We can adapt. We need to adapt

In his penultimate column as CFA president, Garry Bateman provides his personal view on Covid-19 and the flooring trade.

I’VE seen a lot happen in the flooring industry over my nearly 40 years and I thought I’d seen it all. But then along comes this novel coronavirus and well, the rest is now being written in the history books. Covid-19 has changed every aspect of everyday life for us all, let alone the flooring industry.

Most other major changes in our industry, in my recollection, we have had plenty of time to plan for. Things like the change to decimal currency, removal of solvents in adhesives, REACH regulation changes to plasticisers.

Our industry has never had to cope with something as dramatic in impact as this. Remember BREXIT and the endless Press coverage? That was and is to be a big change. But we had time and could plan and prepare (and argue a lot!) about Brexit but the effects of the coronavirus epidemic (pandemic) has caught us all unawares. There is a big difference between having to be instantly reactive as opposed to proactive. With Covid-19, we’ve only been able to be reactive as it happened so fast with limited warning.

By and large in most major unsettling or challenging things we ask the question ‘how will it all work again?’ For some that may prove to be less positive, even terminal, as businesses may struggle to manage with the prospect of mid to long term reduced turnover and less customers.

Our industry has proven to be robust and resilient in the past and we need to begin to adapt to this new reality opening before us. It won’t be straightforward and certainly not without problems but, unlike other commodities or services, we do exist in an industry where there is always a need for new or refurbished floors. Flooring will continue to be required together with the skill sets to fit that flooring.

I’ve recently picked up a book called ‘The Great Speeches - words that shaped the world’. One speech given in February 1960 was by Harold Macmillan, the then prime minister, to the parliament in South Africa. One section of this speech resonated with me and I want to share it with you as I feel it’s quite poignant for where we are now.

The fact is that in this modern world no country, not even the greatest, can live for itself alone. Nearly two thousand years ago, when the whole of the civilised world was comprised within the confines of the Roman Empire, St Paul proclaimed one of the greatest truths of history - we are all members of one another. During this 20th century, that eternal truth has taken on a new and exciting significance. It has always been impossible for the individual man to live in isolation from his fellows, in the home, the tribe, the village or the city. Today it is impossible for nations to live in isolation from one another…….. All nations now are interdependent, one upon the other.’

For our trade to successfully come through this period, we need to work together to support and stand with each other. Solidarity in purpose, whether that be with health and safety on sites or ensuring safe working conditions for staff, will help us retain the integrity and enhance the standing of our trade.

We are all interdependent, contractors, distributors, manufacturers, suppliers. Let us make sure that we remember the need to be innovative and imaginative and focus on what we can do and how we can do it. But more importantly work and support each other.

We need to be open to new ways of working, learn new ways of operating in the new reality after lockdown and beyond - effectively a ‘new normal’ for each and every one of us.

A recent visit to my doctor provided an interesting insight into how all aspects of society are re-assessing current procedures. His comment was ‘this way of working, using a phone triage call before booking appointments, speaking to patients on the phone to discuss symptoms, using Smart phones to send pictures, will change the way we work and engage with patients to make us more time productive and, importantly, more effective in allocating time to help those with serious problems’.

The CFA is not immune from the financial and personal pressures caused by Covid-19 but has continued to work during this time to produce guidance and helpful information, particularly aimed at the contractors and fitters. This is despite several staff being on Furlough and the balance of the team working from home.

They’ve worked behind the scenes to try to further the case for flooring within Build UK, particularly in pursuing clear guidance on safe working practises. The specific Covid-19 documents are available via the CFA Members section of the CFA website in a new section called ‘Coronavirus Resources’.

These practical help documents include:

  • Furloughing staff
  • Working Safely During Covid-19
  • Template letters including a ‘Travel to Work Letter’

There is a change curve happening, a curve representing our dipping into the lockdown followed by our coming out the other side. It is what we can learn through this experience that will help us move forward. One interesting area is that those building sites open during lockdown have demonstrated that building work can be sequenced to allow single trade fitting in areas.

It was mentioned at a recent CFA meeting that floor fitting is being undertaken with no other trades in the area. No electricians ladder in the screed or overhead working! It can be done, let us try to insist on it continuing as this is one simple example of better practise that enables a proper working environment to BS and CFA guidelines with the benefit of increased productivity levels.

My next article in the August edition of CFJ will be my last as CFA president. I hope that by then a higher degree of normality of life will have happened and Covid-19 is posing less of a threat to us personally as well as an industry. I know that we can adapt and crucially we need to adapt to the ‘new normal’ we are facing.
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