When the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the UK in early March, no industry was unaffected. Every sector, from automotive to retail to hospitality came under incredible pressure as their businesses saw unprecedented disruption. The same was true for the patient transport space, where our critical and highly complex work had to continue, but under very unusual circumstances.
This rapid change and high-pressure environment meant we as a business, alongside the industry as a whole, found ourselves needing to make quick decisions to reshape our operations, ensuring we could continue to deliver the service patients need, keeping them and others safe.
As we emerge from the initial phases of pandemic response it’s a natural time to take stock and reflect on the lessons learned, and how these can help us build a better offering for the future.
The first of these is the importance of service and organisational resilience, and the value of having a business continuity plan in place that you feel confident to both enact and adapt as required.
Business continuity plans are written for a reason, but won’t always account for every nuance of the situation. In this particular case, the rapidly evolving guidance on social distancing and self-isolation meant that we faced challenges we hadn’t accounted for. However, the overall resilience built into our processes and governance meant that we were able to react quickly to address this challenge. For example, across DHL our redeployment efforts meant that we were able to address staff shortages quickly, and now have a team of reserves that will be a great addition to our business continuity planning for future.
Where we faced challenging decisions around governance, buddies were allocated to senior management from different parts of the business to act as an independent sounding board, enabling us to make quick decisions backed up by rigorous thinking.
Following on from this, our pandemic response efforts re-emphasised the importance of our people, and that engagement truly is mission-critical. In the very early stages of a crisis response it can be easy to focus solely on operational tasks, losing sight of the need to check in on colleagues. With such a high proportion of frontline workers, it was important for us to recognise the anxiety and stress that many of our colleagues were feeling, and respond appropriately.
One of the most important steps we took was to bring in an engagement team, with an experienced operations director at the helm, whose job was simply to listen to our employees and their concerns. We quickly established a series of listening workshops which gave us immediate feedback, and the ability to quickly implement the changes needed. This direct line to our frontline team has been invaluable in helping us to help them, while ensuring we continue to deliver the service the NHS needs from us.
Collaboration is very much an industry buzzword, but now more than ever we have seen just how important it is for our business. Early on in the pandemic response, the private ambulance providers in London aligned as a network to support and share information, in recognition of the fact that in these unprecedented times the usual silos and divisions were no longer appropriate. As an industry this was critical to our success and ability to continue to provide high quality service, giving us a network of peers to consult with on everything from health and safety to operational requirements.
Finally, the need to keep looking ahead to anticipate customer needs was essential to our ability to adapt, and will continue to be, even as we enter a period of greater stability. In the first weeks, guidance was changing almost daily around such issues as social distancing rules, PPE requirements and the needs of specific patient groups, meaning that we needed to adapt our service day-by-day. However, we still needed to keep one eye on the weeks ahead in order to ensure we could stay in front of the challenges. As things stabilise, it's important to widen your field of vision, and look at the months ahead, to give you the ability to anticipate and act accordingly.
KEEP UP THE MOMENTUM
While the last three months have undoubtedly been some of the most challenging we have faced both as a society and a business, many of the decisions taken and changes implemented have taught us valuable lessons that can be applied outside of the patient transport field.
Across DHL we have been involved in a range of initiatives to support the national and international pandemic response, from the creation of a new supply chain for the production of medical ventilators, to supporting charitable projects supply PPE to hospitals and care homes. These have provided us with the knowledge and experience to create lasting improvements to our business for customers and colleagues alike. As we settle into the new normal it’s important that we put these lessons into immediate use, and continue to critically assess our operations to harness this momentum now and into the future.