Doubling Down: With Lasting Impacts at Hand, It’s Time for Sharpening Culture and Labor

By Joe Erb

You may have noticed that the busy season looks a little bit different this year. The way we get our products into the hands of customers who rely on them has changed dramatically—and, perhaps, permanently.

Safety should always be our number one priority on any manufacturing plant floor, but the COVID-19 pandemic has reframed the way manufacturers must go about providing a safe work environment. All of this is necessary to comply with state and local mandates, of course, but it’s also a unique confluence of challenges that most of us have never had to contend with. As we approach the fall, with the immediate economic impact of the virus behind us and orders ramping back up to more traditional levels, manufacturers might fi nd themselves crunched. But success under these new circumstances is possible.

Alleviate Sharpened Labor Issues

Consider: A lead working on a window or insulating glass (IG) line has come down with symptoms. Lacking an immediate diagnosis, a responsible manufacturer will send him or her home immediately and wait to hear more information. If, in a worst-case scenario, that person tests positive for COVID-19, any other workers who interacted with him or her would likely need to quarantine themselves for the appropriate time period.

These are the stakes of protecting the lifeblood of your business under today’s circumstances. But in this instance, certain elements of your manufacturing operations can grind to a halt quickly. By the time you’ve been able to gear up and train a new team to replace that labor, you might be significantly behind.

An automated IG line can eliminate certain touchpoints required to create a completed unit and space out workers so they aren’t coming into close contact with each other. It can also be highly effective at hitting production goals while keeping workers safe.

Of course, it’s natural to be conservative when it comes to capital expenditures right now, but it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll revert to the ways we used to operate plant floors anytime soon, so it’s worth taking a hard look at these kinds of investments.

The situation we currently find ourselves in is a great test of our resilience and cultural makeup, and I think it’s important not to lose sight of this challenge. We need to be doing whatever is in our power to maintain employee morale, even if that’s no easy task. Everyone in your organization is going through something right now, whether it’s emotional or economical. Yes, orders are picking up, and maybe we’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but workplaces that have fundamentally changed for the foreseeable future will require empathy, compassion and adaptability from organizational leadership.

Any leader will have their own strategies on how to move forward—safely—and with a strong organizational culture intact. For those reasons, I think there’s a ripe opportunity here for intra-industry collaboration. Talk to each other—to your colleagues, your vendors and even those in adjacent industries. Ask one another: What’s working on your plant floor? What isn’t? And why?

We can all stand to learn something by hearing each other’s answers to these questions. I think we have the opportunity to come out of this collective challenge as a stronger industry than ever before.

Joe Erb is commercial sales specialist for Quanex Building Products.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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