Virtual Studios Part III – the Manufacturers’ Edition

The A+D industry as a whole seems to have adapted sufficiently to the change in working style, and is coping (and excelling) in their own unique way. Following on from our previous feature on Virtual Studios, we thought to follow up with our brand partners too, to look into ways in which manufacturers are conducting business in the time of #Covid.

virtual studios - Johan Berhin

Johan Berhin
Designer/Founder of Green Furniture Concept

We stuck to our plans of launching the new placemaking beam seating series, ‘Ascent’, but did it as a live event broadcasted from our office in Sweden. (In regards to the employees) we all meet over Google Hangouts everyday at lunchtime to share news and to chat. It is important to stay tightly connected and to keep talking, to pick up the phone every time you would have walked over to ask a colleague. In Sweden (possibly one of the least affected and still most open countries), where our head office is, we keep our risk groups isolated and people that can work from home do so, but society is still open. So our production is unaffected and we continue to have a smooth supply chain, even though it has slowed down and we adhere to personal distance.
virtual studios - Anne Barron

Anne Barron
Regional Manager at Orangebox

As soon as we made the internal decision to work remotely, we were very proactive in setting a routine for our colleagues. We have a video conference to talk business and strategy twice per week, and every Sunday morning we catch up for virtual coffee and breakfast, and try to chat about ordinary things! This is usually where we will share tips on what’s working for us at home (and what isn’t!). We try to keep our video calls as lighthearted as possible. We want the communication to feel as natural as it would when we’re in the office together. We’re also finding that video calls are the most motivating during this time of isolation as it mimics the most natural form of communication.

virtual studios - Nicola Sacilotto

Nicola Sacilotto
Regional Director at Frezza

Frezza has been on the digital communication path for some time now, as we have to communicate in seven different continents with different time zones. During this time, the company has equipped most of its employees with all the systems to work from home as well as video conferencing systems for teamwork. To keep us agile and in shape, every evening for one hour, a trainer organises physical activities on chat. Meanwhile, headquarters has increased the stocks of products available, for us to be ready as soon as the markets pick up again. The medicine that distinguishes us is our usual positivity. We are constantly in contact with all our partners with a common voice, that together we will get out of it and we will be stronger than before.

virtual studios -Emilia Bielemuk

Emilia Bielemuk
Marketing Manager at Nowy Styl

We are sharing all the crucial information with our employees, and assuring them that despite the global situation, we are doing everything to minimize the impact on our business. It is very important that they feel secure, safe and motivated at the same time. Much like other companies, we are using technology to keep up the flow of information and interaction with our colleagues. At the same time, we are also having fun as if we were in the office. We also introduced a series titled #MakeYourSpaceAtHome, where we are sharing inspiration and advice on how to take care of yourself at home. Our headquarters is in Poland, therefore we are very concerned about the situation there. Fortunately our factories are still running and we are able to deliver our products to our clients. But since the furniture is coming from Europe, we might face delays in its arrival to the UAE.

virtual studios - Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly
Managing Director at Haworth

As a global organisation, Haworth has already embraced virtual platforms for internal and external communication. Many of the projects we execute in this region have key decision makers located across the globe, so we’re very experienced in managing online client meetings. At present, our online engagements have certainly increased but also become more structured and planned. We’ve encouraged social interaction online, as it’s important to not underestimate the social component of virtual work. We’ve organised fun online events and realised that, especially now, we need to engage with members and clients on a personal level, and not just a professional one. We’re using Microsoft Teams as our internal communication tool, and Bluescape for online customer engagements. In the Middle East and Africa, we source products from our US, EU and AP production facilities, which gives us the flexibility to select from our global portfolio, and in this case, select products that are not impacted by temporary factory closures.

virtual studios - Eddy Abou Khalil

Eddy Abou Khalil
Regional Director, Middle East at Cosentino

We are a close-knit team of nine, so it is easy to stay connected. We have increased the number of team meetings from one to three a week, just to keep up morale and make sure that everyone is doing ok, not only at their tasks but also emotionally. Microsoft Teams is the platform we use across Cosentino globally. Everything from team meetings to interactions with our clients, partners and suppliers is hosted here. This lockdown is a good time to work on having a proper work-life balance. Spend quality time with family, pick up a hobby, learn a new skill, and devote time to personal projects that were long kept on the backburner. As a team leader, I really encourage this. We also think that it is equally important to keep in touch with the A+D industry and keep them motivated too, so we have launched our weekly Cosentino e-Events and e-Lunch ‘n Learns for the UAE market, as well as knowledge exchange sessions for KSA, Bahrain and Kuwait. Despite the lockdown in Spain, our Cosentino factory is still running and we are committed to delivering to all our contracts. Here in Dubai, we are abiding by the laws of the municipality and DHA, and managing our projects without any hold ups so far. We are having real and virtual meetings with customers and suppliers, delivering samples via courier, and managing the fit-outs reasonably well.

