Before the Delta Variant Took Hold, Companies Said They Were Nearing a Return to Normal

By Drew Vass

As daily cases neared their lowest mark ahead of the Delta variant and COVID-19 was headed for a controlled remission, door and window companies said they were finally nearing normal operations.

“I would say that we are 75% of the way going back to pre-pandemic procedures,” Jay Andreas, CEO of ASI Construction in Burr Ridge, Ill., told [DWM].

As for the remaining changes, some companies said they’ll never go back on all of them—with or without a pandemic.

Mike Troutman, vice president of EHS Excellence at MI Windows and Doors said the pandemic forced his company to become more “agile and adaptable.”

Jon Hill of Keystone Certifi cations Inc., said, “We plan to work from home much more than [we] previously [did] because employees value it and have demonstrated they can deliver.”

Jeff Weaver, president of Clarkston Window and Door in Pontiac, Mich., said, “We significantly improved our inventory control and work-from-home capabilities. Now, all of our staff can see the status of all items on every order from any mobile device.”

More than half of the door and window companies surveyed by [DWM] said the pandemic altered how they operate, helping to define the industry’s “new normal.”

On May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that fully vaccinated individuals no longer had to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors and out—eventually making a U-turn on that advice. So far as how long the dilemma for tracking and enforcing those measures will last, most companies said they’re unsure of what to expect. Even after Delta runs its course, however, it will be entirely up to each when and how to lift requirements in the workplace.

When it comes to additional cleaning and sanitization—even ahead of the Delta variant—the vast majority of companies (85%) said they continued to go above and beyond with those measures, many of which said they’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future. With the impacts that those measures have had on the spread of other illnesses (beyond COVID-19), some expect to keep them in place. Robert Mitvalsky, owner and CEO of Builders Automation Machinery, said his company will continue through the duration of flu season at least.

Feeling Things Out

But there are good reasons to consider permanent changes. Early in the pandemic, executives of door and window companies told [DWM] that just as important as stopping the spread of COVID-19 and keeping it out of the workplace were how employees perceive their personal safety. Research also indicates that those perceptions are critical to bringing employees back to offices from remote settings. A global survey conducted by Wakefield Research showed that among 2,500 people who typically work in settings of 500 or more employees, 24% of those working remotely said they would look for a new job before they would return to an employer that fails to implement necessary safety measures. Even when the pandemic subsides, some experts say it could be a while before some workers feel perfectly at ease about returning.

An array of technologies has emerged making it easier to track hygiene and social distancing, and to identify sick employees, including such things as robots that emit ultraviolet light to kill germs and smartphone apps that track and enforce social distancing. The movement for tracking and preventing spread has also inspired the use of new wearable technologies. For instance, the Oura smart ring, a device that can measure skin temperature and heart rate, helps to predict the onset of illness, and devices such as the Kinexon SafeZone sensor monitor contact tracing. Another device, IK Multimedia’s Safe Spacer, includes distance-monitoring technology on a wristband, lanyard or keychain, which alerts workers when they get within six feet of one another. But according to door and window companies, those technologies never made their way into the industry en masse. Instead, according to [DWM]’s findings, the industry stuck to more basic measures, such as hands-free and automatic door openers, hands-free operation for plumbing fixtures and, in some cases, devices that perform automatic temperature screenings. Only one of the companies said it made upgrades to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in order to provide better filtration.

Creating a New Mindset

In lieu of technologies, door and window companies report they plan to be more diligent about making cultural shifts, even after the latest variants, encouraging employees to self-monitor and keep illnesses in general out of the workplace. As a result of the pandemic, there’s been a shift in employee mindset about such things as personal space, hygiene and how disease spreads. For this reason, even ahead of Delta, “We continue to conduct pre-shift temperature screenings and other preventative measures within our facilities to stress the importance of self-health awareness among our team,” Troutman told [DWM]. Andreas said his company will also keep temperature checks in place, along with hand sanitizer stations.

It’s those cultural shifts that some employers hope will signal to employees that it’s safe to return to business as usual when COVID-19 subsides, or at least reaches a trickle. Ahead of the Delta variant, however, there were indications that hiring “has become a real problem,” said [DWM] columnist and owner of Windowtech Sales, Jim Plavecsky, “and one that I hear about on a weekly basis from nearly all of my window and door customers,” he added. “I can’t tell you how many times I hear this single phrase, ‘No one wants to work these days.’” There are plenty of jobs out there, Plavecsky said. “In fact, there are many businesses suffering due to lack of employees, and many employers attribute this to the fact that potential employees have less incentive to work,” he added—proving that even after the pandemic is gone, or at least controlled, there may still be side effects in need of healing.

Drew Vass is the editor of [DWM] magazine.

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