Andrew Brooks, Managing Director of Bewley Homes had been planning to host a strategy away day in March with key directors to start to put ideas in place to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary next year.
Instead, he was rolling out part of the company’s disaster recovery plan to keep the company’s wheels turning as the construction industry faced lockdown.
Andrew recalls: “The last few weeks have been a moving target. We were trying to stay one step ahead of Government announcements on the coronavirus impact, and sending people home to work. A month ago, we only had 50 per cent of staff in the office. A week later it was less than five per cent, and two weeks ago we had everyone working from home. We put health and safety first at Bewley Homes – for staff, subcontractors and customers.
“We were able to shut all the sales and marketing suites, construction sites and keep up to date with payments to suppliers. Before the lockdown that week, we also recorded our 1.5 million working hours on site without a RIDDOR (Reporting of injury, disease and dangerous occurrence). It was an important milestone and we didn’t get to mark it with any of the team and our subcontractors.”
Andrew and the team are fully aware of the duties and responsibilities to contracting partners. Having systems up and running remotely so payment runs could be made on time was vital. “Cash is the lifeblood to contractors and suppliers at a time when they will be coming up against huge financial issues. We knew we had act like we would in a normal business environment.”
Andrew was delighted with how smooth the IT and systems roll out was managed for over 130 staff.
He added: “We meticulously plan for remote working as part of our disaster recovery plan but you can never put it through the same ‘stress test’ conditions as a real case scenario.
“I’m pleased to say our systems, technology and everyone working from home all worked without a hiccup. Our key staff and the IT director received a ‘virtual’ pat on the back!”
“It’s vital we use technology to stay in touch and keep a resemblance of a normal working week as far as possible. So daily video conference calls still take place on build-sales, management, land and planning and we have our scheduled weekly board meeting.”
Since the lockdown, Bewley has placed 75 per cent of its workforce on furlough. Andrew commented: “We have adopted the Government’s furlough initiative and we have made up the difference on to their pay so no one is losing out. There’s enough uncertainty for people out there at the moment so we didn’t want our valuable staff to be worrying about their financials.”
On business continuity, Andrew’s message is loud and clear. “Bewley Homes is still very much open for business and it’s been an interesting few weeks from a land perspective. We’re just about to agree heads of terms on a fantastic new site where the original purchaser felt it couldn’t commit at this time. Bewley Homes stepped in and has given the landowner the assurance we can take it on. I’m confident that we will continue to get more land opportunities over the coming months.”
The company took six reservations across its sites, completed on seven houses and exchanged contracts on a further six during the same week the Prime Minister announced the lockdown.
Andrew is expecting more reservations.
“The Bewley website has everything a prospective buyer needs – site plans, prices, video, images – all backed up by a sales consultant at the other end of the phone. We know from the increased traffic to our site that people are still looking and they now have a lot more time to do it.”
Even before the lockdown Bewley Homes radically adapted its procedures and how it managed handovers on its new properties as the health of both customers and the team were of paramount importance.
“We installed key safes at our sites only releasing the code to customers once their funds had been released. We then had video conference calls with customers as we carried out our normal home demonstration with a Bewley Homes representative in a separate dwelling running through the key appliances and heating system.
“This was received well and allowed a number of people to move when they felt they might be homeless. One in particular was a NHS nurse who had limited time before she was expected back on the front line to treat patients.
Andrew continued: “Being Managing Director can be a lonely place at times, especially now. The continued communication between my teams and MDs around the country gives you reassurance you are making the right decisions.
“Almost everything else, the increase in workload, goes with the territory. I’ve taken the time to review our procedures as a business so effectively adapting to this unprecedented working environment. I’m always looking at ways of further improving the efficiencies of the business and have reached page 4 of a new strategy list of things I’d like to be discussed in the coming months.
“Going greener is one of the themes so far. This period will change the way we work at Bewley Homes. The technology is there, it’s been tested and works. Why drag people in for a meeting at head office when you can do a video conference call? It saves staff time driving and is a much greener way of working.”