With more than 2,500 employees in more than 50 locations, the Matthäi Group is amongst the largest construction service providers in northern Germany. In this report, we would like to provide an insight into the many challenges and decisions that we have had to face since the middle of March. Of course, these are not applicable to all industries and only make up one piece of the puzzle in relation to the German economy. Furthermore, there are assuredly a lot of ways of responding to an international health crisis – from the preparation to the nationwide lockdown to the long-term perspective.
How can we be well prepared?
As early as January and February 2020, the spread of coronavirus in Italy hit the headlines in Germany. Europe is very highly interconnected on an economic and social level, so it did not seem realistic that a virus could stop at national borders. In March, when the borders to and from Italy were closed, the Matthäi Group decided to conduct a stress test. What would happen if, from one day to the next, all of Matthäi’s employees had to stay at home? The results of the test were very encouraging. At this point, digitisation was already at an advanced stage at Matthäi.
The infrastructure for a massive expansion of the number of people working from home was put in place. We purchased additional laptops, practised our handling of telephone conferences and developed a Group-wide hygiene concept for the skeleton staff in our offices.
As a construction company, we can consider ourselves fortunate that our core business only rarely takes place in enclosed spaces. Relatively early in the pandemic, research indicated that the risk of infection is much lower in the open air than in enclosed spaces. Therefore, we particularly focused on the few points of contact where social distancing is not always possible. We reduced car sharing to the building sites and, where possible, assigned fixed car shares. To ensure that the employees conducted themselves as safely as possible on the building sites, an information sheet was compiled, which made it very easy for them to get their bearings. The outcome: to date, there have thankfully been no cases on our building sites. We have been able to keep working.
The business life of a construction company does not take place solely on the building site. Over the year, we take part in various trade fairs and attend events, training courses and business meetings. These plans were abandoned at very short notice with the start of the lockdown in Germany. The Group’s summer festival was cancelled, trade fair appearances were postponed until further notice. Instead, customer contacts by video conference were stepped up. The employees working from home and those remaining in the office were provided with packed lunches so that, as far as possible, no one had to go shopping for their lunch.
The numbers clearly demonstrate that the weeks of lockdown had a resounding effect on the infection rate. However, what are the first sensible steps towards normality? Certainly, no one in this country wants to risk a second lockdown because of returning to normal too quickly and without a plan. Therefore, the Matthäi Group decided to relax the contact restrictions gradually in line with the recommendations of the health authorities and the guidelines laid down by the politicians. In order to minimise the number of employees in the offices, we initially divided the workforce into two halves, coming to work on alternate days. Employees in the high-risk groups are, of course, allowed to continue to work from home.
All the regulations relating to occupational safety are recorded at Matthäi in the “Be Safe” concept. This concept has been extended over the course of the coronavirus pandemic to guarantee safe, coordinated action for the future too. In our experience, compliance with the government regulations and the recommendations of the institutions of the healthcare system has had a powerful effect. Combining these with our own measures, which go beyond the official regulations, has enabled our Group to continue our work and to remain virus-free. We will take this knowledge with us into the future.
Matthäi is one of the largest training companies in the region. This year, we are preparing more than one hundred young talents for their final examinations. In order to give them the best possible support, we have equipped our trainees with company laptops so that they can do their homework safely from home and can participate in digital lessons. We are crossing our fingers that all the examination candidates will be rewarded for this challenging time with great results.