08 May 2020

Mark Williams, CEO at The NWH Group Q&A: COVID-19 Creating a new normal

Mark Williams, CEO at The NWH Group Q&A: COVID-19 Creating a new normal

As we all adjust to a new normal during lockdown, we thought we’d share some thoughts from our CEO Mark Williams.  

Q. Why did you take the decision to close for business with the exception of Key Works in March?

Government guidelines have always maintained that our business, Waste Management, recycling and the provision of services to multiple industries is not one of the business outlined in the very detailed list of business who must close. 

However it was the choice of our senior team to close the business temporarily, servicing only essential works. We did this to ensure the safety of both our customers and of our employees through a period of uncertainty over the reinfection rate of the virus. At this point nobody really had clear guidelines as to how many people were infected and how quickly it could and would spread and therefore we took no risks and moved forward on the side of caution.

We do now have enough information to make further informed decision and now have in place all social distancing measures. We have implemented policy changes, procedural changes and have assured adherence to all government guidelines and we are now in a position to safely take orders across all services. 

Q. Did your business do anything to support the fight against COVID-19 during the closure period?

As a waste management business, we have keyworkers assisting the health service through numerous NHS boards, NHS 24 headquarters and the NHS Louisa Jordan critical care hospital, as well as schools and nurseries for children of keyworkers, manufacturers and suppliers of PPE and other safety supplies and materials, utilities (Scottish Water) and the food production industry.  We are also supporting local authorities to manage the increase in demand for domestic waste collections, and have seen a 60% increase in domestic skip hire. We are hugely proud of the work that our staff undertake on a day to day basis through these unprecedented times. 

Q. How have things changed for the business since the virus hit?

We had to take immediate action, and implemented the work from home guidance for anyone who was able to do so. This was supported by the purchase of numerous new laptops. All of our processing and administration staff were put on reduced hours and our directors and senior managers took a salary reduction. After the lockdown was announced, we furloughed circa 85% of staff. 

We are very conscious of the mental health and well-being of our team and are encouraging all staff working from home to have regular ‘coffee break calls’ with colleagues - three to four times a day - to catch up on social chat and to help reduce stress and loneliness.

We have also introduced a weekly video update, from me, updating all employees on the latest news from inside the business, and have hosted several townhall video QA sessions via our YouTube channel. 

As well as on-going staff updates, we are maintaining regular email and phone communication with our customer and suppliers.  

Q. What is your new “normal”?  

We are working on and reviewing daily strategies for the full recovery of the business when lock down is gradually lifted. We are implementing new normal every day. To date these have been the continuation of working from home where possible. We’ve implemented video conferencing, Q&A sessions, meeting and one to ones, this is something that I believe will be the new normal going forward. I don’t believe that anyone, whether it be for business or social reasons will jump straight back into what we once knew to be normal. 

We are continually monitoring the ever-changing situation, and host a daily COVID-19 call with the leadership team. As the situation develops, we monitor our strategy and model various scenarios for different levels of trading to help us figure out if the impact of this recession simply extends the timescales, or if it actually changes some of the plan. 

Q. How are you using digital technology to maintain business operations?

As a business, we have previously struggled culturally to embrace new digital technology. That’s changed very quickly! We have been making the most of Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to run the business efficiently and effectively. Business wide digitilasation and automation has been a discussion point at many a board meeting but the current pandemic has really forced our hand as moving this up the priority list. 

We are very close to finalising and implementing the digitilasation of the customer onboarding process, which we believe will ensure the seamless and contactless transaction from sale to delivery. We have moved digital marking significantly up the priority list and are reviewing ways in which we can digitally reach our customers existing and new. 

We have seen a 776% upturn in the livechat feature which we have on our website, which very much shows how our customers are moving to a new norm of communication.  

We are seeing this as the start of a new way of working for us with the added benefit of greater efficiency and an even more positive impact on the environment. 

Q. What strategies have you employed in order to keep your customers supported?

We are maintaining regular communication with our customers, and our website and social media channels are monitored continuously to ensure we respond to in-bound enquiries in a timely manner. We have also introduced a number of social distancing measures to ensure customers and staff on the frontline are as safe as possible. In a nutshell, we are using digital transformation of the business to ensure seamless efficient journeys for our customers. 

Q. Looking to the future, what are your predictions for business recovery this year?

As I touched on earlier, myself and the senior teams are spending a large majority of our time modelling different scenarios. We know that businesses will recover at different speeds depending on how the lockdown exit strategies are handled. We can only assume that our customers in leisure, retail and hospitality will be at the back end of the lockdown with Construction, engineering and manufacturing to be the first to lift. It has always been in our strategy to ensure the diversity over numerous sectors to secure a sustainable business structure, and yet, that recovery plan from a global pandemic is not one that you ever consider will be implemented.

We will continue to support our customers in all sectors, but we also understand that their needs will change, whether that be temporary suspension of services or indeed the utilisation of one of our other services due to a move in their own business model. 

To summarise in short, I think our services in the construction industries will see a speedy upturn but could face a tail off again towards the end of the year, I believe that hotels, leisure and hospitality will be a completely different model, I believe social distancing will be here to stay, for this year anyway, that could see the reduction in covers, social distancing in bars and ultimately pricing structure reviews

Q. And finally Mark, as a business leader, what support networks do you have and where to you source information?

Well, again, technology has made networking a lot easier to do from your own home. I have been a member of YPO Scotland for 11 years now and am in a forum of likeminded individuals who really do provide that sounding board, and the insight to business and industries out with our own. The education and confidant that I have received from YPO over the years and indeed throughout this pandemic has been invaluable. Our some Business advisors, E&Y, FWB Park Brown RBS and others have also provided virtual forums and online session that would have in the past been an evening or day session in a location which would require all the logistics of travel attire and organisation, these have also been an invaluable source of information.

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