Clearwater Beach, Fla. — The impact of COVID-19 might be waning more than three years after the pandemic first struck, but there are some fundamental changes in the workplace that have taken hold.
The early days of lockdowns brought many nonessential businesses to a halt amid widespread fears of the unknown. And a return to normalcy, or at least a new normal, means plastics companies no longer rely on the same old game plan to get through the day, according to a panel of company officials at the Plastics News Executive Forum.
"I think what the pandemic brought us was more focus as an organization. We can better define the types of relationships we want to create. The kind of growth we want to focus on. Where we want to spend our time," said Grant John, CEO of resin distributor PolySource.
"We're very aimed at our employees in terms of looking them in the eye and saying, 'We want to help you be better people so you can go home and be better people with your families,'" he said. "I'm probably looking at efficiency more than I was before. I'm looking at how we spend our time."
Spending so much time at home during the early stages of the lockdown has recalibrated the work-home life balance for many people. And companies are adapting to the new world COVID-19 has created in terms of employee work expectations, John told the conference crowd in Clearwater Beach.
"That's what we got out of the pandemic. We're trying to get better at what we know we are good," he said.
For Gary Hulecki, CEO of MTD Micro Molding, the unknowns of COVID-19 allowed him and his company's employees to reconsider the work-life balance.
"I think a changing point for us was when I noticed the employees and even myself [asking] what is this going to turn into? It made you appreciate your time spent with our family, your time away from work to do the things you really want to do. Because no one knew what was going to happen next, how this was going to impact us," he said.
The lockdown and gradual return to work at the medical micro molder "gave everybody even more appreciation for time off, while working from home, being able to spend more time with your family," Hulecki said.
"It's definitely changed everybody's perspective on how they feel about work. So you had to change the way you did business, you had to change the way you treated employees to make sure they came back with that level of engagement," he said.
At US Extruders, marketing manager Eric Adair said the pandemic "taught us that we can be more flexible. … It taught us to be more resilient."
One stubborn challenge, he pointed out, continues to vex manufacturers, and not just those in the plastics industry, is the supply chain. From "pellets to parts, it's just crazy. A little bit harder to plan, but it's happening for everybody."
Steve Bieszczat is chief marketing officer for DelmiaWorks, an enterprise resource planning software company and sponsor of the Plastics News Best Places to Work program. He moderated the session, and all four panelists are honored in the 2023 Best Places to Work competition.
Before the pandemic, Bieszczat said, "we were all just kind of freewheeling through life in an endless way. Where we are just going to tumbleweed around," he said. But heading out of the pandemic, the focus has become priorities: "Whether it's family or business priorities … everybody is thinking all day long."
"I think strategic planning after COVID took place much differently than it did before and really focusing on where we wanted the company to go," said Beth Figliulo, executive director of sales and marketing for KI Industries Inc., a maker of decorative plastic and die cast components for the automotive, energy and appliance sectors.
That includes how KI interacts with customers as some traditional methods are not as viable with more people working from home these days.
"I think from a sales and marketing perspective, we put different processes in place to help engage our customers in a different way because not everybody is in the office today," she said.