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Taking The Initiative

03 August 2020

The pressures posed to the security industry since the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic have challenged service providers to ‘up their game’ in terms of operational resilience, while always having to maintain high levels of client and employee engagement. As an advocate of robust business continuity planning, Wilson James has reacted positively to this unprecedented situation. Gemma Quirke explains the company’s approach

BY THEIR very nature, security companies are used to planning and preparing for events that might or might not actually happen. Leading service providers have honed their abilities over many years and drawn on the diverse skills and experience of their employees to keep people, property and assets safe. 

That said, few could have predicted the seismic impact that the Coronavirus pandemic has exerted on our personal and working lives over such a short period of time. The situation has brought challenges that only the best prepared companies have been able to successfully navigate. As a business, we’ve been determined to react positively with a range of initiatives that put employees and customers alike front and centre.

The Coronavirus outbreak has highlighted precisely why a robust business continuity strategy is so vital. For the most part, we’ve managed to run our security and construction divisions on a ‘business as usual’ basis, while maintaining established standards of operational effectiveness. One of the key reasons behind this is the ISO 22301-certified business continuity management system (BCMS) to which we adhere. 

ISO 22301 specifies the requirements for a BCMS to protect against, reduce the likelihood of and ensure that a business recovers from a disruptive incident. It provides a Best Practice framework for identifying potential threats and developing an appropriate strategy. ISO 22301 requires an organisation to establish, implement, operate, monitor, review, maintain and continually improve its BCMS and have the right people and processes in place to respond to an incident. 

ISO 22301 also places a good deal of emphasis on the need for a well-defined incident response structure such that, when an event occurs, responses are escalated in a timely manner and people are empowered to take the necessary action.

For us, ISO 22301 isn’t simply something that’s a ‘nice to have’. In fact, it’s thanks to our constant focus on business continuity that the company has been there to meet the needs of its customers and employees on a 24/7 basis during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Knowledge is power

Already having the correct people, process and mechanisms in place meant that even before lockdown was announced, we were able to keep a close eye on what was happening elsewhere in the world and make assumptions based on probability analysis. This resulted in fast reaction times and allowed the company to stay ‘one step ahead of the game’.

With traditional news channels and social media pumping out a continual supply of information – and, indeed, misinformation – relating to Coronavirus this has, at times, been both overwhelming and confusing. So much so, in fact, that even during the earliest stages of the pandemic, clients were sense-checking their responses about what they should do in various scenarios. 

Our Risk Advisory Service and partnerships with intelligence providers enabled us to stay informed ahead of much of the media and even central Government announcements and to provide a global perspective and advice for our clients. The team produced regular news and media analyses which we made available freely to the wider security industry. 

Back in February, our communications and Human Resources teams joined forces with the newly-formed COVID-19 response team to produce a series of information briefings for clients. These reports focused on planning, prevention, control, direction and advice, in addition to providing links to authoritative information sources. Similar documents were produced internally for managers in order to provide clear guidance on what to do if, for example, someone shows COVID-19 symptoms and how to maintain high standards of personal and environmental hygiene. 

These documents are continually updated and revised to include the latest official guidance and offer clients assurance that we’re conducting appropriate and proportionate business continuity planning. Likewise, armed with this information, all managers are expected to give due consideration to the prevailing situation, plan accordingly and, where necessary, take preparatory steps so as to be ready when any changes occur. This approach is already enabling return to work efforts in a COVID-secure manner. 

Rules of engagement

Like many other organisations, we furloughed some of our employees, while other members of staff have worked from home. The company has benefited from the use of video conferencing technology as a way in which to communicate with clients and colleagues. This has been highly effective in making sure that stakeholders are up-to-speed with any developments. 

Just as importantly, it has allowed meetings to be carried out to brainstorm, share ideas, exchange Best Practice tips, monitor workflows, build community, reinforce organisational culture and strengthen relationships. 

It must also be said that homeworking and furloughing have also brought the need for a robust physical and mental well-being policy very much to the fore. 

