What It Means To Be an “Essential Business”: When Ordinary Becomes Extra-Ordinary
In Illinois, we are in week 3 of the “shelter in place” mandate from Gov. Pritzker. What was initially going to be a 2-week event to “flatten the curve” has turned into a multi-month process to contain a virus that is a devious and fast-moving adversary.
Within 30 minutes of the Illinois “shelter-in-place” mandate, we start getting “Essential Business” notices. Our clients in the bio-tech and medical industries are requiring us to stay operational to meet the increased demands for equipment being used in the front line. In these moments, the custom metal and plastic components we make on our production floor – seemingly “ordinary little parts” – instantly become extra-ordinary. We are no longer just an ISO9001 machine shop. We have become an “Essential Business” – vital to the supply chain that is “providing critical diagnostics and treatment to patients” and “essential laboratory equipment being used to find a vaccine to prevent the virus”. Our team is no longer just an ordinary group of operators, engineers and support staff. We are now warriors in the battle to beat COVID-19.
A New Chapter
Truthfully, 4 weeks ago, our leadership team was planning a temporary shut down as we watched state governments start to mandate various types of stay-at-home and business closure measures. We outlined best-case and worst-case scenarios in our conference room. We actively talked to our team members about washing hands, staying home if they experience symptoms and worked with them on how to arrange daycare for their children. At that point, we naively felt this was a bit of an overreaction. Not that the virus wasn’t real, but at that point we couldn’t fathom how a “simple flu bug” could require such drastic measures. We certainly underestimated the sea change coming.
We have experienced some incredible changes in the past 2 weeks. Clients have moved up delivery dates for existing orders and placed additional ones that needed immediate fulfillment. The time frame for responding to these requirements has been unprecedented. Normal lead times of 3-5 weeks had to be tossed aside as we run orders run on multiple machines to meet ship dates of 1-2 weeks. Some of this has been made easier because we recently added 5 new machines to our plant floor so we were able to shift orders around to meet the increased demand. It has required us to think differently, operate differently and find new solutions daily.
We’re All in this Together
But we are also very aware of the stress that the crisis has put on our team members. We have made sure everyone has hand sanitizer, extra cleaning has been undertaken in our common areas and there are disinfecting solution bottles in all work areas. We have face masks and gloves for those that want them. There are counselors available to everyone so they can get emotional and spiritual support. Leadership has started bringing in lunch for everyone on Thursdays. All small things– but they are our ways of fortifying an army for a battle without a clear end date.
We have seen team members supporting each other with everything from toilet paper and medicines to an increased level of checking in on each other. These are all wonderful results of #BetterTogether. Also, it would be difficult to ignore the organizational benefits we are getting from this shared experience. The lessons we are learning are going to make us a better and stronger company once this crisis has passed and the economy works back toward a new normal.
This has been a gift to us during so much bad news – an opportunity to view our work as extra-ordinary and to know we are helping when the need is so great. Right now, the fight is real. We know there will be difficult days ahead for our team, many others around us, our country and the world. But we’re coming to work every day and giving 150% so that every request is met and requirement fulfilled so we can get to the other side of the curve as fast as possible.