January 23rd, 2020: China imposes a lockdown to Wuhan and other cities in Hubei Province. First Dow offices close in the Asia Pacific region. Plants keep running with increased safety measures. First 60% Dow employees begin working remotely from home. Rest of Dow colleagues outside APAC concerned and monitoring the situation but not yet impacted Team Dow resilience.
February 21st, 2020: Italy is the first country in the EMEAI region to announce an official lockdown. Dow Italy immediately activated a crisis management team and supported ‘smart working’ where job type or scope allowed as a precautionary means to protect Dow employees’ health and diminish the risk of contagion, took decision to operate Headquarter office at minimum staffing levels until March 13th, to then completely close in accordance of authorities’ decree. The 4 plants, located in Lombardy and Emilia Romagna regions, continued to run safely and efficiently at minimum staffing levels; chemical manufacturing being considered an essential activity by the Italian government. Roughly 60% of employees across Italy work from home. Team Dow resilience.
Over the next weeks, the entire population in EMEAI, North America and Latin America follow the same approach. Dow globally is in lock down. Essential operations continue and employees transition to home office. Dow continues to operate. Team Dow Resilience.
From an IT system perspective, for a company where every employee not working in the laboratory or needing special hardware was already equipped with a laptop, working remotely was possible across the organization as a temporary and extraordinary measure. Everyone who was supposed to, began working remotely, and those employees operating the plants carried on with an increase of Safety & Health procedures, including frequent sanitization, body temperature checking, physical distancing and personal protection equipment such as surgical face masks or respiratory as applicable. Team Dow Resilience.
Team Dow Resilience soon transformed itself in a social hashtag #DowStrong. Internal and external web pages, social media channels started to feature hundreds of stories, pictures and shared best practices.
A dedicated COVID-19 Dow internal website, as well as a specific section on dow.com were created to provide a centralized platform to access official information about the pandemic and resources such as virus infection prevention measures, communications packages, best practices and employee assistance program resources.
The 10 Employee Resources Groups were activated and requested to focus support on their members and Dow colleagues. They transferred their activities to virtual environments and became the glue for employees to stay connected with a purpose. Special attention was given to mental health, given the risk of isolation, depression and increased stress level and additional visibility was provided to the already existing Employee Assistance Programs. Also employees who needed to care for small children, elderly people or people with disabilities were granted more flexibility from their leaders to work according to the new routines and best practices were shared on how to accommodate working with care-givers priorities.
PC integrated video cameras were activated during virtual meetings to find that sense of community that was lost without physical meetings. Children, partners and relatives started to pop-in during virtual conference calls where everyone felt like a welcomed guest in a colleague’s house.
Of course it was not always easy or comfortable.
Children might have wanted the undivided attention from parents or support with home schooling. Partners and relatives might have shared the same space for other needs, noise in the background or from other rooms of the house might have been difficult to hide. However sharing the same situation and challenges was for most of the employees, an opportunity to realize we have more in common that unite us. True leadership quickly arises in difficult times. We were all weathering the same storm. Team Dow Resilience.
Employees on the first line were praised by Dow’s CEO and senior Leadership team, while thank-you messages were prepared from the remote workers to those on the front lines. Some Dow plants around the world were converted to produce hand sanitizers to be donated to local hospitals or governments.
We re-discovered Dow was a big family. We often said it was in the past but now it was proven to be real.
It was not simply remote working. It was not simply smart working. It was working remotely during a quarantine when the rest of the family was within the same walls, when your wellness, physical and mental was put at strain every single day.
Did we learn from this situation?
We should be asking ourselves this question every day both as individuals and as organizations and continue to ask also once the emergency will be over.
Only in this way we can ensure that the purpose and the values that guided us in the past, will continue to provide the direction for the future. The COVID lockdown and related smart working allowed us to see that Dow ambition to be the “most inclusive, customer centric, innovative, and sustainable” company is not just a guiding principle but a living reality.
But we cannot stop there.
We should continue to look at the situations that we will be facing with curious eyes, to acknowledge the differences, the challenges, the opportunities. Trust the people and the organization as an ecosystem that can find the answers, the resources and the strength to weather the storm.
As Dow Italy Country and CMT leader, I am really proud of all my colleagues, those who worked in the field and those ‘smart working’. Their discipline and restless motivation to find innovative ways of staying connected helped keep an outstanding team spirit and sow empathy with our Customers, who experienced similar situations. Us and them – all coming back to our workplaces to live stronger in the “new normal”. SeekTogether our future.
ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN DIVERCITY VIII SEPTEMBER 2020