Working at Boskalis means frequent travel for many colleagues. Whether the job is in a neighboring country or in a remote location: it used to be quite easy to reach most places fairly quickly. But in the past 18 months the COVID-19 pandemic has put a stop to many travel programs and colleagues sometimes have to spend weeks in quarantine. Manager Crew and Compliance Edgar van Oers and Coordinator travel management Arina Neeleman, both members of the Travel Emergency Team explain how Boskalis tackles the problem.

“After the outbreak of the pandemic, we had no idea what the consequences would be,” says Van Oers. “One of the immediate challenges was to get our people to and from their work for which we set up the Travel Emergency Team. That was followed by many other initiatives to support our colleagues in their daily lives. Looking back on the past year and a half, I’ve experienced that everyone at Boskalis went the extra mile and even a few more to keep our projects and vessels operational and to support each other in the best way possible.”

Emergency Response Team from day one

“Early March 2020 when the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent in Europe, we mobilized the Emergency Response Team (ERT) and together with the Boskalis Board of Management convened on a daily basis,” says Van Oers. “The ERT and Board followed the developments on the projects and our vessels closely and set priorities to safeguard the safety of our employees, focused on the continuity of the business, and took measures to preserve the financial position of the Group. As time progressed, many of the COVID-19-related ERT/Board actions were delegated to the Travel Emergency Team and other operational departments.”

Early testing and private charters

“In the initial period, the challenge to relieve and rotate colleagues on the vessels and projects was massive,” says Neeleman. “Despite legal measures in certain countries restricting travel, the impact of the pandemic on the aviation industry, which came to a grinding halt, still had a crippling effect. By early-April, we had established our own PCR testing procedure in collaboration with the Corporate Travel Clinic in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Through this procedure, we tested colleagues in the Port of Rotterdam using the facilities on board our vessels Ndeavor, BOKA Da Vinci and Ndurance; this meant we could establish if a relief crew was healthy and free of COVID-19, and we could provide relief for projects and vessels in Europe.”

For projects outside of Europe, the testing facility was expanded to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and, in the absence of scheduled flights, Boskalis organized numerous private charter flights to keep the projects moving.

Travel Emergency Team

With a core team in the Netherlands and support colleagues in locations around the world, the Travel Emergency Team (TET) was set up in March 2020, when travel restrictions were introduced in numerous countries, to assure safe traveling between vessels and projects. The focus was on optimizing travelers’ wellbeing as well as the continuity of their travel arrangements. TET’s activities included arranging tailor-made travel options for individuals and groups, which occasionally involved contact with the Dutch embassy of a particular country. “The team worked day and night, ensuring colleagues who needed to travel had the right documentation, and dealing with the unpredictable logistics of quarantine,” says Van Oers.

The TET was in regular contact with the projects to discuss the support needed and maintained close contact with traveling colleagues during their journeys.

COVID-19 test facility

As a service to employees and to circumvent the long waiting times at regular COVID-19 test facilities, Boskalis set up a test facility on the Papendrecht campus in the Netherlands. The Corporate Travel Clinic implemented similar facilities for crews before they boarded vessels, and for employees working on projects.

Quarantine support

“Due to the pandemic, colleagues sometimes had to spend weeks in quarantine, with the potential to majorly impact on personal wellbeing,” says Neeleman. “Our Quarantine Support Team was set up to provide the best possible support for colleagues all around the world, looking after their mental as well as physical wellbeing. We adapted this support to suit local circumstances; some colleagues were in isolation on vessels while others had to spend their quarantine in hotels.” Van Oers adds: “In some instances we hired extra staff from outside the organization, including psychologists. We also set up a Quarantine Support portal with tips about how to use the time in isolation for self-development, by following training courses for example via the Boskalis online academy. We introduced a Quarantine Guidelines toolbox to give practical advice and tips as well as a toolbox with provisions for the quarantine period. All-in all, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve managed to develop a modus operandi together. The figures show that this approach has been effective, but we all have the same feeling: everyone is waiting for these difficult times to end.”