Covid-19 - Our response
Covid-19 has created unprecedented challenges for business and the world of work. Here we provide an overview of Serco’s response through these extraordinary times.
Whilst our footprint is international, the nature of Covid-19 and its different impact at different stages in different regions has meant we have taken a local approach with central coordination to remain flexible and share best practice as it developed. In our trading statement on Covid-19, issued on 2nd April 2020, we set out our operational priorities:
“Our priority in this crisis is to support the delivery of essential public services and, within that context, do all we can to protect our employees from harm and our shareholders from loss. …Our mettle is being tested as never before, and we are determined to rise to the level of events.”
Whilst there are common factors in delivery of essential public services, each customer takes their own nuanced approach. We have, therefore, had to react to rapidly changing requirements, relying greatly on the ingenuity, flexibility and commitment of our colleagues.
We have achieved this through our ‘loose-tight’ model by devolving responsibility as close as possible to the people delivering to our customers, which has given us agility, supported by a framework of controls and processes enabling us to maintain assurance and risk management. This is balanced with our culture. Over the past five years, we have laid much emphasis on our Values of Trust, Care, Innovation and Pride. These played a significant part in sustaining the ability of the business to deliver under extreme and unprecedented pressure. Trust allowed our customers to give us contracts at short notice. Pride and Care meant that colleagues cared enough, and had enough pride in their work, to deliver on our promises even when under intense pressure. Innovation enabled us to find new ways of service delivery and scale up internal processes.
Throughout, we have been clear and decisive about seeking to protect people and address wellbeing concerns, such as the impact on homeworkers and those in hospital environments, and equipping managers to support their teams.
Our commitment to health, safety and wellbeing was already reflected in its recent elevation as a Group Principal Risk, reflecting our commitment to the health and wellbeing of colleagues and service users. From a safety perspective, we implemented Covid-19 action and adaptation plans across our Business Units and Contracts and deployed High Visibility Safety Awareness resources, including collateral to support our Covid-19 response.
We built on work already started on employee wellbeing, including launching our new Group Strategy for Employee Health & Wellbeing (EHW), strengthening EHW governance and policy, and enhancing EHW communications, services and training. We launched a series of weekly virtual wellbeing events, invested in specialist mental health awareness training to upskill our managers, launched a new mental health app and improved our Employee Assistance Programme. We introduced tailored risk assessments for homeworking colleagues and commissioned a study on the longer-term effects of homeworking; and continued investing in workforce management and remote working solutions, enabling enhanced flexibility and support in response to colleague and customer needs.
We streamlined our recruitment and onboarding processes, leading to significant efficiencies in bringing new colleagues into Serco; and maintained our Graduate Programme in all regions.
We increased the depth, breadth and frequency of colleague communications using a range of platforms. Covid-19 pages were added to Divisional and Group intranets. Weekly Thursday ‘Thank You’ communications were shared company-wide, celebrating an individual or team. These continued through the year. Regular virtual town halls and video messages from leaders were used to engage colleagues. This commitment to engagement with colleagues was reflected in the results of the Company’s employee survey in 2020 – in which the question, ‘my manager cares about my wellbeing’, scored an average 76 out of 100, up 12 from 2019. We also consulted leaders and managers globally on our Covid-19 response, achieving an overall engagement score of 84.
Our people have had a huge diversity of experiences. For some there was new work and new areas to cover; for others there was significant reduction in work or closure of Contracts. We have risen to the challenges in standing up and deploying large numbers of people on short notice whilst seeking to ensure they are onboarded, integrated, aligned with how we do business, and safe.
For colleagues who have suffered Covid-19, and for the bereaved families of those we have lost, we have worked to provide support during this difficult time.
Recognising the extraordinary efforts of our colleagues around the world during the pandemic, we distributed a one-off ex-gratia payment to around 50,000 of our front-line colleagues, totalling £5m.
Just as we have been tested, Covid-19 has tested our customers.
Some parts of our business were severely affected, such as our leisure business and our rail and ferry Contracts. However, there have also been positive impacts with the support of the UK Government’s mobilisation of test centres and call handling within the NHS Test and Trace programme. Similar demand for call centres has been seen in Australia.
In Defence in the US, UK and Australia, most of the work we do has been designated essential to national security. We have continued this work while adjusting our provision of services to deal with resource challenges and social distancing requirements.
In Justice and Immigration, we have worked with authorities to manage the operational implications of a highly contagious virus in prisons. Keeping those in our care healthy and safe has continued to be our top priority. Our teams have delivered a range of innovative approaches whilst also serving and supporting the local communities where they are based.
