Emrill CEO Explains Employee Challenges During COVID-19

Responsible for the maintenance, security and cleaning of some of the UAE’s biggest communities, such as Downtown Dubai, Dubai Marina, Emirates Living and Reem Island, Emrill and its workforce have continued to perform crucial work to keep residents safe in the wake of the virus.

Stuart Harrison, CEO at Emrill, explained why facilities management is so critical in the fight against the spread of the virus and some of the challenges faced.

Flattening the curve and ensuring business operations continuity

These are unprecedented times. Within months of the first case being recorded, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, perhaps forever.

With a workforce of more than 7,500 employees, we have managed the disruptions and met challenges head-on, ensuring we maintain business operations throughout the outbreak.

The UAE Government, Ministry of Health & Prevention and other government authorities have taken decisive action to limit the further spread of COVID-19, including sterilisation programmes and restricting the movement of residents.

While the majority of the UAE’s residents stay home, frontline health workers and those employed in critical sectors are working closely with the authorities to flatten the curve.

Providing cleaning and FM services on the frontlines

Daily life has been disrupted around the globe. From schools closing and working from home to cancelled travel plans and following guidelines on how to keep safe, we have all needed to adapt.

Emrill has remained on the frontlines, and our employees have been entrusted to maintain communal areas in malls, airports, beaches, leisure and entertainment facilities, and residential buildings and communities.

As the UAE starts to return to work and residents are able to get out more, including visiting malls, the cleaning services we provide are the first line of defence in infection control.

Robust hygiene and cleaning regimes are among the most effective tools we have at our disposal to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Working closely with Dubai Health Authority and Dubai Municipality, we are continuously reviewing, updating and adapting our methodologies to prevent cross-contamination and the spread of infection.

We are also staying abreast of the latest recommendations from the UAE Government and World Health Organisation, ensuring we remain up to date on the recommendations and guidelines regarding what is effective in the fight against COVID-19.

Physical distancing

First and foremost, Emrill is prioritising the health and wellbeing of our employees and the residents of the communities we service.

To effectively keep people safe, we have updated the way our teams work, the products being used, accommodation and how employees travel to and from sites.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention recommends maintaining a least a two-metre distance, so we have taken action to create more space. For example, we have changed the way our employees eat meals, moving away from shared dining facilities and instead encouraging employees to eat in their rooms.

We’re also asking the Emrill team living in shared accommodation to limit movement between rooms and outside of the accommodation facilities in line with government initiatives.

We have stopped all external visitors coming into our accommodation facilities and are fully complying with Dubai Municipality’s curfew.

We’ve also increased the cleaning and disinfection regimes in shared spaces. Additionally, internal events and gatherings have been cancelled for the time being to further minimise the risk of infection.

We want to ensure we are providing the most up-to-date information and guidelines to all employees. Therefore, we are placing posters in all accommodation facilities, providing useful tips and advice that will help our teams take care of themselves and each other.

Before leaving the accommodation each morning, all Emrill employees have their temperatures taken. This is done so we can monitor everybody’s condition and make sure its workforce remains healthy.

On some sites, temperatures are taken again when Emrill employee arrives. Every team briefing follows strict physical distancing protocols, ensuring employees maintain a minimum distance of two metres from their colleagues.

People’s journeys to site have also changed. In line with physical distancing guidelines, we have reduced the number of people that can travel in vehicles.

To ensure seats are left empty to create more space, signs clearly indicate where staff can sit. All travellers are required to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks and gloves, at all times.

All buses are thoroughly cleaned with disinfectants before and after every journey, and vehicles are decontaminated every ten days.

The ‘new normal’ – changing how we work

We have increased the frequency of deep-cleaning, placing a significant emphasis on high-traffic touch areas, such as door handles, handrails, elevator buttons and taps.

To effectively eliminate COVID-19, Dubai Municipality and Dubai Health Authority-approved disinfectants are being used.

Furthermore, Emrill has continued to adhere to the high standards required by BICSc. This includes colour coding guidelines and chemical usage instructions are followed at all times.

Emrill has invested in technology and equipment to be used on-site, enabling teams to work efficiently together while maintaining distance.

For example, we have launched an efficiency app, enabling the allocation of manpower and resources to cleaning and housekeeping tasks and the remote monitoring of tasks and their completion.

Not only has this increased efficiency through the use of optimised routes and schedules, meaning activities are completed quicker, but it has also enabled supervisors to oversee multiple work sites without having to attend them every day.

Where feasible, a number of Emrill employees have adopted remote working. Therefore, it was critical for us to build the right infrastructure to support the virtual workplace.

To maximise productivity, traditionally office-based employees have access to teleconferencing and video conferencing tools, enabling them to stay in touch with clients and each other.

Communicating effectively while physical distancing

For many Emrill employees, working from home full-time has been a new experience, and the whole team has worked hard to adapt.

I’m happy to say our remote working initiative has been an overwhelming success, and teams have been working and communicating well.

Emrill has also launched a dedicated health emergency hotline, available to all employees. Any person concerned about the health of a colleague or wants information about COVID-19 can contact the health emergency team confidentially via telephone or email.