Indicators found in the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey from the Office for National Statistics, covering the period 2-5 July, found that 69% of respondents were very or somewhat worried about the effect that Coronavirus was having on their lives. 50% reported they felt bored, while 24% suggested they were spending too much time alone. In order to maintain a high level of engagement, our senior management has sent regular electronic newsletters to the company’s 5,000-plus colleagues, hosted online Q&A sessions and Town Hall meetings, while line managers have kept in regular personal contact with their team members. 

In addition, the company launched its ‘Keeping Well’ initiative – a new series of well-being resources that have been configured in association with Mind, the mental health charity. These cover subjects such as working from home, how to keep active and stay healthy, the importance of eating well, avoiding fake news and conspiracy theories, managing stress and anxiety and occupying the minds of children. These also provide practical tips and ideas about how to remain positive through activities such as yoga, meditation, listening to music or podcasts, reading, watching a movie or TV series or being creative with art, gardening or cooking. 

Thinking ahead

Lockdown has also given people an opportunity to enhance their work-related knowledge and skills through online courses. We’ve provided online training, webinars and podcasts on subjects such as using personal protective equipment and implementing Government guidance such that employees across the business can hit the ground running as they return to work.

These courses have also looked at the ways in which physical security and technology can work together successfully. For example, a building’s access control and CCTV infrastructure will play a vital part in the reduction of ‘bottlenecking’, ensuring social distancing is implemented and allowing one-way system strategies to operate as intended. In addition, systems such as thermal sensing are now being used to identify those people entering a building who have a high temperature, itself a symptom of COVID-19. 

As the return to work begins, employees are likely to be nervous, apprehensive and uncertain. Security personnel may be the eyes and ears of a building by monitoring whether seating and workstations are suitably distanced, if space is being used properly and if there are any areas where people are congregating.

Our instruction courses for colleagues include information on how to communicate in a way that’s firm but friendly, calm but focused and clear but tactful, as well as how to maintain a hygienic work environment by monitoring workstations, conference rooms, collaborative areas, cafes, reception desks and other common areas.

Putting people first 

Businesses across the entire economy are having to adapt to a very different operational landscape. Unfortunately, this means some job losses are inevitable. Throughout this difficult time, and in line with our established values-led corporate strategy, we’re proactively engaging with client and Trade Union partners to safeguard employee well-being, offer support and guidance and act with complete transparency during this uncertain period.

As we move into the post-Coronavirus ‘new normal’, the security industry must not only adapt, but also improve to meet the needs of a changing world. As well as traditional front line roles, the influx of technology in all aspects of security is creating new opportunities. Security is becoming so much more than just a physical presence, with technology making security guarding less dominant. Therefore, the key security functions – physical, cyber, information and people-focused – must converge to build a rounded and fully considered objectives-based security strategy which integrates security tools to enhance threat detection and prevention capability.

Now is also the time to create a more diverse and inclusive security industry that mirrors the society in which it operates. People of different ages, sexual orientations, genders, socio-economic classes, ethnicities, cultures, religions and physical and mental abilities must be encouraged to bring their unique perspectives to the fore. 

An improved industry will also lead to greater respect being afforded to security personnel which could, in turn, help improve wages. Let’s make no bones about it. The security industry has a reputation for paying low wages and it would be fantastic if more customers were prepared to improve the incomes of the security teams that work so hard to keep them safe. Put simply, a properly supported, respected, valued and remunerated workforce provides better results.

Testing times

We’re living through an extraordinary period in our history and, as lockdown restrictions begin to ease, the role security services providers play in protecting people is going to be more critical than ever before.

Coronavirus/COVID-19 will continue to be a real test of an organisation’s operational resilience and it’s fair to suggest that only agile businesses will be in a position to adapt and survive. 

As a business, we’re responding positively with a determination towards organisational excellence and an ongoing commitment to putthe needs of our employees and customers first by keeping them well-informed, supported, engaged and connected at all times. 

Gemma Quirke is Managing Director for Security and Aviation at Wilson James (www.wilsonjames.co.uk)

 
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