Virtual Studios Part IV – The Manufacturers’ Edition

Following on from our previous feature on how our manufacturing brand partners are conducting business in the time of #COVID19, here is the second set of leaders giving us some insight on how they successfully keep the ball rolling, and the measures that they have taken to ensure a somewhat smooth transition into distance working.

Patrick Taylor
Regional Vice President South Asia, MEA of Teknion

Some of our teams thrive being at home where others find it a real struggle. To keep the team connected we implemented ‘Thirsty Thursdays’ as an excuse to raise a glass and remember that we are all in this together. Circumstances impacting our operations continue to change rapidly, as we all navigate the uncertainty and the global impact of COVID-19. Teknion is supporting the government’s efforts by temporarily suspending manufacturing operations in most facilities around the world. We are committed to protecting the health, safety and well-being of our employees, and looking into ways to potentially start production without compromising this in the coming month. As the pandemic is not isolated to any one country, our clients are understanding that there may be some delays. We are doing all we can to fight this and get back to normal as soon as possible.

Peter Kay
General Manager at Bisley

At the beginning of the lockdown when we started working from home, I encouraged our team to open up and tell me what they found most difficult about this scenario, so we could address these issues head on. We currently use Zoom and MS Teams as many of our dealers use the same software. And from the countries that we service, Kuwait is the most affected by the restrictions as they went into lockdown since March the 13. The least affected seems to be both, UAE and Qatar, as we are still receiving new enquiries and orders, and life seems to be continuing relatively normally. We are updating our dealers as often as we can on any news from the factory in terms of amended lead times, so that main contractors and end users can, in turn, also be notified. Those companies who keep their client base informed at all times will be defined for their openness and honesty when this is over.

Paul Zuidema
Managing Director, EMEA at Ergotron

If I was to describe Ergotron’s mission in a few words, it would be “to support people’s health and productivity while working within any environment or industry”. Ergotron employees by default are using the company’s ergonomic solutions at home as well. The products range from monitor arms or stands that help them keep a healthy posture, to a sit-stand desk converter for their well-being, and to foster creativity. Although working without the face to face interaction can be challenging, having regular video calls with the whole EMEA team keeps us connected, and gives us the spirit to move forward.

Salim Khoury
Regional Sales Manager, ME at Vitra

This current situation has brought our teams closer together in that we listen and understand each other’s personal challenges, as well have ongoing project discussions over Skype. This has generated a sense of motivation and increased virtual proximity throughout the entire company. You have high ranking executives asking about junior staff’s challenges, and offering professional advice in certain tasks. We are living in a day and age where no country is an island unto itself, and therefore even if one market is operating, it somehow is dependent on other markets to complete a project. Vitra production is responding to all orders and execution, and is still in almost full capacity. I am proud of this internal provision that kept the fortress strong in adverse times like these. This puts our partners and clients in a somewhat comfortable situation amidst the crisis. Personally, I am enjoying playing my guitar before or after meetings!

Victor Ramos
Managing Director at Wilkhahn ME

Wilkhahn’s team has developed a continuity plan while simultaneously safeguarding the health of employees and not minimising the impact on delivery of services to our client. We still have plenty to do, thanks to full order books, stable supply chains, and the loyalty of long-standing customers. And we’ve taken several steps to ensure that this remains so for as long as possible. The production department is operating staggered shifts and taking breaks at different times in order to avoid too much contact. The brand has also helped its workforce and local organisations by sewing its own face masks. The current situation has allowed us to show our clients that we are a service-oriented company, and that we can handle any situation.

Kharis Atkins
Founder of Kaprel Partitions

We encourage our colleagues to regularly video chat amongst each other using Zoom, to ensure that they are not left alone, and also to break up their work day, even if it’s to discuss something non work related. The current situation can be challenging, especially for those living on their own or with families living abroad. We have remote server access so staff can access any documents required to perform their task. Currently we are working in Oman, Bahrain and UAE, but I think all of these countries are equally impacted at the moment. We manufacture 95 percent of our materials in the UAE, so the impact from a manufacturing perspective is not major. And since we fall under the vital construction sector, we have to keep our factory running, and the projects we are delivering continue to push forward. We have adopted the required social distancing requirements and all the UAE regulatory standards to enable us to continue serving our client base. For our factory we have separated our assembly teams into two separate locations to provide adequate space as per the guidelines.

Samu Hällfors
CEO of Framery

Even if our teams are working remotely and don’t have physical access to their colleagues through conference rooms or ‘watercooler’ conversations, we are still connected virtually.
We really believe in the power of breaktime and that balance is one condition for happiness. We even have company wide virtual yoga classes or mobility breaks every week. The situation is changing on a weekly basis and so each week, we monitor and analyse risks throughout our supply chain, and prepare for different scenarios. With dual-sourcing, we can mitigate risks of shortage in our critical components. We have also extra focus on our logistic routes with our carrier partners. Close internal and external cooperation is maintained by online meetings, as travelling and visits to the factory are not allowed until the pandemic situation is in control.

