West Chester, Ohio - May 5, 2020 - Even in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders from ClarkDietrich’s Operations, Human Resources and Executive teams recognized the need to prepare plans to meet the challenges the pandemic would pose. No one could have predicted the global impact of COVID-19 at the time, but ClarkDietrich was proactive from the outset, helping set forth guidelines and parameters for "what if" scenarios.
One of the key players in the COVID-19 change management team is Vice President of Operations Jimmy Rickett, who oversees ClarkDietrich’s 13 manufacturing facilities across the U.S. A former manufacturing engineer, Rickett made the move from Atlanta to Cincinnati in 2019 to begin his new role in operations, where he is responsible for establishing policies that optimize business functions across nearly 2.5 million square feet of manufacturing space.
In the wake of multiple statewide shutdowns due to COVID-19, ClarkDietrich was deemed an essential business as the company supplies building materials to hospitals, schools and government buildings. While employee safety has always been a top priority for ClarkDietrich, the unprecedented spread of COVID-19 redefined what a safe work environment looks like for many businesses, including the country’s largest producer of cold-formed steel.
“To say that workplace safety is of utmost importance would be an understatement right now. All employees have the right to work in a safe and healthy environment every day, but during this time, we are especially focused on protecting our people—especially our 1,200 employees stationed in the manufacturing facilities,” Rickett said.
In an effort to react as swiftly as possible to safety concerns, ClarkDietrich eliminated all red tape surrounding safety measures—even establishing a direct line with company president/CEO, Jim Collins. By removing the communication barriers between workers and company leadership, employees across the organization are encouraged to voice concerns knowing that their thoughts will be heard.
In addition to stringent sanitation efforts across the board, Rickett and his team also developed custom strategies for achieving a healthy workplace environment at each manufacturing facility. For facilities located in higher risk areas, like the Ohio facility, workers participated in daily temperature checks and the facilities were sanitized regularly with disinfectant fogging. Plant employees also separated the lunch tables and eliminated trays to encourage six feet of social distancing and limit potential exposures during breaks. In addition, facilities opted to remove physical time clocks and installed automated doors to decrease common touchpoints and discourage congregating.
According to Rickett, while many mandates were driven from the top of the organization, ¬¬facility managers and those closest to the production lines recommended many of the changes implemented at each of the respective facilities. None of these changes could have been suggested and applied without constant communication with those working at the facilities each and every day.
“From inviting our plant personnel to come forward with ideas for safety precautions, to adopting a flexible illness policy, we have been open and transparent with our people every step of the way,” said Rickett.
Rickett meets with plant managers multiple times a week through video conferencing. During these calls, he provides updates, notes any health concerns and opens the floor for feedback so everyone has a voice in the conversation. Rickett was pleased to hear that some plant managers are taking the initiative and actively updating their plant teams with text messages. All of these added points of communication help keep the teams informed and engaged.
“Staying strategic but nimble in times of uncertainty is paramount, and our people have truly overdelivered during this challenging season,” he said. Rickett has been thrilled with the level of focus and resiliency at every level in the organization, but especially the plant employees. “Plant personnel have stepped up in countless ways to help ClarkDietrich continue to operate as safely and effectively as possible; even volunteering to come in early to sanitize the facilities.” This level of commitment on the frontlines has enabled the company to mitigate the constant change and lack of normalcy with poise and efficiency.
It has been said that strong teamwork begins and ends with communication. While COVID-19 has bred many challenges, the honest two-way communication at ClarkDietrich has renewed the company’s team-first mentality across the board. “We look forward to brighter days ahead, but I’m confident that the ClarkDietrich family is stronger and better connected because of the trials we’ve endured this year,” Rickett said.