We are also following a virtual open-door policy. The executive leadership team and senior managers are encouraging their teams to communicate more, not less, while we physically distance.

This hasn’t been limited to work concerns either. We have created a culture where any member of the Emrill team can reach out to his or her manager for advice or emotional support.

While there have been challenges, I am confident we have the best people in the right teams looking at the important issues. Daily, we are assessing all risks, formulating robust plans and then implementing those plans to ensure we are doing absolutely everything in our power to keep Emrill’s 7,500-strong team and the communities in which we work safe.

An organisation as large as Emrill has a lot of moving parts, and I am proud of how our employees have come together, working towards the shared goal of delivering on our promises while preventing the spread of COVID-19.

This has all been achieved without compromising our commitment to health, safety and our team’s ability to remain connected, stay productive and work securely.

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Emrill Services has joined forces with the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply MENA (CIPS MENA) to emphasise the importance of improving welfare standards in the MENA region’s supply chains. In an event held at Emrill’s Knowledge Theatre in Dubai, procurement professionals from a diverse range of sectors gathered to discuss the impact of welfare standards and the need to adopt global best practices.

Prior to the event, Sam Achampong, CIPS MENA’s regional head and general manager, explained the importance of the topic.

Achampong said: “Worker welfare should be high on the agenda for businesses regardless of the size of projects being implemented. I’m delighted our partners at Emrill see this as a focus of their work and that we have representation from Expo 2020 Dubai, who are taking the lead in keeping their workers safe. Not only is reputation at risk if companies do not look at safety and welfare for their own infrastructure projects, but of course, this is about saving lives and improving health throughout supply chains.”

 

In its January 2019 report, Fitch Solutions estimated the MENA construction industry will grow by 7.5% this year and will continue to expand at an average annual rate of 6.8 per cent until 2022. The report predicts the growth will be driven by the Arabian Gulf states diversifying away from oil and gas, instead focusing on building large-scale developments, such as Expo 2020 Dubai and the Riyadh Metro in Saudi Arabia. In addition, the report surmised the increase in large infrastructure projects in the region has resulted in many companies more seriously considering current conditions and encouraging improved worker welfare rights.

Ahsan Sarwar, CIPS MENA’s country manager for Saudi Arabia, opened the event with a brief introduction to the organisation. He introduced CIPS’ presence globally and how the organisation is working with members to raise procurement standards.

Emrill’s commercial director, Suzie Razmjou, delivered a thought-provoking presentation on improving welfare standards in the supply chain, where she claimed companies in the region need to play their part in ensuring migrant workers are treated with dignity and respect. She stressed, procurement professionals can only affect real change when they work together and use their influence to encourage and support contractors and subcontractors to improve conditions. She went on to say that only when executive support is given to worker welfare initiatives and consequences are applied to non-compliant providers will welfare targets be met. Emrill has cancelled contracts with 40 suppliers, which were unable or unwilling to improve standards, since beginning the programme.

Razmjou also referred to the Dhaka Principles, which provide a roadmap tracing the journey of a migrant worker from recruitment, employment, to the end of a contract. The discussion focused on how companies in the region can ensure their employees and those employees within their supply chains are provided with living and working conditions that are both safe and decent.

Razmjou outlined the actions Emrill has taken to influence its subcontractor portfolio of over 500 suppliers in line with the Dhaka Principles, which were introduced in 2012 by the Institute for Human Rights and Business to improve health, safety and employee welfare. She said: “We have undertaken an ambitious ongoing project in which we have carried out welfare visits on our service providers’ labour accommodation to ensure living standards meet Emrill’s standards. In cases where suppliers are underperforming, we actively work with them to improve the welfare of their employees.

“We have used our influence in the market as a way of making a difference and improving the lives of thousands of workers. At Emrill, we feel we have a collective responsibility to ensure those individuals delivering services to our clients are looked after properly.”

As part of the initiative, inspectors from Emrill’s supply chain and senior management teams visit sites, inspecting hundreds of accommodations since the progamme’s launch. As a result, some companies have moved location and Emrill has provided recommendations to approximately one third of the suppliers visited.

Razmjou added: “We have achieved real success with this initiative, and we want to pass on our learnings to other companies in the region. Emrill is delighted to be partnering with CIPS MENA, as events such as this are so important for raising awareness and creating a real shift in collective thinking.”

Dr Arafat El Mourad, VP and Head of Strategic Sourcing: Group Procurement and Realty Services Emirates NBD, closed the event with a presentation on innovation in procurement. He explained innovation is much more than technology. He explained: “Rather, it is the way procurement professionals manage relationships with internal and external stakeholders with a focus on implementing collaborative changes to digitise, resource capabilities, speaking the language of your stakeholders, and improve business processes.”

A recurring theme of the event was procurement professionals and companies within the region have a collective responsibility to do what is morally and ethically right to ensure worker welfare standards in the region are raised. By committing to not working with contractors who fall short and will not make improvements, a clear message is sent that sub-par conditions will not be tolerated and will result in consequences.

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