Firms ramp up preparations to send staff home


IT systems stress-tested while contractors work out how to keep sites running as coronavirus outbreak worsens

Firms have begun scrambling to test IT systems as companies prepare to send staff homes this week as the number of coronavirus cases reached nearly 1,400 over the weekend.

Several consultants contacted by Building sent staff home on Friday to stress-test computer networks if employees are asked to stay at home rather than come into work.

The number of people with coronavirus is now close to 1,400

One major consultant, who asked not to be named, said: “We are anticipating a government edict that says everyone will be working from home.

“It’s do-able but not ideal. We’ve never really tried this with 90% of staff working from home.”

Staff are being told to take laptops home every night in case buildings are shut if the government orders people not to travel into work.

He added: “Most people in an office can work remotely. But construction stops if a site shuts down.”

On Thursday, Lendlease’s scheme to build a new headquarters for Google at King’s Cross became the first major site to be shut after the firm confirmed a trade contractor had tested positive for coronavirus.

Last night a Lendlease spokesperson said the site was “on track”  to reopen today after being closed on Thursday and Friday. Cranes were still parked up this morning with the site due to fully re-open around midday.

But one industry source said other major sites in the capital should expect to be hit.

He warned: “On most major sites, someone will have it [coronavirus]. The issue is whether they will come forward and hold their hands up. They might be out of pocket if they do, so that’s the problem.”

Lendlease said it had given its facilities at the Google job a deep-clean, which is understood to be onsite offices, canteens and meeting areas.

But the source added: “You can’t deep-clean an entire site like Google. You have to find out who [an infected person] has worked with and send them home too. Maybe isolate the trade and send all of that trade, whether it be dryliners, ceiling fixers, home.”

Contractors have begun initiatives to spread lunch breaks so that big numbers of workers are not forced into small canteens.

The boss of one major contractor added: “The reality is you want to do the same as the government – slow the spread and avoid a peak on jobs that would stop sites. Clients and builders need to deal with going slower versus stopping all together.”

Sites in London are seen as being particularly at risk because many workers use public transport to get to jobs.

Another major contractor added: “A lot of sites are fairly well contained. It’s people working in London who are more likely to get infected.”

Last week the industry was told to brace itself for major disruption in the coming weeks and months after prime minister Boris Johnson announced sweeping measures to tackle the outbreak.

People with a fever or cough have been told to self-isolate for seven days and Johnson said: “There is no escaping the reality that these measures will cause severe disruption across our country for many months.”

Yesterday, manufacturing giants including construction plant maker JCB, Rolls Royce and car parts manufacturer Unipart were among those firms who spoke to Johnson about making ventilators to treat coronavirus.

The number of people in the UK infected with coronavirus yesterday stood at 1,372 with 35 deaths recorded.

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