Coping with the Coronavirus — One Shop Manager’s Thinking

This president of a machining job shop is preparing for the situation to last and focusing on communication and a positive environment for employees.


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I snapped this shot of the shop’s Quality Team while shadowing them as they made their rounds. The vibe I got: intense concentration energized by a zeal to serve coworkers with problem-solving expertise.

“Don’t panic. We are all in this together.” That was one of the comments I received from Mike, president of a job shop in Grand Rapids. I got to know Mike last year when I visited his shop. Two things impressed me. For one, the shop is well-managed, making superb use of its machining technology and its skilled, loyal workforce. For another, the shop culture there is strong. The people form a cohesive, conscientious team.

Off the top of my head, I jotted down a few questions about coping with the crisis over the coronavirus (COVID-19) and emailed them to Mike (and several other shop owners I respect and could think of quickly). I was interested in their views and was looking for good thinking and useful advice. Mike came through with these answers in a flash.

What are you doing right now to cope?

I am reading the latest updates affecting our situation locally and statewide and how it affects our company and my family. It is changing rapidly.

How have operations been affected?

No disruptions. Toilet paper inventory secure.

What are you doing to prepare for the next step?

I am making a financial contingency plan presuming this will last several months. The company is prepared to keep employees receiving a full paycheck in spite of operating at a loss. I need to determine the dollar threshold should it evolve to the degree that is unsustainable and detrimental to long-term shop sustainability.

What help would you like most from local, state, federal agencies?

At this time, nothing I can think of that they are not doing already. There is an abundance of helpful information that has been communicated.

What are you doing personally to maintain composure?

I have a strong faith life — no different when things are normal. The 1918 pandemic was devastating and not even close in comparison, so I remind myself that although today’s pandemic is unfortunate, we must keep it in perspective. I am staying away from overexposure to social media or news channels. Today, my wife and I are going to take a long walk and enjoy the sunshine.

What are you doing to help employees cope and stay calm?

Weekly company meetings to assure everyone we are monitoring the situation. “Don’t panic. We are all in this together,” I tell them.

Any advice to share with other shop/company managers?

  • Keep things in perspective. The U.S. is resilient. We will work together. We should stay calm. Better days will return. In the end, this is an opportunity for each of us to grow and be on our best behavior.
  • I am planning on ordering lunches from locally owned restaurants for the company once a week for the next few weeks and also starting an employee/employer match donation drive for local food banks.

One of several “community boards” posted around the shop. This one is for notes from employees commending other employees for a job well done or for some helpful action.

Mike’s shop has several things going in its favor. Two I have already mentioned — able leadership and a strong culture. Not to be overlooked, however, is what Mike calls “a vibrant faith life.” Although he cites that as a personal resource, I know that many, if not almost all, of his workforce share that personal resource, giving it a communal dimension. I could sense that vibe when I spent almost a full day in this shop.

As Mike says, “Keep things in perspective.”