Our experienced coordination manager, Pete Robinson, recalls his working from home journey and how he has coordinated some of the worlds busiest airports from his daughters bedroom.
Shortly before the UK went into official lockdown, I spent a day in mid-March touring London’s airports. Aviation was just beginning to slow down, and I was conscious of the noticeable reduction in movements and the presence of stationary aircraft at Stansted, Luton, Heathrow and Gatwick.
On the second day of the lockdown I celebrated 15 years at Airport Coordination Limited (ACL). During those years I have experienced closures and disruption of all kinds from severe weather, natural disasters, terrorism, conflicts and the grounding of aircraft fleets. Even the week-long closure of European airspace due to an Icelandic volcano in 2010 pales into insignificance next to the impact of Covid-19 on the worldwide aviation industry.
The first week of working from home was strange. I usually spend two and a half hours a day on my M25 commute and contrary to most, I was strangely experiencing withdrawal symptoms. I had to accept, with the schools closed, and my partner also working from home, finding a quiet place to work was going to be difficult. Luckily, only a few months earlier, we had bought each of our girls’ desks for their bedrooms and so, kicking my 5-year-old out, I began coordinating slots from my daughter’s bedroom, with her surrounding toys for company.
So how do you coordinate some of the worlds most complex airports when your whole team is working from home? Less than 12 months earlier, ACL had invested in Microsoft Teams and trained all our staff in its use. Whilst its need had been limited before, this investment truly paid off. Video calls, screen and document sharing are the new norm across ACL. Guests from outside our organisation can easily join video calls and it has allowed us to provide the same level of communication with our customers in other remote locations. Each week ACL’s CEO, Edmond Rose, hosts a Q&A session and updates us on company affairs, and colleagues take it in turns to host regular afterwork quizzes, helping to maintain social contact with the wider ACL team.
During lockdown, I begin each morning running reports for the four international airports I manage. This helps me understand the schedule movements from the last 24 hours. I monitor travel restrictions, UK Foreign and Commonwealth travel advice and the international press for any significant developments. I then correlate these against the schedule changes we have received from airlines. This information is then fed to the rest of my team via my daily Teams update. Communication with colleagues has certainly changed, but video calls have allowed us to continue enjoying face-to-face interaction. I have a daily call with my Head of Coordination and then a further call between myself and my own team. These calls are crucial for relaying updates and activity across ACL and are an opportunity to agree any actions for the coming days.
My usual morning tea break with colleagues has now been replaced with a short stroll around my garden and tending to my plants. Some great weather and the additional time at home has left my garden looking in fine shape. What started as a home-schooling project, growing some vegetable seeds with my daughters, has developed into a gardening obsession, and I have proudly been sharing updates with my colleagues on my horticulture successes.
The evolution of my horticultural obsession.
A further highlight has been the successful roll-out of virtual coordinator training. My initial nerves over conducting training online have not been met and Teams has allowed me to share my screen with multiple users demonstrating tasks, encouraging discussions, and continuing the high level of training we provide to our coordinators.
After two months of daily cancellation activity across ACL’s airport portfolio, we are beginning to see signs of easing across Europe and there are indications that planes may return to the skies. One thing is for sure, the Summer 20 season will look very different from how it was first coordinated. The industry continues to consider how social distancing can be enacted and without concreate plans or guidance, it remains difficult to predict how demand and capacity will look in the coming twelve months.
So, as many of us adapt to the new normal, I have found myself a more suitable home and am coordinating from our spare bedroom, which I have temporarily converted to a home office. Working from home is staying a little while longer, but ACL will continue to provide our expert coordination services from whatever locations our staff find themselves, and we will continue to be both proactive and reactive to the challenges ahead.