Nico Mehlkop
Business Development Manager, Asia and Middle East at Mosa

The best way to keep colleagues motivated is to keep them updated. We therefore launched the ‘Mosa Newsflash’, in which we tune in to the latest developments, share success stories, and update each other on how things are going at Mosa. We are continuing to be ‘One Mosa by taking turns sharing a webcast from a random colleague talking about his or her experiences of working from home. At this moment, I think every country on the globe is affected by this crisis. For us, as a supplier of porcelain and ceramic tiles, France and the UK are most affected as all the building sites are closed because of the restrictions. The Middle East is going quite well for us as we’re currently working on some landmark projects in the region, which are not affected so far. Because of a shortage of sea containers worldwide, there are challenges regarding deliveries by sea freight, but by staying in close contact with our clients and third parties, such as logistics companies, we have managed to keep shipments on schedule with minimum impact on our deliveries worldwide.

David Booth
General Manager, Operations and Technical at SAS International

We always try to keep the team motivated by maintaining an upbeat atmosphere and showing a genuine concern for each individual. Our daily video calls are a great opportunity to practice this, as we always start and end the meeting with a laugh and a positive message. Collections from our Dubai warehousing facility have been extremely busy this last month and thanks to the use of video conferencing, consultants and architects continue to specify SAS on future projects. The SAS Factories are all operational, although we have introduced strict ‘social distancing’ regimes to ensure that people do not have to work within two metres of each other. We have also introduced procedures, such as staggered shifts, staggered breaks, distancing in eating areas, controlled queues for clock in and out, etc. As always we are prioritising safety, which makes some processes slower and less efficient, but we understand the importance of looking after our customers by supplying their material in a timely manner. Some projects in the UK have gone on hold, but we have maintained and improved lead times on projects in the GCC.

Alison Kitchingman
Director of Marketing and Design at Milliken

At Milliken, we’ve put in place a number of support systems to help our associates stay well and positive while working from home. We’ve provided training, as we appreciate how frustrating it can be to get to grips with new technology. We have also made sure that the staff have ergonomic office equipment (such as office chairs) to take care of everyone’s physical well-being. Furthermore, we are taking lots of steps to check in and support the mental well-being of all our associates, such as encouraging communication as much as possible, and putting systems in place to facilitate this, such as periodic, virtual ‘town-hall’ communication sessions with senior management. We’re also encouraging more informal chat and exchanges using WhatsApp. At Milliken we have a number of trained mental health first aiders amongst our staff who are offering support and checking in on all those working from home.

Stacy Stewart
Regional Director, Middle East and Africa at Herman Miller

We also get the team together during the week just to socialise on virtual coffee breaks. Being a relatively big team, this can at times be a challenge, but it’s important to keep our ‘virtual catch ups’ fun and informal. We’ve switched our in-person training and research seminars to virtual ones using WebEx, which has been really well received. We have also had to be vigilant in not flooding our diaries with conference calls, as we all still need those solitary creative moments and time to contemplate. Projects remain active, mostly with adjusted expectations and a reassuring sentiment of collaboration and empathy between all parties. A number of our markets in Africa have taken further measures to cease construction sites to protect vulnerable communities. As a human-centric organisation, we took the call to keep our people safe by temporarily closing a number of our factories. We have since started to undertake manufacturing to support healthcare projects, and produce items such as face masks, while ensuring that we can maintain sufficient social distancing to minimise the risk to our staff. A number of our factories are now back online, supporting the MEA region to continue delivering projects.

Brian Dowling
Director GCC at Interstuhl

We joke with one another, and send our teammates online articles and videos to promote laughter and positivity. Positivity is key and I promote the same within my colleagues. I am constantly in touch with our teams across the GCC countries and contact our partners on a regular basis. Qatar has proven to be busy, along with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Kuwait has been a little quieter as there is much to come later in the year. Locally, we have four lines of chairs in stock in the UAE, and available for order and delivery at any time. Most local partners also have a stock program as well. The factory has taken all the necessary precautions, they are following all the local and federal laws within Germany. Most of the staff work from home.

Robert Mustoe
Managing Director at The Senator Group

We are lucky enough to have a team of dedicated and motivated staff, so working to motivate them additionally isn’t really needed. However, reminding them of the vital work we’re doing in supporting the UK’S NHS service is adding that little extra to ‘get up and go’. Microsoft teams, coupled with Sharepoint and 365, makes chatting online and sharing vital resources incredibly easy. We believe all countries are equally affected, due to precautions they’re all taking to ensure they slow the spread of COVID-19, but there are certain countries under lockdown that are having a direct impact on the group’s supply chain. We’re finding enterprising ways to work around all situations we’re faced with as this pandemic unfolds. It’s about being agile, and solving problems as and when they arise.

Stuart Cross
EMEA Sales Manager at Colebrook Bosson Saunders (CBS)

Working remotely need not mean working in isolation. With Skype, Windows Teams and many other social media platforms, we can stay connected. All that has changed is the distance we’re working from one another. While we all face many challenges across supply-chain channels, with different countries issuing guidelines to citizens for social-distancing and how to stay-safe to protect each other, our ability to talk, meet (virtually) and share ideas that help us to continue propagating business interests for tomorrow, remains available through the medium of technology and people, as ever before.

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