How McElroy Manufacturing is embracing a "new normal" during COVID-19
Sharon McElroy discusses providing stability in an increasingly uncertain situation
"It was like a week of Mondays."
That's how Sharon McElroy summed up what it felt like to head into the office to tackle an ever-changing set of challenging circumstances in the first few days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From responding to the latest news and addressing employee concerns, to developing policies and communicating updated governmental guidelines, the vice president of marketing for Tulsa, Oklahoma-based AEM member company McElroy Manufacturing, Inc. and her fellow company leaders found themselves in an unenviable position seemingly overnight.
The task was clear - provide stability in an increasingly uncertain situation. But how exactly? While the seriousness of COVID-19 was becoming readily apparent, information and guidelines related to the growing pandemic were changing daily by mid-March. Further complicating matters, a significant number of McElroy employees were coming off a trade show run at CONEXPO-CON/AGG in Las Vegas, and were in the process of returning to Tulsa, right as elected officials began issuing their initial guidelines and mandates in response to COVID-19.
"It was like coming home to find out the world had changed," said Sharon McElroy.
Fostering stability in a time of uncertainty
Three weeks later, everything had changed for McElroy, the company's employees, and its customers.
"I feel like we are all living in some unreal Hollywood movie," said Chip McElroy, the company's president and CEO in a March 25 letter to staff. "From the chaos, the sensationalism, the ever-changing stream of directives, the loss of freedoms and the raw emotions we are all feeling, I have a deep appreciation for the stress and anxiety that all of us are living with as we work our way through this odyssey."
Fostering organizational stability during a global pandemic has been a challenging and, at times, hectic undertaking for McElroy. And it's not difficult to understand why. Every company - whether large or small - is comprised of a diverse set of employees, all of whom possess different personalities, backgrounds and skillsets. McElroy is no different. So, when COVID-19 began to upend the company's day-to-day activities and processes, company leaders were quick to recognize staff members would have a wide range of responses to the growing public health crisis.
Some employees are quite fearful, especially those with families. Others are far less concerned. What's universally consistent among McElroy employees, however, is a willingness to listen to what's communicated by company leaders and - perhaps more importantly - comply with newly formed company policies to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone.
Accepting a "new normal"
The "new normal" brought on by the spread of COVID-19 has required a shift in culture for McElroy. The company is proud of its tight-knit staff, but now everyone and everything feels much more spread out due to social distancing guidelines.
Employees who are able to telecommute alternate days spent in the office and at home to ensure the fewest possible number of people are in the same place at any given time. Conference rooms, once occupied by large groups engaging in regularly held meetings, now face strict occupancy limits. Video conferencing has become a primary mode of communication, much like it has for other organizations and businesses around the country.
"As a manufacturing company, we don't do a whole lot of remote work," explained Sharon McElroy. "We're family-oriented, and we've always embraced a philosophy of being ‘One team, one company.'"
Many within the organization can't help but wonder when it will be safe or appropriate to conduct certain tasks and responsibilities again, when everyone can return to work at the same time, or when the company's focus will fully return toward providing valuable products and services for customers. So much has changed in such a short time, leaving everyone to adjust accordingly as quickly as possible.
"I feel like we're also just trying to communicate with customers that we're still in business and we can help them," said Sharon McElroy.
"We've always had a culture of open communication and this crisis brings the importance of that to a whole new level," said Sharon McElroy. "It's a lesson that we will remember."
The company has also taken great care to ensure employees know they will be taken care of during these unprecedented times. Whether it's through providing additional sick time, adjustments to pay structure, or implementing safety precautions and procedures related to social distancing, hand-washing, limiting group sizes or regular disinfecting, organizational leaders are doing whatever they can to provide as much stability as possible. Because, ultimately, the goal is to ensure McElroy's workforce knows it's safe, secure and valued when at work and on the job.
According to Sharon McElroy, the emphasis on communication and transparency has made navigating the current COVID-19 health crisis much easier for employees at the company, and it's certainly helped limit unnecessary panic or concern. However, despite the best efforts of everyone at McElroy, uncertainty regarding the future still remains.
"I think people feel pretty secure, but the uneasiness for me comes from ‘How long is it going to last?'" she said. "Sometimes you need that ending to look toward. And when you don't have it, honestly, it's tough."
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