The health and safety policies put in place to combat COVID-19 will prepare companies beyond the immediate crisis, if they continue to stay focused on preventing illness, several leaders in the flexible packaging industry suggest.
“Despite any uncertainty, we’re controlling what we can control, and a major part of that is keeping our employees healthy,” says Nestor de Mattos, North America commercial vice president for Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics. “To that end, we developed a comprehensive playbook for safe operations and returning to work safely, which we’ve shared with customers to help them develop their own plans and processes.”
Operationally, de Mattos adds, the company has been focused on personal protective equipment, social distancing, and other measures to keep workers safe. Even before the pandemic, Dow took safety very seriously, he says.
“But COVID-19 expanded our efforts with a comprehensive safety playbook for our operations and returning to work, which we’ve shared with customers seeking guidance,” de Mattos says, adding that the company will be identifying long-term optimizations for wellness after the pandemic ends.
Laurel Spencer, vice president, sales and marketing at Amcor, says the global leader in packaging had flexible working arrangements before the pandemic and that won’t change after it ends.
“Our teams have become even more skilled at maintaining a collaborative work environment in spite of our inability to be together in person,” Spencer says. “What we’ve learned is that it’s really about staying connected, and we make that a priority.”
The company recognizes, however, the intangible benefits of working face-to-face, such as enhanced collaboration and creativity.
“So, I think as our people feel safer and we move into the future, we’ll likely want to balance the importance of flexibility to our people with the sheer advantage that comes from being together,” she says. “For now, we’ve improved a clear set of digital skills that will enhance our ability to function as a global organization, and that’s great for our people and our customers.”
While Amcor traditionally has been focused on face-to-face customer engagement—such as trade shows, conferences, and other personal visits—the company quickly adapted during the crisis and developed new initiatives. That included increases in webinars, social media, and email communication from leaders, Spencer says. But she also mentions that the tech team developed a program called Amcor Eyes, which is a virtual program to help tech workers to remotely troubleshoot customer production challenges using virtual reality technology.
Others suggest that they will see long-term shifts in the way they do business, too.
“There is a consideration of changing the larger office spaces to more individual office spaces for health reasons,” says Guenther Hering, vice president, Flexible Packaging NA, Henkel of America. Other plans call for creating shifts in the laboratory to limit the total amount of people in the same space at the same time. His says his company started to bring back workers over the summer but that there is consideration that a larger percentage will work from home in the future.
Dhuanne Dodrill, CEO of PAXXUS, a global, vertically integrated flexible healthcare packaging manufacturer, says the pandemic accelerated working remotely and using video conferencing at her company, as well.
“Now that we have all become comfortable with virtual meetings, this will be the norm going forward,” Dodrill says.
Thomas Morin, president at TC Transcontinental Packaging, notes that company leaders reacted early in the pandemic, which kept its operations on track. The goal will be to make sure they don’t let their guard down, he adds.
“We need to stay extremely disciplined until next year,” Morin says.
The company intends to keep the various policies and measures developed during the crisis at its locations throughout Canada, the United States and Latin America long after a vaccine and therapeutics are found and disbursed for COVID-19. Those lessons will help handle any future widespread health problems, such as with the seasonal flu, he explains.
Long term, as well, he expects that the efficiencies found with online gatherings will stay in place, which will mean far fewer in-person meetings. In fact, Morin says, online meetings have been more frequent during the pandemic but shorter, which makes the meetings more productive. In addition, the time that used to be spent traveling can now be spent doing other work.
The company surveyed workers and found that a quarter would prefer to continue working remotely after the pandemic. About half said they would come back but preferred to do so only a few times a week. And about a quarter said that they would like to come back every day. A final decision will consider those concerns, he added.
“I don’t expect us to go back to traveling every day. That is for sure,” Morin says. “But directionally, this is what will happen.”
Thomas A. Barstow is senior editor of FlexPack VOICE™