Royal Mail CE reps preparing a safe return to office for members

Postal, Royal Mail Group (EMP)

Sara Wright and Steve Keeley

Thursday 30th July 2020

August will start to see a gradual ‘return to the office’ for hundreds of Royal Mail workers in customer support roles, with their CWU reps playing a leading role in helping to ensure their continued well-being.

CWU News spoke with Sue Owen at Customer Experience Plymouth and Steve Keeley and Sara Wright at the company’s Doxford site in Sunderland about the measures being taken as they gear up for the ‘new normal’.

“We’ve got a little over 300 staff here and around 90 per cent of them have been working from home for most of the lockdown period,” explains Steve, who, along with his fellow Doxford CWU rep Sara, has remained working in the office.

“Since the Government’s advice changed a couple of weeks ago to encourage people to return to their workplaces if possible, we’ve been talking with management here and also with our members to get ready for this.”

During the past four months, with only around 30 people in the building, social distancing procedures have been easy to apply – “there’s been so much space that we’ve all managed to keep the rules in here without needing loads of notices and signs etc,” he explains.

But with substantial numbers due to come back in over the next few weeks, a more formal approach has been necessary and so the office now has boards between desks, a sign-posted ‘one-way system’, floor markings and various other visual reminders.

“We’ve had external safe-working professionals auditing the measures we’ve taken and they’ve done a full inspection and given us the ‘green light’,” Steve reports, “and there’s also extra office cleaning scheduled for Saturday afternoons, when the site is closed.

“So, we’re now ready to start phasing in the full return.”

Already, the numbers on site have doubled, as staff have begun to come back on a voluntary basis, and mid-August is being targeted as the time when, hopefully, everyone will be at least partially office-based once again.

Sara explains that a rotational system is being structured, which will “mean that, for example, a manager and her or his team could be in the office one week and then working from home the next, while another team and their boss would work from home the first week and come in when their counterparts are working remotely.

Sue Owen (left) with colleagues from Plymouth

“This will enable us to have three people working at would previously have been a bank of six desks – the idea being to keep on-site numbers down to either one-third or half what they would have been before,” she points out, adding that alternative three-week or two-week patterns are being discussed.

But it is important to be mindful of members’ concerns, she adds, describing the distress caused by the worsened tone of some customer complaints, some of which have been abusive, that members have had to deal with.

Down at Plymouth, Sue tells us that 38 of her colleagues – out of a total of 257 – have remained on site over this period, as she has as well.

“Like Steve and Sara up at Doxford, I decided to stay in the office all the time any of my members were here – and so I’ve been here throughout as well,” says Sue.

Plymouth is working to a similar return timetable to Doxford – and is also having an external safety audit as part of its preparations – although here, priority is being given to staff struggling with home working and also to those working in direct customer-contact roles.

“Our members who deal with customer complaints have had a big increase in work,” continues Sue.

“Some of these calls have become difficult and, at times there’s been abuse from irate customers – which is unacceptable at any time and particularly upsetting for members working at home.”

In the workplace, support and assistance is available if this occurs, the Plymouth rep explains, but at home, staff suffering this feel isolated and find it more difficult to deal with – which is a key reason why this group of workers is being prioritised for office return, if they would like to return first.

Andy Furey

                               Andy Furey

CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey says: “Our reps at Doxford and Plymouth – and at our other Customer Experience sites as well have been doing a superb job and once again I want to extend my thanks and appreciation for their efforts.

“The support and assistance they’ve given members during this period has consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty and has really helped at an extremely difficult time,” he added.

“Also, management have worked positively with us on this – although the reports of increased levels of abuse from customers give me some real cause for concern. Our members shouldn’t have to tolerate abuse from customers in any circumstances.”

Doxford and Plymouth are the two largest Royal Mail CE sites. The other offices within this business group are located at Bangor, Dearne (Yorkshire), Glasgow and Stoke-on-Trent.

  • For further details on the Royal Mail Customer Experience return-to-office plan, please see LTB 404/20