virtual studios - Justine Welch

Justine Welch
Sales Director at No Grey Area

We find that it’s the small things that make a difference, as we have always been a close knit team, and we see ourselves more as a family than colleagues. We keep our typical NGA humour alive, and continue to send GIFs, memes or videos to each other as a reminder that during the darkest of times, we have to remain upbeat and that we are here for each other. We have a very good server system, and the IT team has set up a VPN to allow us full remote access, so we haven’t felt any slow down in our normal information sharing speeds. Our supply chains have been relatively unaffected to date, and have actually been able to produce our products more quickly, on account of the slow down in European demand. In the UAE, we are fortunate to hold a large stock locally, so we have also not had to worry about the impact on lead times when it comes to our LED projects. With much of our production being done in both our UK and UAE based facilities, having access to the raw materials required means at this time we are still able to deliver to our clients far quicker than most. With information changing on a daily basis, we have to keep on top of the government’s directives, which can prove challenging at times. However, we are part of the few exemptions that are allowed to continue to work. But in the interests of health and safety for our team, anyone that is able to work from home has been told to do so.

virtual studios - Zubair Ahmad

Zubair Ahmad
Regional Director, Middle East at Interface

We have introduced a daily kick off virtual call first thing in the morning to start the day. We find it great to share news of the last 24 hours, highlight any success stories, update the team on news from the rest of our business, and also to air any issues or concerns. We’ve also started to introduce weekly training modules to help our teams learn more about our products and services, and are looking to roll this out to architects and designers in the near future. Working from home and trying to engage with customers in a different way was not easy to begin with. However, we found a new rhythm which is working for us. For digital tools, we have been using a combination of Skype, Salesforce and Microsoft teams. This is a great time to maximise on learning new systems and trying to adapt to the changing environment. Presently the entire GCC is affected, but it varies country by country. I would summarise the situation as difficult in all markets, but more so in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where we saw a stricter stance taken by the local governments to contain the spread. Interface is currently operating fully. Our distributed global manufacturing allows us to fulfil carpet tile orders across multiple sites, and adapt production as the situation evolves. Manufacturing of our rubber products continues in Germany, as well. We always have large amounts of inventory and at the start of the pandemic, we increased our inventory of our most popular products, so we are fully equipped to continue to deliver to our customers.

virtual studios - Louisa Eyles

Louisa Eyles
Commercial Marketing Manager at Amtico

We’re all in touch regularly on projects, but we’ve encouraged people to use video chat where possible – while it’s not the same as being in the office, it does make a difference. Plus every so often, you get an impromptu appearance from people’s partners and children! We have also started a weekly team get together where there’s only one rule – no work chat! We’re using a mixture of Teams and Zoom, which seems to be working well so far – smaller, shorter meetings are definitely easier to manage and keep people on track. It’s hard to make a call on it geographically, different regions and businesses are all affected to varying extents. However, the teams we’re working with all have one thing in common – they are finding ways to work around new challenges, and doing it with a positive and pragmatic attitude. As a British manufacturer, we are keeping a close eye on customer demand and working with clients to meet their requirements as best we can. It has necessitated changes to working practices, and we are following UK Government advice closely – the health, safety and wellbeing of our people and our customers is paramount.

virtual studios - Hisham Khairalla

Hisham Khairalla
Export Sales Manager at modulyss

Last week, after working hours, my team and I did a ‘apréro quarantaine’ via Microsoft Teams to chat about personal things, to laugh and relax a bit. It keeps the team spirit up in these difficult times, which is very important. We have a fantastic global working system, and we are all dependent on each other, especially when it comes to delivery chains. At the moment I think that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is least affected in the ME Region. Business seems to go on, with many interesting projects for modulyss. Also Germany is still quite active, with the exception of the south. Our factory is still operating within governmental restrictions. However, we also carry big volumes of stocks in other regions around the globe, including Middle East and Africa of course. This allows modulyss to serve and support our partners and fit out contractors, with local stocks delivered to site within less than 48 hours. We’re constantly monitoring the stock levels and all client demands closely, so that we can move swiftly when needed.

Marie Eklund

We have a joint coffee break on Microsoft Teams every day – it creates a team spirit, which we think is important when working remotely. With the current situation, I think all countries are affected, but every government is handling it differently. In Sweden, we have more freedom than others, even though we keep distance and work from home mostly. France, Italy and Spain have it worse, as they have a complete lockdown of the country. Our production is running as normal, as it’s an advantage that we have our production in-house and with suppliers near our area. Deliveries take longer than normal though, but we are getting our products out to our customers as long as the country is open for handling goods.

virtual studios - Monica Pedrali

Monica Pedrali 

CEO of Pedrali Spa

In this difficult period it’s important to keep our team motivated and involved, and so we are investing in educational activities. In the last few weeks, we have also started an activity called “Design Pills” where twice a week, we send to our collaborators a special selection of articles, movies, immersive visits related to architecture, design and art, which can be safely experienced from home. These activities represent an additional stimulus, an educational activity, but also a way to feel part of a group of people that are living the same situation. Since we manage all of our activities internally, from design, graphics to IT, we are prepared to work remotely, and the technologies we have at our disposal allow us to contact customers, suppliers and journalists on a daily basis via Microsoft Teams and Skype. We have an APP for all our sellers, which is a very useful tool because it allows us to upload updated materials daily.

The restrictions in Italy affect us due to the closure of the stores. As far as foreign countries are concerned, the restrictions are on departures, both by sea and by land. However, thanks to Pedrali’s large stockpiles and our fully automated warehouse, as soon as transport channels open, Pedrali can start the shipment of the goods remotely.

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