Are you an essential business? Are you a life-sustaining one? These are the questions that leaders across the globe have to answer. And the answer can be surprisingly complex.
We all like to think of ourselves as essential, that in some way we are sustaining the lives of our staff and customers, that we’re providing economic and personal vitality in a way that elevates, sustains, and advances humanity. But, in the case of a pandemic and mandatory shutdowns, you have to defend and explain your significance in the world, especially as it relates to keeping people alive. And that can be a tough call.
You want to keep people safe but also keep them employed. You want to protect them and provide for them simultaneously.
Most states provide a list of industries that are exempt from the mandate, and if you clearly fall into one of those categories, you can sigh a little relief. The relief may be shortlived depending on how closely your job places you and your staff to the frontlines of the pandemic. Of course, when you don’t clearly fit into a specific industry or category, things can get complicated.
What happens when your industry isn’t listed, but your customers are listed. What happens when you’re part of the supply chain for a critical needs industry? What do you do? Do you stay open, or do you close? Do you keep working, or do you shut down? The management team at JULABO USA, recently found ourselves in this exact predicament.
As suppliers of laboratory and industrial temperature control equipment, we weren’t specifically listed. Still, our customers in the pharmaceutical community and chemical/industrial sector depend on us to do their jobs. In the last few weeks and months, we’ve had pharma labs that are working on vaccines, research, discovery, therapies, and cures place orders for products. We’ve also had government agencies and industries reach out in need of equipment to safeguard their operations.
We knew our customers were turning to us, but the mandate was unclear if we were exempt. To be on the safe side, we reached out to some of our customers on the frontlines to ask them if we were essential to their work. We received swift and compelling responses from customers who stated that we were essential to their effort.
It was both a proud and humbling moment to know that even though we’re somewhat removed from the frontlines, we’re doing our part.
Most of us have seen the posts on social media thanking the healthcare providers, truck drivers, grocery store staff, and others for their commitment to our health and wellbeing. What we now realize, and perhaps took for granted before, is that our health and our economy are made up of a complex chain of interdependent relationships.
We can now see the massive coordination and interdependent arrangements that keep us going. We realize we’re part of a complex ecosystem.
Perhaps doing your part means staying home and flattening the curve. Perhaps, it means that you need to find a way to keep working to ensure that the scientists, critical industries, infrastructure, and other parts of the system keep working.
Our staff has been remarkable during all this uncertainty, especially our warehouse and shipping teams. They are practicing social distancing and safety protocols and looking out for each other while getting equipment to our customers. Others in our organization are working from home for the first time and missing the camaraderie of their colleagues. Our account managers and product teams are fielding complex requests and customer questions from their homes. And through it all, there’s a palpable esprit de corps and pride in doing all we can to support the research and industries that need us.
Our service technicians have also been able to continue working, thanks to our early adoption of virtual solutions that allow us to install, service, and maintain equipment from a distance, without having to travel. We’re still able to train customers on the equipment and get them up and running quickly. This virtual service is also highly personal, pairing them with a highly trained technician in real-time. At JULABO USA, we were and are as prepared as we can be with inventory and personnel.
We are incredibly grateful for being able to do our part in some way. In many ways, we’re fortunate. We get to keep working and helping our customers with limited exposure. We don’t take it for granted. Many of our employees are having to justify their ongoing work to friends, neighbors, and family. When they say that we supply vital equipment to those working on vaccines and that our chillers and equipment are helping safeguard our infrastructure, they do it with a renewed sense of pride. I have personally been overwhelmed with love for our staff and customers. Yes, you read that correctly —love. The affection is deep and real.
Our challenges related to the virus are ongoing. We don’t know how long this will last. We don’t know the impact it will have on our communities, economy, or healthcare system. As leaders, we have to think about what’s next. How will we integrate those that are working from home back into the offices once this is over? How do we keep protecting and supporting those who are still working? How do we stay as safe as possible while providing ongoing support?
If this pandemic teaches us anything, it’s how vital our work is and how what we do is connected to everything else.
We miss our barbers and hair stylists, and others who help us maintain our appearance. We miss the friendly baristas who serve us coffee. We miss hugging our friends. We miss the teachers and administrators that care for our children. We now see just how dependent we are on each other.
You’ve heard it many times, but let it really sink in. We are all in this together. We’re part of a complex mechanism and ecosystem made of relationships. And, if we can do anything, it’s focusing on the relationships. Support where you can, as safely as you can. Appreciate those that can’t take a break and thank them. Stay home so they can do their jobs. Look for and find the connections between you, your family, your community, and the global population. Give thanks for the remarkable coordination of parts and the people that keep us going. In this highly complex ecosystem that we’re all a part of, we’ve been given an opportunity to notice these relationships and interdependencies. Do what you can to support others; for most, that will mean staying home; for many, it will mean risking their safety for others, and for a few, it will mean protecting the supply chain for critical care. Above all, be grateful for the human element that keeps us going every day and stay safe.