where possible when offices reopened, in line with Scottish Government guidance.
Managing returners so people feel it’s fair
Staff members will be asked to return at different times and this may cause resentment if people are anxious about safety. Clarity about roles and business areas is important, and two-way communication enables the business to answer questions as they arise.
Protecting mental health of those not yet working
Communication and sensitive support will be required for those still not working so they feel valued and secure.
4. Flex in future?
Flexing hours and time, based on agreed output
Staff with defined tasks such as repair and maintenance will have the autonomy to manage their time.
“If you've got all your jobs in the morning and you're finished by 2:30pm, then unless an emergency comes in, we're not going to send you another job…[Before Covid] if you were only working part of the day, we were only paying you part of the day. What we want to do now is pay everybody full pay and get the best out of them. That would be a significant change. Giving control to the worker.”
Blended working will be more common.
“Obviously a joiner can't do blended working. As a business we didn't facilitate working from home other than on a very selective basis for people doing particular projects. We had taken the view that because the front line couldn't do it, it was unfair to facilitate the [office] staff being able to do it. So, we were very old fashioned. Lockdown has demonstrated not only can it be done but it can be done effectively.”
Flexibility for trades-people on-site
For the foreseeable future, it will not be possible to have full teams on a construction site because of social distancing. Seven day working but with reduced numbers may result in a four-days-on, four-days-off pattern, with slightly longer days. This will be assessed for its longer-term effectiveness.