We understand how tough the last 10 months has been for the MOT industry, as you’ve responded to the 6-month MOT exemption, introduced Covid-secure working practices and dealt with the backlog of MOTs during the autumn.
Recently we spoke to 2 different sized garages about their experiences and wanted to share these with you.
Glynne employs 7 people at his local family business, Whitecroft Garage Ltd in Bolton. Keith is the Commercial Director of Formula One Autocentres. He is responsible for 118 MOT centres, employing more than 200 MOT testers.
We began by asking Glynn and Keith about their experience of working through the pandemic
The 6-month MOT extension was difficult, but it was the right thing to do and allowed me to decide to close. At that time, none of us knew what we were up against with COVID and I wanted to protect my people. We closed for 7 weeks during the first lockdown and re-opened our garage on 11 May.
At the start, we didn’t know what to expect and our staff were very tense. Although the MOT extension was in place, we soon realised people still wanted MOTs and repair work. Initially we closed 6 centres for 6 weeks before realising the demand hadn’t dropped. So we re-opened with safety measures in place.
Our staff took to wearing PPE and changing their routines once we got up to speed with the government guidance. We’ve had very few MOT staff off work during the pandemic.
What have you done differently during Covid?
We handled safety by introducing Perspex screens and cleanliness rotas. We wipe down every touch point and disinfect all door handles and keys as they are handed over. The car is wiped down when a customer drops it off and before it’s collected.
Our mechanics are now wearing masks all day. My team didn’t like it at first, but we’re all used to it now. I sometimes drive home and realise I’ve still got my mask on – wearing it has become second nature!
We don’t run a pick-up and drop off service because I don’t have the staff. But I will sometimes collect a customer’s car on my way to work. If it means keeping a customer, it’s better to pick up the car than lose the business.
As well as a new cleanliness regime, we’ve introduced new protective screens, hand sanitizer, social distancing signs and more stocks of PPE. We’ve staggered staff breaks and the majority of our office staff are now working from home.
We originally closed our waiting rooms but from the feedback we received, we’ve now reopened them, making sure the seats are at least 2m apart to keep in line with social distancing.
We have an online booking system and each centre manages their own pick up and drop off service if this is required because it’s important to help our customers who are self-isolating or vulnerable.
What are the main challenges of working during the pandemic?
Our biggest challenge is dealing with a minority of people who question wearing a mask. Others don’t like waiting to come into reception, because only one customer is allowed in at a time. A few have questioned why the waiting area is closed. This can be frustrating because I’m only trying to do the right thing and protect my staff and customers.
Some of the challenges came from writing and regularly updating Risk Assessments as government guidance changed. Others have come from making our centres COVID secure to protect both staff and our customers. We’ve put up posters reminding staff and customers about social distancing, wearing masks, hand sanitizing and so on. We’ve communicated the changes to managers and trained staff through e-learning packages.
The biggest challenge is continually managing the change – going from the way we’ve always done things – to adapting to the new way of working.
How have you overcome the challenges?
We are trying to educate our customers about the importance of the rules. As a small business we don’t want to risk upsetting people because we could lose a customer, but we need to follow the guidance and keep our staff and customers safe. We try to be polite but firm.
Educating staff and customers has been key, encouraging them to understand the importance of the need to change, to help keep each other safe. The adaption to the working day has helped overcome the challenges around keeping our staff and customers safe.
What have you learned from working through the pandemic?
My team has been fantastic. When I closed the garage and my staff were all furloughed, I took the decision to top up the government scheme and pay a full wage. I think this was the best decision I’ve made during COVID. My team knew I was looking after them and they have repaid me with their loyalty and commitment throughout this difficult time.
I’ve been so impressed with how our staff have taken on the challenge, with all the changes that have been required and how well they’ve worked together. Every department has pulled together embracing the new way of working.
What have you done differently that you will continue after the pandemic?
The screen in reception will stay up. Even without Covid it stops the bugs and colds. In the past we always had colds at this time of the year - and this year we’ve stayed well.
We will continue with flexible working where possible and use technology for more meetings to lessen the burden of travelling. We will always continue to help our vulnerable customers who have been happy with our support throughout the pandemic.
What’s coming next for your business?
In Bolton they’re running weekly testing for people that can’t work from home. I will put it to all my testers to suggest we all get tested once a week. It could shut us down, but it is better than catching Covid.
It would appear that the virus is sticking around for a longer time than any of us anticipated, so we will continue to monitor the situation day by day and keep adapting and learning.
Share your experience with us
Let us know what you have done differently during the pandemic and what you have learned in the comments below.