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In 2018, a fire broke out at the Dublin headquarters of Momentum Support, the Irish-owned cleaning and security provider. Overnight, all staff at the head office relocated to alternative sites, with many working from home.

Two years later, the business was once again faced with shuttering its head office. However, the experience from 2018 ensured it was ready. The technology infrastructure required to facilitate remote working had already been implemented and upgraded and staff knew the processes.

For Momentum support and its managing director Colin Maybin, it ensured the transition to home working took place with minimal fuss.

However, given the scale of the business and the services it offers, Momentum Support was not immune from the crisis. The company employs more than 2,500 people and provides cleaning and security services to the healthcare, retail, office, manufacturing, and transport sectors across the island of Ireland and in Britain.

Maybin says that the business is “big enough to cope, small enough to care” and has long placed a strong emphasis on investing in staff. When the crisis hit, this helped it to move quickly. Also, as an essential service, it remained open.

The COVID-19 crisis had an immediate and mixed impact on demand from customers. There was a sharp increase in demand from the healthcare channel, but demand from the retail, office, and educational channels collapsed. There was also a small reduction in demand from manufacturing and transport. Overall, sales fell by 25 per cent.

Staff anxiety increased, and this made it difficult to adequately staff sites. There was also a reluctance amongst some staff to transfer into healthcare clients.

Meanwhile, many customers deferred planned invitations to tender, which reduced the pipeline in medium-term contracts.

There was a sharp increase in demand from the healthcare channel, but demand from the retail, office, and educational channels collapsed.

The response

The leadership team actively worked to increase the level and frequency of communication with staff and customers. The team also introduced several programmes to support staff in their health and welfare.

Significant pay reductions were imposed for the period of the lockdown for all staff (other than those on Joint Labour Committee (JLC) contracts, who actually account for the vast majority of the employees).

The business accessed all Government supports for which it was eligible. The business changed its focus from managing for profitable growth to managing for cash. It was concerned customers would experience cash flow challenges which would impact Momentum collections.

New business was secured as step-down facilities, field hospitals and testing centres were established.

The impact

The shift to management for cash has been successful, even though sales were materially short of budget (a significant improvement in cash collection and Government supports contributed to this).

As the economy is now reopening, sales are recovering and are now running close to the original budget level. Meanwhile, the company has noticed that closer interval control has highlighted opportunities to improve operational effectiveness in several areas, including cash management.

The leadership team actively worked to increase the level and frequency of communication with staff and customers. The team also introduced several programmes to support staff in their health and welfare.

The outlook

The medium to long term impact of COVID-19 for the demand for the services provided by Momentum is positive. It is already clear that customers across all channels are increasing the cleaning specifications, which requires investment in new technologies and additional service hours.

There is also evidence that some clients are seeking additional services that Momentum is well-positioned to provide – for example, issuing masks and manning sanitiser stations in shopping centres and airports.

However, the company knows it is inevitable that clients will come under budgetary pressures. In turn, this will impact the cleaning specifications and the prices they are willing to pay for the services they procure. Customers and competitors will drive margins down also.

Attracting and retaining high-quality staff will continue to present a challenge, and the business is already seeing a reluctance from staff who were accessing the COVID-19 unemployment payment to return to work.

While the business has been able to recruit some great staff during the lockdown there is a risk they will drift back into other sectors (hospitality and leisure as examples) as they reopen.

Read the report

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