Overcoming Covid: Unitas’ investment in new technology kept business ahead of the curve

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on December 19th 2020, 10:32am

In response to the immense disruption that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused, innovation and adaptability has been seen on an unprecedented scale within British industry. Whole businesses over the last few months have become accustomed to a remote working model, with some having to make wholesale changes to systems and procedures practically overnight.

However, there were some businesses that had already integrated more technology into their daily operations, and these companies were therefore ahead of the curve when a swift transition to remote working was required. Unitas, a £45-million turnover company owned by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, is one of them.

Unitas employs 440 people alongside a fleet of subcontractors and is responsible for maintaining and refurbishing 18,500 social housing properties and 600 public buildings. Like all businesses across the UK, when the initial national lockdown was called back in March, the company had to adapt to ensure that operations could continue and shift toward flexible and remote working patterns.

Unitas apprentice Amy Rawlingson was one member of the company workforce forced to adjust to working from home rather than within the office environment.

Rawlingson recalled: “It was harder to complete the exam-based learning as I’d normally attend Smithfield every two weeks, but because of lockdown, we lost fifteen ‘in-college’ days and as soon restrictions were lifted enough, I had to catch up on my lost time with two straight days of testing. It was really hard work, but I was able to complete and pass the tests.”

Unitas was in a position to support Rawlingson - who is halfway through a two-year Diploma in Level Three Business Administration - and its wider workforce by allowing them to work flexibly, and in Rawlingson’s case, provide her with adequate time to catch up on her NVQ studies.

She added: “I was still able to have weekly Zoom meetings and calls with my tutor to ensure I wasn’t falling behind, and regular one-to-ones with my line manager to ensure I was able to manage my workload effectively alongside my college work.”

Yet, key to ensuring such a smooth and seamless transition toward flexible and remote working was owed to Unitas having taken the decision to overhaul its outdated technology and establish a modern IT infrastructure before the pandemic struck; a project which the company had commenced as early as February 2018 and continued well into 2019.

Prior to Unitas being founded, Stoke-on-Trent City Council was locked in a ten-year joint venture with private sector contractor Kier, when an options appraisal in 2018 saw refurbishment and maintenance operations brought back in house, thus Unitas as a company was born.

Looking back on Unitas’ foundation, the City Council’s director of housing and customer services Carl Brazier explained that setting about updating the technology that the company had at its disposal was an immediate priority following the handover.

He said: “As part of the transition from Kier to Unitas, and to enable a ‘soft landing’ of sorts, we overhauled and modernised our IT. Although the company was launched in February 2018, this was still underway well into 2019; it is proven to be a real difficulty and a fundamental shift from antiquated technology.”

Although it may have been a time-consuming and challenging project, it was this shift to more up-to-date technology that left Unitas in much stronger shape to cope with the challenges of shifting to a more remote working model overnight as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

The ease in transition has also given Unitas greater scope to focus on other important activities over recent months, including helping distribute vital food supplies to the city’s most vulnerable residents as part of the council’s #StokeonTrentTogether campaign in partnership with charitable organisation VAST, and assisting local voluntary sector body Fegg Hayes Futures in handing out food parcels to the community.

Fegg Hayes Futures community development manager Helen Snashall commented: “Our area has many council houses, so we are used to Unitas being part of our community, but it is great to see how they have stepped up at this time and how we’ve been able to work together.”

Photo by Glenn Taubenfeld on Unsplash

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Authored By

Rhys Taylor-Brown
Junior Editor
December 19th 2020, 10:32am

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