The world is coming to terms with an unprecedented situation and the new challenges it brings, with people supporting each other in ways many had not even thought of a few short months ago.

As organisations and their employees adapt to new ways of working, Circles, Sodexo’s corporate concierge service, is providing help to their clients’ employees that covers everything from arranging virtual birthday parties to sourcing electricians and grocery deliveries.

But the team’s experience of supporting people in lockdown goes back to the earliest days of the pandemic, when the NHS requested their services at Arrowe Park Hospital, near Liverpool.

Support was needed for those who were quarantined for 14 days after returning from Wuhan, China. Michael Fildes, Managing Director at Circles UK and Ireland, says the team would never have guessed where the situation would lead when they began work at the hospital on January 31st.

At this point, there were no confirmed cases in the UK and Covid-19 did not yet have a name. But the experience gave Sodexo a unique perspective on how to respond to the lockdown and the challenges it now presents.

Normalising an unusual situation

Realising quarantine would have a significant impact on the mental and emotional health of those they were charged with looking after, NHS leaders at Arrowe Park were keen to make sure every need was catered for.

The Circles team received training on proper use of PPE and worked alongside Public Health England and local authorities to cover every non-clinical requirement.

“The NHS have a great deal of empathy and compassion,” says Michael. “Their core focus was, of course, looking after the health and medical needs of individuals. So they brought us in to provide the non-clinical services they knew were just as important.”

The process began with preparing rooms for arrival - sourcing high-backed chairs for the elderly, and making sure everyone had the right toiletries, towels and enough clothes.

For Michael, the aim was to normalise the situation as much as possible and that went beyond the practical arrangements to also providing emotional support.

As many have now come to realise, small touches make all the difference in a strange environment. For example, the team would make phone calls to check guests had everything they needed, and even Michael himself would hand deliver a newspaper every day.

Creating a bond

As expected, quarantine took an emotional toll on the guests at Arrowe Park Hospital and the Circles team soon realised difficulty sleeping was one of the biggest challenges.

For one single parent with a young daughter, this became a real struggle in their second week, but they didn’t know what they needed to break the cycle. Michael and the team stepped in to help.

“We arranged for some new pillows to be sent, along with a colouring book, teddy bear, hot chocolates and changes of clothes for both of them,” he says. “We also sent a lighthearted, uplifting book to read before they went to sleep. It really helped and when they left they were overcome with emotion. We all shed a tear when they said goodbye.”

Stuart Winters, CEO Healthcare, Sodexo UK & Ireland said: “From day one, the Sodexo team was acutely aware of how vulnerable these people felt. I am proud of how the team worked in partnership with the NHS to find ways to create a comfortable experience and normalise the highly unusual, emotional situation that our guests had unexpectedly found themselves in.”

The team now applies lessons from this and other experiences at Arrowe Park as they support the wider population in isolation.

The practical needs of employees who are adjusting to working from home, or frontline workers who want to minimise distractions, can be quite different to those who were quarantined. But lockdown creates many similar feelings and knowing support is available is just as important to mental and emotional health.

People who turn to that support when they need it most often form a strong bond with those who provide it.

This was the case for the quarantined patients who received help in an unprecedented situation, and it can be just as true when an employee sees their employer truly cares for their wellbeing.

This is our day job. This is what we do day in and day out. But the importance is now being recognised more, and when stress and anxiety are high, even a little bit of support can feel like a lifesaver.

Michael Fildes, Managing Director at Circles UK and Ireland

To find out more about how Sodexo can improve work and transform workplace experience for your business, click here to contact us.

April 26, 2020

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