Friday 23 July 2021

UPU News - In the line of duty

Postal workers from around the world share their memories and experiences of working on the frontline during the global pandemic.

Nikos Manikis, urban postman, Hellenic Post, Greece 

For Nikos Manikis one of his fondest memories from working during the pandemic was when he delivered a Christmas present to an eight-year-old boy after issues with global transportation caused long delays. “He was jumping for joy when I arrived with the gift,” he says. 

It is small moments like this, according to Manikis, that kept him motivated on the frontline during Covid-19. “I feel very proud that I am able to serve people during this time.”

Manikis’s role has changed considerably over the past year. It is now mandatory to wear a mask, use sanitizing gel regularly, and to physically distance where appropriate. “These changes have not been pleasant,” he comments. “However, I have learned to take nothing for granted. I fully understand that our health and safety is paramount, and this is the message I also try to convey to customers.”

Grainne O’Connell, postal manager, Chadstone Post Office, Australia Post

In November 2021 Grainne O’Connell will celebrate 10 years working with Australia Post and the past year has made her truly reflect on her role. “Australia Post is an organization based around connecting people, and to be able to continue to help our customers connect with their families and friends during the toughest time many of us have ever experienced, has definitely made me very proud.”

According to O’Connell, the pandemic has cemented the post’s role in the local community. “We’ve continued to operate throughout all of the various lockdowns,” she says. “For some of our older residents, we might have been the only contact they had with others in their day, week or month. I got to know customers more and could tell when they needed a bit of extra help or just needed a quick chat to feel connected.”

For O’Connell, one of the greatest challenges faced over the past year was the increase in parcels. “We had to call for extra parcel pick-ups because we did not have the floor space to store them all – it was crazy!” she says. “Our busiest time was the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, by which point we had almost got into a rhythm with it all and felt we knew how to manage it better.”

Reflecting on the past year O’Connell concludes, “The pandemic has given us an opportunity to fine tune our skills and better understand how technology can be used to help improve the way we work.”

Abdulaziz Rashed Kanfash, customer happiness employee, Al-Nakheel Customer Happiness Centre, Emirates Post

Abdulaziz Rashed Kanfash’s role at Emirates Post is to provide customer support at the Customer Happiness Centre. “This includes providing them with assistance when sending shipments,” he notes. 

The centre remained operational throughout the lockdowns. According to Kanfash, the post ensured that all measures were in place to keep both staff and customers safe, including daily temperature screenings for staff, social distancing and contactless transactions and deliveries. 

Kanfash notes that coping with the ongoing changes brought on by the pandemic was a challenge, but it was important to engage positively with the situation. “Working together toward common goals has never seemed so important,” he says. “I am proud to be someone working on the frontline to support the business and the community.”

Emirates Post supported the local community in a number of ways: “The post arranged home courier delivery of mail for senior citizens and people with PO Boxes during the lockdowns,” he says. “Emirates Post also issued a commemorative stamp as a tribute to front-line employees as part of the country’s #ThankYouHeroes campaign. Part of the proceeds of the sale of these stamps will go to the Emirates Red Crescent for its Covid-19 relief efforts.”

Anthony Fockenoy, expert service postman, La Poste  

Customer engagement is very important in Anthony Fockenoy’s role as an expert service postman for La Poste in France. For this reason, social distancing has been a challenge. “My role involves delivering parcels, mail and medicine to customers, and I also help set-up touchscreen tablets for the elderly and visit people who are isolated from their family,” he explains.

“A lot of my customers are elderly and isolated and not being able to spend time with them, even for five minutes, has been difficult,” Fockenoy continues. “We found alternative ways to provide services. During the crisis, I visited care facilities for the elderly to help with the installation of Ardoiz tablets – our electronic tablets dedicated to senior citizens. We didn’t have contact with the elderly, but we trained the health care staff to use the tablets so they could teach them.”

Fockenoy believes that the way the public perceives the role of the postal worker has changed as a result of Covid-19. “Local communities have really shown their appreciation for us during the pandemic,” he adds. 

