Carl Lyon

The coronavirus is not my first pandemic. Back in 2009 when I was working in depot operations, I remember being briefed on a potentially dangerous virus called swine flu that was prevalent across the globe.

I was tasked with implementing a range of safety measures across our depots to prevent transmission and keep people safe. Whilst there were initially fears of a high death rate this soon proved not to be the case and, in the end, the main challenges were around managing slightly higher levels of sickness.

This virus is very different, but my previous experience did give me a reference point and possibly a head start when it came to understanding exactly what actions we could take. Even so at times it was overwhelming and so I have focussed on what I feel is important which from day one was keeping our customer service team and network of couriers safe.

The former was more straightforward as we decided that our 250-strong UK customer service team could all work at home and were able to do achieve this in just three days. This is something that often happens during our Christmas peak anyway to make the necessary room for temporary seasonal staff in the building where they can be trained and supervised. The IT team were on hand to support this with new laptops and to provide the necessary tech support. We did the same for our ParcelShop support teams and our courier help desks.

For couriers we implemented strict safety protocols at sub depots and were the first delivery company to introduce contactless deliveries. We have also implemented new safety protocols for our national network of ParcelShops which have seen volumes double. The main challenge was to ensure that we had the resources to handle the phenomenal volume of parcels as the UK public turned to home delivery to get what they needed. We have up to 2 million parcels coming into the network every day which is as busy as Black Friday week and there seems to be no sign of this changing.

The impact of coronavirus has hit the UK hard and fast but what really brought it home to me was the vast numbers of people looking to become couriers because, literally overnight, they had lost their income. We had over 10,000 applications a day in that first fortnight from pub staff, chefs, taxi drivers, children's entertainers, dog walkers, pub singers, beauticians, hairdressers, pilots and many, many others.

Traditionally we would have met them in groups of about five at various locations around the country to put them through a comprehensive induction and training programme. With this no longer possible we had to quickly digitise our processes and do this online. During the first session, with over 100 new couriers from across the country logged in and fully engaged, I realised how much better this approach was in that it was quicker, less resource intensive and better for the environment. In the past it would have taken us months to onboard these numbers of new couriers.

So one good that will come out of this pandemic is the psychological barrier that everything needs to be done face to face – something that is particularly prevalent in our sector. We get in our cars and we drive for miles and often the journey lasts longer than the meeting. The past few weeks has shown that we have the technology to make us more efficient and this will also have a positive impact on our wellbeing and make our business more sustainable. I don’t believe we will go back to our old ways – even when we can.

Carl Lyon, operations director - delivery experience, Hermes