Posted on 28 September 2021
Delivering services through Covid and new ways of working for HCP members
Covid-19 has affected all of us in ways we could never have imagined. As housing associations, our priority was to our customers and colleagues, and to develop new ways of working which ensured we could continue to deliver our services and rise to the challenge of whatever came our way.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, Longhurst Group had to significantly change how and where it worked, closing its offices to ensure it did everything it could to keep people safe.
Although the association could not spend as much time in its communities as it would have liked, it learned how to communicate with customers and deliver services in a different way. By travelling less, being more efficient and accessing offices less often, the group has also reduced its impact on the environment.
Longhurst continually looks at how it can do even more for customers and provide services that make a real difference. By working more closely with customers and staying connected with the communities it serves, the association believes it can do even more.
Longhurst’s vision for the future is to work smarter, more flexibly and from fewer locations. Some of the association’s offices won’t reopen following the pandemic, with many colleagues working locally within the community without being based in an office.
Having more people working locally in the community will help Longhurst have a closer connection with its customers. Alongside enhanced opportunities for customers to use technology, the association will also significantly improve the service and the experience they receive.
Longhurst’s new approach will also help colleagues to improve their work/life balance, meaning they’ll be happier, more productive and have the tools they need to ensure customers receive an even better service.
After everything the association has achieved in the last year and a half, they are more than ready to embrace this new way of working and are confident it will enable them to do even more for its customers.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, bpha has fundamentally changed the way in which they work, while continuing to put customers at the heart of all they do.
Whilst the organisation retains its Bedford head office, most colleagues are now Hybrid workers – meaning they work between home and an office location.
Planned maintenance works are taking place and bpha continue to invest in development sites. Thanks to a culture that is performance focused, the association’s customers are still getting the service they would expect from bpha, despite the challenges that have been faced.
Whilst most CHS group office-based staff, including the association’s housing and customer services, community investment and support and property service teams are still working from home, the office is in use when needed. The teams also continue to offer support and advice to customers via phone, email, video calls or face to face.
Sage’s most recent advice to the Government recommends continued home working, and CHS is following that guidance with no plans to return to the office until the end of December at the earliest. The association expects future working to include a mix of office and home based work for most staff, varying according to roles. Thankfully, its community support services, care homes, extra care schemes and nurseries have remained open throughout the pandemic, with teams going above and beyond to try and keep life as normal as possible for residents, children and families despite the huge challenges they have faced.
The association’s emergency and responsive repair service also continued to operate over the past 18 months, thanks to the support of main contractor, Foster. Although the number of repairs reported fell significantly during the first lockdown, nearly all of that shortfall has now been reported and addressed. Whilst some planned works had to be deferred, the association hopes to complete these works and catch up with its programme over the next year. The speed at which this can be done has been slowed down by the need for people to self-isolate.
Many development schemes ground to a halt during the lockdowns, but CHS is now back to a full programme.
Despite increased workloads for its teams due to the economic and health uncertainty for many of its customers, the association has excelled at adapting to the ‘new normal’ and has continued to offer the best services it can to all its customers.
Cross Keys Homes
Thanks to Cross Keys Homes (CKH) well embedded flexible approach to neighbourhood and community services, CKH kept all its essential services operating during the various lockdowns, including letting homes and all emergency repair works. This ensured all residents received the help and support they required. Whilst the majority of its workforce moved to working from home and their head office and Community Hubs closed for safety reasons, CKH saw a huge digital shift with residents opting to engage digitally. Their MyCKH portal now has 50% of its general need residents signed up and their Live Chat platform averages just over 600 chats per month.
The housing association also implemented a £1.2m Be Kind fund, ringfenced from the rent increase they received that year, to help those residents who were struggling with the essentials they required during this exceptional time. As a result, the Be Kind fund helped see their communities through the hardest moments of lockdown, when many people had nowhere else to turn.
The pandemic initiated a significant opportunity for CKH to explore new ways of working which, over the course of the last 18 months, have become more reflective in their business-as-usual practices. The housing association has recently launched their new working arrangements policy that formalises their journey to becoming a hybrid organisation. Their new policy enables CKH to blend remote, fixed and flexible working to continue to deliver services to their residents and communities as well as to each other. The policy will be regularly reviewed to see how well the arrangements are working to make sure their standards remain high.
In light of their new working arrangements policy and the digital engagement shift they have seen amongst their residents, CKH’s head office will remain closed to residents and the general public but everyone will be able to visit their ‘Customer Central’ store on Peterborough’s high-street or any of its Community hubs, to speak in person to a member of the CKH team.
All Accent group staff began working from home as soon as the first lockdown was announced, although staff in essential safety roles continued to be out and about on the association’s schemes and estates to provide those services and reassurance to customers.
With the exception of pausing non-emergency repairs, and some estate-based services during the first lockdown, normal service has more or less continued. We have even been able to continue with our development programme, thanks to the introduction of new precautions on site. Customer feedback has been extremely positive about the new ways Accent has found to let its homes, carry out repairs safely and offer tenancy support to the growing number of customers who have found themselves in difficult circumstances because of the pandemic.
The association re-opened its office doors on 20 September, but health and safety remains paramount, with a safe environment and a booking system for staff who want to work in the office.
Accent’s teams started to go back out on site in July with a number of local events to engage customers, but home working has been so successful for the association, it is not planning a full-scale return back to its offices. Instead, new flexible working arrangements from homes and hubs will be introduced, but the association will leave its office doors open for staff who want to return to an office environment.