Jeppe Grøndahl, parcel distributor, PostNord

Jeppe Grøndahl has seen parcel volumes soar during the pandemic, which has resulted in longer working hours. “Working days of 9-10 hours is now not uncommon and we are also called in at the weekend,” he says. 

Despite the long hours, Grøndahl is committed to delivering during the pandemic and the key to success, he notes, is teamwork. “As a team we have become better at solving the tasks we face and making sure everyone gets back to the hub in good time,” he explains. 

“We have also helped companies that started online sales when the lockdown occurred deliver their goods on time. I feel like I have made people happy and perhaps even helped get some important products delivered on time by doing a few hours of overtime,” he adds. 

Most of Grøndahl’s parcel deliveries are now made to homes rather than stores, and contactless deliveries have been implemented. “I do miss delivering to the high street and the associated chatting with people in stores and on the streets. The city is empty at the moment, which is strange,” he concludes. 

Wilma van Wensveen, mail deliverer, PostNL

For Wilma van Wensveen the greatest challenge faced during the pandemic, has been adhering to physical distancing. “I miss the contact,” she says. “Particularly when I can’t put an arm around someone who’s feeling sad. But I understand the importance of social distancing.”

Within the depot, maintaining the required 1.5m distance from other employees is also challenging. “Everybody wants to get started, but the new rules allow only one person at a time in the facility. In the rush of the mornings sometimes people forget this rule,” she explains. “We often use jokes as a light-hearted way to remind each other to keep their distance.”  

Wensveen concludes, “Looking back over the past year, I have learnt to be tolerant, patient and careful as a result of the pandemic. Overall I am very proud and also very grateful to PostNL that I can continue to keep working safely during these times.” 

Nguyen Thi Chuyen, postal worker, Thuy An Cultural Commune Post Office, Vietnam Post

Creativity and flexibility have been essential during Covid-19, according to Nguyen Thi Chuyen. The post office Chuyen works at has kept these two things in mind while tackling the pandemic. “Recently we had an outbreak of Covid-19 in our village, and therefore since January 28 the town authority has blockaded the village to prevent the spread,” explains Chuyen. 

“Before the outbreak, customers came to our office to use services. However, I now have to go to customers’ houses to collect their postal items. All transactions with customers have turned into online or indirect communication. My working hours have also become more flexible, and I arrange with customers the best time to serve them. Currently, my customers are even better served than they were before the pandemic began!”

According to Chuyen, Vietnam Post has gone above and beyond to support its workforce during the pandemic. “The post has guaranteed our jobs during this challenging time, and also provided us with protective equipment and guidance to keep us safe,” she concludes. 

Mohammad Syahiran Zulhilmi, postman, Singapore Post

For SingPost’s Mohammad Syahiran Zulhilmi, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic forced him to make a difficult decision. “Border closures meant that those of us who hailed from neighbouring countries had to choose whether to remain in Singapore and not see our families, or return home not knowing when we would be able to return to work.”

Zulhilmi chose to remain in Singapore – a decision that was made easier thanks to the ongoing support of SingPost. “SingPost took great care of us by putting us up in hotels and providing meal allowances, for example,” he says. “Supervisors were also available 24/7 to provide support and encouragement.”

Looking back over the past year, Zulhilmi continues, “As a frontline worker, the sight of formerly bustling community areas suddenly devoid of people sent chills down my spine. However, what stuck in my mind was the camaraderie on display every day at our regional base. All of us knew the risks when we reported for work, but we were motivated by the fact that all of us were performing a vital duty.” 

Covid-19 also highlighted the need for contactless deliveries, especially for e-commerce packages. “In December 2020, SingPost launched a public trial for PostPal, the world’s first smart letterbox, in two blocks within my beat. I was therefore trained to use PostPal, and now deliver to the two kiosks every day,” Zulhilmi says. “PostPal is able to automatically sort letters and postal packages directly to households, which saves me a substantial amount of time while improving mail accuracy.”

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