What do you do if you are suddenly faced with the temporary closure of one of your largest customers? What do you do about your team members?  What about your facility?  What about your other customers? How long will the closure last?  In March, as COVID-19 was taking hold around the world, causing disruption in all segments of the economy and daily life, we were faced with a unique set of challenges that required a unique and bold approach.  

One of our depot services customers (https://wca.com/services/depot-services/) that has thousands of locations in the US, Canada, and Europe, made the decision to close all of their stores in the middle of March.  WCAOEM was asked to stand down our depot operation support team once we processed outstanding shipments that were coming back to WCA from various store locations.   On March 23, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker closed all non-essential businesses.  Since WCAOEM has customers that were directly involved in the testing for COVID-19 and supporting other businesses that were deemed essential, we stayed open throughout the pandemic (a topic for a few more posts, I’m sure).In order to protect the essential employees that were needed to support our customers we decided to distance our entire office, sales, and administrative support staff, along with all the employees who were supporting this depot customer.  Now, the question became, what do we do with the depot support team members that are now “non-essential ?” We had no idea how long this closure would last, and the customer was not going to pay for services that weren’t being provided so they could preserve their cash to support their business.  The easy decision would be to furlough about 20 team members, thus preserving our resources to weather the storm. That would have been the easy choice, and we could focus on the remaining staff that were attempting to adjust to working remotely, as well as the essential group that was working to support our OEM customers when they needed us the most.  We had plans in place for a lot of situations, but a global pandemic wasn’t one that we had really practiced.  

Instead, we concocted a plan for the depot employees.  After consulting with management and getting their full support we started the S.T.U.D.I.E.S. Program.  STUDIES was an acronym for Stuff To Do Until the Depot Is Essentially Started.  Corny, I know, but I love code words and acronyms. Each depot team member was asked to pick a project of their choosing (with a couple of exceptions, which I’ll get to) that would be a learning experience for themselves or a benefit to their community. On top of that, we signed everyone up for Go Skills (www.goskills.com) to brush on key Office 365 applications, as well as introductory courses on Microsoft Teams, since we were going to be using Teams to collaborate and communicate going forward. For a few team members, we ‘assigned’ them projects rather than having them choose.  These were projects that we needed to get done, or had been on a list of TODO projects that we never could find the time to attack.  Well, now we had people and time!