Step 2. Take preventive action to minimize the chance of contraction and transmission of the virus.
Sending our office employees home to work remotely was an easy decision, thanks to cloud storage and video conferencing software. However, many needed support with setting up their home offices and getting connected. They were encouraged to create ergonomically sound work spaces at home and allowed to return to campus to obtain needed equipment, such as external monitors, office chairs and stand-up desks. Our IT Support Team did an amazing job of preparing everyone from a technical standpoint (read the story here). There was a software learning curve for some, and the way those folks stepped up was impressive. All are now well-versed and can conduct business from virtually anywhere. Dispelled is the myth that employees are less productive working from home.
For our lab and production employees, work must be completed on-site where the equipment is. This is where guidance from the CDC and WHO was critical, and where our lean training enabled us to problem-solve in a very mindful way for a focused implementation. Cross-functional teams that included individual team members, supervisors and executives were formed. Using all the tools in our lean toolbox, they enlisted the subject matter experts in each area to gain insight and included employees in trials of the processes they were developing around cleaning, physical distancing, and contact tracing. This is where we discovered the agility afforded by lean methodologies, enabling us to quickly pivot to address changing needs and concerns.
The teams started with the basics – daily temperature checks, mask wearing, frequent hand washing. Cleaning protocols were developed around regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces and cleaning of equipment between shifts. Inter-plant travel was limited, and travel to other FLEXcon sites was prohibited, as were visits from customers and vendors, excepting essential services. A process was established for returning to work after an absence to minimize the risk to fellow employees after travel outside the area. Emergency time off was established for those impacted by the virus and encourages employees to stay home even if they are unsure whether they have the virus. It also supports employees who must quarantine, have childcare issues due to COVID, or may need to care for a family member who is ill with the virus. This is a new mindset for production employees at FLEXcon. In a 24/7 operation, keeping machines running is critical to meeting demand, so taking time off with little notice had been rare. New processes are now in place that allow us to compensate better when an employee must miss work, and we see this new mindset continuing into the future, even after the threat of COVID-19 passes.
This was only the beginning. Individual employees were, and continue to be, empowered to take action on smaller but impactful items that are within their control - things as simple as propping internal doors open to eliminate touch points. Stocking of our vending machines was suspended to minimize non-employees coming on-site. Although some vendor service has since resumed, this meant making coffee by the pot, with multiple employees handling containers of sugar and creamer and touching stirrers. Someone had the idea to obtain individually wrapped packets that contain the sugar, cream and stirrer, just like in hotels. Similarly, eating utensils that were formerly stored in large open containers are now being purchased in packets that contain utensils, salt, pepper, and a napkin. Many more examples exist of FLEXcon employees coming up with creative ways to help keep each other safe.