For many of our members, working from home is a relatively new concept. After all, managing and distributing chemical products in a timely, effective and safe manner means that facilities can never fully close. Unfortunately, the current COVID crisis means the entire industry is having to get used to the idea.
Office staff and anyone not directly involved with the physical handling of product have most likely found themselves separated from colleagues and friends, and been getting used to an entirely new way of working.
For managers and owners, that has posed a fair few challenges too. Remote working is far more than simply worrying about having the right laptop or software, but ensuring teams remain motivated and productive, while still staying safe.
Steve Halpin, president at Norman, Fox & Co., says California was one of the first places to go into lockdown and introduce home working. He says most of his employees have since stayed out of the office with only a skeleton crew still at the facilities.
Every role in the business has been affected – from marketing and purchasing, to customer service and the import managers. The business had to quickly introduce a number of measures to both keep staff safe and help them carry out their responsibilities. Fortunately, he says, everyone has found the transition fairly seamless.
“We’ve always been used to working just a few feet from each other but now it’s a different world,” says Halpin. “The great thing about our company, even before all this, is that there’s a huge trust factor. I haven’t had any issues with people showing up, or with them making the phone calls and doing their work.”
“I’ve found the challenges have really depended on the individual. Some could have come into the office but because their spouse was working, or they had children, we had to make other arrangements so they could work from home. Others had a significant other that had a pre-existing medical condition, so they couldn’t come in either. We need to protect our people so we’ve tried to be as accommodating as possible and yet still run the business.”
“We made sure everyone had internet access and laptops so they could use our VPN (virtual private network) and remotely access our systems. That wasn’t a problem at all; it’s really just about adjusting to not being able to get physical files and documents.”
“It’s all been working very well,” he adds. “Now we’ve been forced to embrace this model, it gives us a little more flexibility and I would be very open to still doing this in the future when all this is over.”
Soon after news of the virus hit the headlines, Independent Chemical Corporation was also quick to react.
“We couldn’t risk our people getting sick,” says Jonathan Spielman, president. “Right now, 75 percent are at home, the rest are in the office,” he says. “Every day is a different challenge but I’m really proud of my team.”
Within just three days, all employees had been surveyed to determine their individual needs and to ensure they had adequate support for remote working. This meant checking everyone had internet access at home, could use the company’s remote desktop programs and its VPN, and had cell phones compatible with its VoIP online calls app.
For Spielman, it’s not been too big a leap or learning curve but it’s actually helped improve workflow.
“We’ve reduced the amount of paper we use, for example, and are using DocuSign programs and sharing everything electronically. Most of our transactions are now electronic too and we’re not using as many paper checks that require a signature. We’ve really improved some of our office operations. We’ve learned a lot from this,” he says.
These are just a few of the many stories we’ve heard recently that prove the resilience and agility of our membership. While the current situation calls for teams to be split, they are far from divided.
To access NACD’s resources and insight about COVID-19, visit https://www.nacd.com/media-center/coronavirus-resource-center/