What businesses can learn from Amazon as they reopen after lockdown

Phil Bridgeman
Head of Membership | Business West
17th June 2020

Business West Chambers of Commerce has teamed up with Amazon to offer tours of its Avonmouth fulfilment centre and give local businesses an insight into how they’ve introduced strict social distancing measures and safety guidelines throughout the pandemic.  

As more and more businesses prepare to re-open their doors, there are definite lessons businesses can learn from Amazon, who have continued to fulfil customer orders since lockdown measures were imposed without closing their doors at all. That being so, I thought I would share some of the key takeaways from last week’s tour of Amazon’s Avonmouth fulfilment centre to help guide Business West Chambers of Commerce members on ways to implement social distancing measures in their businesses.

I was joined by four other members (maximum allowed) of the local business community on our 45-minute tour of the Amazon Avonmouth fulfilment centre - one of 17 Amazon locations across the UK. The tour began with an overview of the fulfilment centre’s operational scale and the various practical challenges that had to be overcome following the implementation of lockdown measures in mid-March. 

No easy task considering up to 850 staff are on site at any one time.

Site Manager James Stokes, who led the tour group, told us that the key to maintaining business continuity in the early days of lockdown was Amazon’s unique philosophy and agile culture, which promotes quick thinking and rapid decision making.

It is as a result of this company culture that Amazon were able to implement 150 changes recommended by the WHO practically overnight, enabling them to keep their doors open, their employees safe and continue to fulfil customer orders like nothing ever happened.

At the entrance there is an automatic temperature check for all employees entering the site. Those with a high temperature – one of the three main symptoms of coronavirus – are turned away. Employees who pass the temperature check are given a disposable face mask and hand sanitiser at the door and get to see updates from their previous shift on poster boards as they begin their shift.

Overnight, one-way corridors were marked out – the Golden Mile ran the length of the huge facility guiding staff clearly and safely around the building. Perspex barriers were put in place in areas of the fulfilment centre where social distancing is difficult. Locker rooms were given over to canteen areas to increase capacity and in order to reduce the physical contact between employees at end and beginning of their shift as they gather or store their personal belongings; lockers were placed in huge marquee outside of the building.

Shared spaces within the fulfilment centre such as toilets and corridors were cleaned more increased frequency and hygiene measures were ramped up with the installation of hand sanitiser stations. You no longer need to touch a handle to open a door following the Engineering Team installing foot plates. Face to face team meetings were cancelled until further notice in order to reduce physical contact between employees.

With the implementation of such a wide array of changes, effective internal communications became even more paramount.

Amazon installed lots of signage to remind employees of the 2m social distancing rule and displayed safety messaging on large TV screens to encourage and promote behaviour change. Stations were cleaned before and at the end of shifts and employees are encouraged to clean stations as often as they need to.

It is clear that Amazon has been able to continue to fulfil customer orders in challenging circumstances because it had a clear plan and vision of what it wanted to achieve, made quick decisions to implement it, audited and improved and communicated it effectively with their employees (and not just the how, they explained why also). As lockdown measures are eased, Amazon continues monitor and evaluate its performance fastidiously to ensure employee and customer safety remain upmost.

Business West Chambers of Commerce members have told us that they found the tours insightful and provided a valuable lesson in implementing social distancing and safety measures as the lockdown is eased. Among them is Weston College, whose Head of Business Growth & Employer partnership Dave Crew said:

“Thanks to Business West for arranging the tour of Amazon today. Pete Sloman our Chief Operating Officer and Lyn Neate, Facilities Manager really enjoyed the tour.  As you can imagine, preparing our campus buildings to open again and be Covid secure is quite a task and presents additional cost.

“The support that you are providing to your membership really is outstanding. In these times, leadership, communication and collaboration are key. A personal thank you from me for your continued support of Weston College.”

John Walker, Head of Careers and School Services at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College said: 

"It was fascinating to see the environment at Amazon. The facilitators  were obviously passionate about  their H&S role.  I immediately passed on some of their idea for mass human traffic vs safety around social distancing  (foot handles, single file corridors)  to our Head of Estates to consider implementing, as we opened up the college to learners the week following my visit.  All in all a brilliant hour of learning."  

Tours of Amazon’s Avonmouth fulfilment centre will continue to run every weekday until 25 June. Secure you place now using this link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/tours-of-amazons-fulfilment-centres-ticke... 

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