A new year and still the pandemic is with us. Will 2022 be the year we finally say goodbye to COVID and see it melt away into the obscurity of daily life? Maybe. But right now it’s still with us and the Omicron variant is causing us problems.

Omicron and isolation

COVID and the Omicron variant is still a healthcare problem. Perhaps not as serious as the previous Alpha and Delta versions of the virus, and we have millions of people vaccinated and boosted. But the healthcare systems in this country are at full stretch and any additional pressures will only make things worse.

However, the other major problem Omicron is going to cause and has already been causing is absenteeism at work. I warned about this in a Twitter post quite a few weeks back and what we are seeing now is disruption across various sectors due to people either having the illness or self-isolating. It’s resulted in transport schedules being ripped up, hospitality venues closed and extra strain on staff who are already overworked.

This is also going to be a problem that the fenestration sector is going to have to battle for at least all of January and perhaps into February as well. Before the Christmas break, I spoke with a number of suppliers and all were worried about staff being off as we came back to work. Some were putting in place contingency plans in case of large numbers of people being unable to return to work. But the reality is that with demand at the fabricator level still high due to a huge backlog of business from installers, and staffing levels already strained, even a small number of people unable to return to work is going to heap further pressure on supply chains, deliveries and overall performance.

We have been told this week that the Government has instructed that plans be produced which cover a variety of scenarios which sees various numbers of people unable to work. The worst-case scenario is 25% of the workforce being stuck at home. If a fabricator or systems company, or indeed any major fenestration business with a significant workforce saw a quarter of their staff not able to work, you can imagine the problems that would cause.

2021 was the year of the disrupted supply chain. If our sector experiences high rates of staff being away from work then there is a genuine risk of 2021’s problems dragging on into 2022.

Patience and spirit required

With Omicron tearing through, testing and isolating properly is going to be key to ensure the minimum number of people are off work. That of course is easier said and done in reality.

What we are going to need in the first few weeks of the year is a whole lot of patience and some of that festive spirit. The manufacturing parts of the supply chain are likely to be under the cosh from the get go and we’re all going to need to take an understanding stance if many start to communicate that they are short on staff due to Omicron and self-isolation.

I am sure that during the festive period, as you were all scrolling through social media, like me you saw a swathe of people having their Christmas Day and New Year plans quashed by positive test results. It was so sad to see, especially after the year everyone had been through. But many millions more did mix over the festive period which means it’s highly likely that there will be many more positive test results to follow in the coming weeks. Add to that schools are now back.

The first quarter of this year could well be bumpy for our sector on a number of fronts. Many of which are out of our control. So it’s time to adopt a flexible approach, communicate loud and clear to all customers up and down the supply chain and remember to be kind to the other person on the phone or the other side of the email. There are plenty of great opportunities ahead of us this year, but we have to navigate Omicron and the curveballs it throws at us first.

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