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March 16, 2020 | 4-minute read (722 words)
Wondering how a business can continue to achieve its goals despite the massive disruptions taking place due to coronavirus’ spread? Take a lesson from Laird Performance Materials, a firm with 3,400 staffers at its four Chinese plants.
The company managed to navigate the crisis and emerge with no diagnosed cases of the illness, thanks to a few quick strategies from a team led by Sheetoh Waichong, the firm’s vice president of Asia operations. Waichong headed the company’s COVID-19 task force, and later shared Laird’s successful coronavirus strategies with IndustryWeek. We’ve reviewed Waichong’s interview to share some of the key takeaways that could help other businesses continue to stay profitable during this period.
1. Coronavirus Task Force Took Action
Laird created a coronavirus task force in each of the firm’s factories, where they had daily discussions about cleaning and sterilization to transportation and workstation arrangements.
The company was closed for two weeks to celebrate Chinese New Year, and during that period, the plans were laid out in full. The company mailed masks to the homes of its employees and created a strategy to open its plants with 44 percent of its workforce back on February 4 and 98 percent in place by February 28.
Staff members who were returning from out of town were quarantined in the 500 hotel rooms that Laird rented. The firm paid their salaries during their quarantine period and paid the hotel fees as well.
Takeaway: The company’s quick action was part of the reason it was so successful. Ensuring that employees were safe and healthy became an immediate top priority, which paid off later.
2. Messaging Went out to Customers, Suppliers
Laird sent messages to its customers and suppliers before January ended, letting them know that plans were in place to keep operations moving. Not one of the firm’s China-based factories received any cancellations, and orders continued to pour in, thanks to the company’s swift response to the news of the virus.
Takeaway: It’s imperative to keep the lines of communication open between the company and its customers/suppliers. Honest messaging can do wonders for a relationship and forge trust for decades to come.
3. Start and Break Times Were Staggered
Instead of having all employees start at the same time of day, the company staggered start times. For instance, some came in at 8:00 a.m., while the next group came at 8:10 and another at 8:50 so a large group didn’t form at the firm’s entrance. The company did the same thing with lunch breaks.
Takeaway: Innovative ideas like staggered start and break times can be exactly what makes the difference between keeping employees separated and having them congregated together in large groups.
4. Workstations, Lunch Tables Spaced Apart
Laird moved lunch tables far apart from each other so employees weren’t crammed together, and put up partitions between employees in the plants so the workers could see the entire production line but weren’t too close to their colleagues. The partitions were initially made of cardboard but were later replaced with thin plastic.
Takeaway: Immediate measures to keep employees apart don’t have to mean wrapping them in hazmat suits. Laird’s simple strategy allowed everyone to keep working while ensuring they were separated.
5. Plants Sterilized and Temperatures Taken Twice Daily
Laird hired professionals to clean the office area, factory, canteen and toilets twice a day with sterilization chemicals. In addition, the company took employees’ temperatures twice daily. Anyone with a high temperature was immediately sent to a healthcare facility for further evaluation.
Takeaway: Employee safety was placed front and center, with sanitation strategies and staff health taking center stage. This sent a message to the staff that they were valued, while also keeping production flowing.
6. Employees Were Paid No Matter What
Staff members who were unable to work due to illness or caring for families were paid by the company. Messaging was crafted by a psychologist to ensure that team members did not feel anxious over the news.
Takeaway: Sick employees aren’t as likely to come into work if they don’t have to worry about missing a paycheck. This policy may have cost more in the short run, but certainly paid off over time.