It’s a universal truth that everyone loves a postie.
Maybe it’s because they are the bearers of parcels, or because they generally tend to be cheery souls. Whatever the reason, a scroll through Jersey Post’s social media reveals that their postmen and women are very popular indeed.
There’s messages of thanks from dozens of grateful islanders, photos of well wishers who’ve baked beautifully iced trays of cupcakes for them, stories of kindness from Post Office counter staff… it’s a very heart-warming experience.
The magic behind the stamp
That relationship between staff and customer has become even stronger and more important during the pandemic. While the vast majority of us had to stay home, posties continued their essential role, delivering the mail come rain or shine. But they also represented a link to the outside world, helping people feel less isolated while the virus roamed outside.
For Niall McClure, the pandemic meant keeping the mail flowing but also keeping those 270 precious posties safe. He and his team developed a detailed COVID Contingency Plan that was then deployed throughout the operation.
“We had to work out quite quickly how do we stop interacting with the public, because everybody loves their postie. Up until then they would love to come out and have a chat, take their mail from them,” he says.
“We had to change habits of a lifetime by advising them to ring the bell and step back. Put the mail on the floor and no longer could they give their hand-held [device] to get a signature, they had to sign on behalf of the customer. We had to bring in quite a few changes just to keep them safe.”
It wasn’t just the delivery people they had to think about – Jersey Post is a massive production that also includes operational staff, or ‘the magic behind the stamp’ as Niall describes them, plus administrative staff too.
Keeping the workforce safe
There was a great deal of fast decision making in those early days, he recalls.
“Our biggest challenge was physical distancing in the building. It’s impossible to maintain physical distancing when you’re trying to process mail and unload vehicles.
“We said at the executive that we shouldn’t all be in the building at the same time because if we all caught it we’re in trouble.
“We lost 20% of our operational staff from day one because of vulnerabilities. We had to sit down and work out how on earth do we keep this operation going and keep everybody safe?”
It’s meant splitting the workforce so there’s a very early shift followed by a thorough clean-down before the second shift comes in.
The majority of the company’s 75 administrative staff are still working from home and it’s worked very well, he says.
“78% of them have expressed a preference to continue doing that. What we’ve done with the office staff is say ‘look, we’ve been at this for three or four months now. It clearly works with you working from home so as long as you’re happy to continue, that will be the default and we will facilitate that.’
“Given that we are a very traditional post-office type business, I think people have felt it’s been really forward thinking in terms of how the non-operational staff can operate.”
Leading from the front
For Niall, staying on the shop floor was essential.
“We started off doing it at home and I found that impossible to keep in touch with the operation. I’d get a 10-minute phone call with the operations director at 7 o clock in the morning who’d say ‘everything’s fine’ but you don’t have a feel for it, you can’t walk the floor and you can’t see the state of the place.
“You can’t see the mood of the people. So very quickly I said I’m going to come in and be here. You’re remote from it and you can’t run an operation by remote control – well I can’t.”
It also meant they had to bridge the gap left by the staff who had to shield themselves.
“20% of our workforce had gone overnight so we sought volunteers from the office staff and it’s to their credit that they all stepped up to the mark. The majority of our office based staff did two or three additional shifts in operations per week to keep us going until the operational people started coming back and the restrictions lifted or the medical advice changed.
“So that was no small effort on their part and it was a real team effort. We said to them that we’re really proud to see them do what they’ve done and keep us going.”
It’s also meant changes to the way management keeps in communication with the workforce.
“It’s relatively easy to engage when you’re on the shop floor as I am two or three times a day. It’s much more difficult with people who are working from home. When we did the big announcement about working practices we had 60 people in a Teams call.”
Niall also began producing a weekly thought piece for everyone at home.
“It was something just to keep in touch with people. Anything from looking after your mental health to are we going to get back to normal. Actually that’s not going to be acceptable if you think about it. Things like climate change, we shouldn’t be going back to normal.”
And from all accounts, they appreciated what he had to say.
“It’s not necessarily sales stuff, it was just ideas that we picked up and keep people engaged.
It was nice to get feedback from people who were saying they were stuck at home with a boisterous two-year-old and it was good to get a pep talk every week. We kept that going until we got to level one and then I said it needed to stop and we need to move on.”
Jersey Post’s Herculean effort has also been appreciated by the public.
“We’ve been really pleasantly surprised how people have come forward to help. It’s been everything from baking cakes to knitting face masks, sending letters, cards, messages on social media.
“They should be proud of that because they’ve kept our postal service and parcel service going.”