Covid-19 has presented transport infrastructure worldwide with huge, new challenges. By continuing to operate our services with increased and innovative health and safety solutions, Serco has played a vital role in getting key workers from A to B during the crisis.
In Health, demand is unprecedented, as are the challenges of meeting that demand. In every hospital we serve we have increased our cleaning regimes, managed increased patient flow, new equipment, systems and processes, and supported additional temporary care facilities.
Across all our businesses, it has been gratifying to see customers turning to Serco as a trusted and capable partner to help them deal with the enormous challenges they have faced.
Throughout, the Executive and Board have maintained contact with principal stakeholders including shareholders, and published trading statements on the impact of the crisis. We maintained internal governance processes, including Divisional Performance Reviews and monthly reporting, and the Investment Committee, which oversees bids and investments, met no fewer than 85 times. We also ensured effective governance was deployed to maintain robust risk-based decision making focused on sustaining the viability and value of the Company.
The Board took an active role, meeting with increased frequency to discuss the evolving risk and impact on the Company’s existing business and operational requirements, and the additional requirements of governments worldwide. For example, items considered by the Board and its Committees included: the potential impact of Covid-19 on the supply chain, endorsing temporary changes to procurement processes; the potential impacts across the Group principal risks and associated internal controls, along with the emerging risk landscape; and how fundamental human and social needs, rights and expectations are managed through the Group’s immediate and longer-term response to Covid-19.
Anthony Kirby, Group Chief Operating Officer, was appointed as Executive Sponsor of the response initiative and established a Group Pandemic Steering Committee which met through the initial stages of the pandemic. Meetings focused on status updates and actions to mitigate challenges and risks, receiving reports from the Divisions on current status, risks and impacts. This was used to inform the Executive Committee and the Board.
Formal crisis plans were invoked, the objectives of which were to protect lives, respond to short-term actions and long-term strategic imperatives, enable the continuation of critical public service delivery, protect Serco’s reputation and protect the long-term viability and financial stability of the Group. Our response was tied to local guidance, so while we adopted a consistent approach where practical, our response was tailored to meet legislative guidance in each geography where we operate. Each Division set up its own Divisional Pandemic Steering Committee with the same purpose as the Group Committee. Divisions worked collaboratively to share best practice.
We managed a coordinated response between Group and the Divisions to assess the impact of Covid-19 and associated emerging risks. Divisional risk leads completed risk assessments of Contracts to prioritise activities and resource allocation. Contracts completed Covid-19 safety and remote working risk assessments. Business continuity and crisis management plans and processes were leveraged and served the business well, evident through operational preparedness, resilience and response.
The Global Procurement team established a task force to track, manage and mitigate the Covid-19 risks posed by our extensive supply base, including supply shortages, lack of available labour or supply networks and price volatility. The situation was monitored daily. The team worked around the clock to establish supply routes, set up centralised buying and warehousing and a 24-hour procurement support line. We implemented faster supplier onboarding to meet acute business need for critical goods and services. Recognising the potential impact on our capacity to assess and address risks, we deployed our emergency onboarding process. By May, supply chains for most product lines had stabilised.
A wide range of relevant policies were reviewed or introduced, including those relating to travel, health and safety, personal protective equipment (PPE) usage, hand washing, social distancing, home working and access to offices, and numerous new guidance documents were produced.
Riding the storm
As the situation has settled into a steadier state, we have taken time to reflect on our response and where we should sustain focus. There are several processes and capabilities we recognise we need to maintain, at least until vaccinations have occurred and society re-emerges from lockdowns. These include our strong focus on health and safety, engagement and wellbeing, including mental health and understanding the long-term effects of this situation on our people; close collaboration and joined-up messaging with our local customers; social distancing; and supporting all individuals in ‘shielding’ and vulnerable categories.
There are also practices and enabling tools we have adopted during Covid-19 that we should continue to use and build on because they work well or better in some cases. These include maintaining home working in certain activities and services; new approaches for crossDivisional and Business Unit collaboration, including the sharing of skills and resources; agile solution design and development; a stronger focus on supporting and improving work-life balance; new approaches for remote recruitment and onboarding; building stronger partnerships and enhanced relationships with key suppliers; new technologies for communication and collaboration; and leveraging our investment in resource modelling and forecasting.
We recognise that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but will not let up our efforts. We will all need to adapt to the longer-term impact – not just on our people, but also on our customers – and the changing needs of all our stakeholders. We will hold firm to our commitment to support the delivery of essential public services and, within that context, seek to protect our employees and service users from harm and our shareholders from loss.