Communication is key: Managing a workforce in a pandemic

7 October 2021

Manufacturing was one of many industries that saw the pandemic turn their operations upside down overnight. With a large volume of workers affected, borders closing and deliveries getting delayed, manufacturing companies had to think of new creative ways of running and turning around their businesses. The Link spoke to SCC patron Alfa Laval – a company that not only succeeded in managing its operations, but also in contributing to society’s fight against the virus.

“It was very encouraging that we could keep the business floating. We were very concerned about the future of Alfa Laval about a year and a half ago, if we would make it through or have to downsize, but we managed to keep the same volumes up for 2020 as we did in 2019,” says Mikael Hellborg, Managing Director at Alfa Laval UK & Ireland.

Managing a workforce in a pandemic
For Alfa Laval, a world leader within heat transfer, separation and fluid handling, the initial uncertainties the pandemic caused, gave the company many new challenges to face. Even though the pandemic showed limited effect on production, the workforce was a bit more tricky to manage.

“We had to map out our workers and locate what zones they lived in, if those zones were amber and red listed and what that meant for them. Then the next step was to find an efficient way of communicating that to our employees,” says Anna Gillard, Human Resources Business Partner at Alfa Laval UK & Ireland.

According to Anna, the company took great measures in ensuring that all employees were up to date with new restrictions. “One essential thing we did was to start an internal communication email with timely and regular updates on how we as a company would deal with new guidelines from the government. Now, in hindsight, we can see that communication was incredibly important and something we rightly prioritised,” she says and continues: “Whilst working remotely, we wanted employees to continue to feel engaged, so we also started sending out weekly employee surveys to everyone, to get an understanding of how our colleagues were feeling. This is something we have chosen to continue with as we return to the office because it has given us great insight and our managers are working closely with their teams on their results.”

Getting products to vaccine producers
When the question arose regarding key worker status, and whether sites could stay open, Alfa Laval took the decision to do so, as some of its customers operate within key sectors such as the food industry, wastewater, and – more important now than ever – vaccine production. “We are fortunate to have large sites, which allowed us to ensure social distancing for those workers who remained on-site. The most prominent change happened for our field service engineers, who were restricted by travel guidelines as well as hotels closing. However, we had to find new ways of managing our field service business, in order to make sure our customers producing vaccines got the service needed, which took some creativity at times,” says John Smith, Service Operations Divisional Manager at Alfa Laval UK & Ireland.

Learnings from the pandemic
When asked about the biggest learnings from this whole experience, Anna emphasises that communication is key. “As soon as it became apparent that this was going to become an issue, we set up our crisis management team. We had quite a comprehensive risk assessment in place and everything we decided was communicated to the whole company.” She believes one of the biggest learnings was to recognise that everyone reacts differently to different situations, and the value of listening to each team and thereafter reacting accordingly.

Mikael emphasises that although the rapid adoption to digital meetings has been a real life-saver during the pandemic, it is only one tool in the ‘new’ business arsenal. “A big learning from this experience is the value of in-person meetings. Without them, a huge bunch of the company culture and context disappears in the digital world.”

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