USGlass Magazine Recognizes Stand-Out Companies During the Pandemic

What makes a company one of the best to work for? Well, that depends. Last year, it might have been a stellar benefits and compensation package. But in 2020, simply having a job likely counts more than top-notch benefits. To select the best companies to work for in the time of COVID-19, a survey was sent to USGlass subscribers asking them to tell us about what their companies did to take care of employees and address their needs over the course of the pandemic.

Entries were reviewed by the USGlass editorial team and the winners determined based on:

• Communication with employees;
• How they maintained a sense of community within the company—even while remote;
• Updated policies and procedures to ensure safety and health;
• How they ensured the comfort and well-being of employees; and
• Giving back in support of its community.

The companies selected exceeded the baseline requirements that companies should provide. You can read about the winning companies here. They are listed alphabetically.

Atascadero Glass Inc. | Atascadero, Calif.

For Atascadero Glass Inc. (AGI), preparations for the spread of the coronavirus began early.

“In mid-February [the company owner/president, Roger Grant] initiated daily communication protocols companywide via text, email and personal conversation between managers and their subordinates,” says Jim Stevens, safety and production manager. “The communication included the latest information available from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Department managers were
encouraged to over-communicate with subordinates and frequently ask how they were doing. Managers were scheduled for an additional weekly virtual meeting to report on the morale of their team and identify any need for team support.”

The company also began purchasing new equipment and supplies to ensure employees could continue to work. “These included additional computers so half of the office staff could work remotely, UV lights to be used daily in offices during non-work hours, hand sanitizer, masks, sanitizing wipes, and personal thermometers,” says Stevens. “Employees were kept abreast of current information via weekly and monthly training which included company-wide stand-down sessions. Our human resources (HR) person did a great job of establishing daily text and email communications and always offered support for employees who needed assistance with COVID-19 testing, sick-leave benefits, unemployment benefits and return to work questions.”

Operations, policies and procedures also began to change. “We no longer allowed more than one person in a vehicle, and masks/gloves were provided when it was not possible for employees to be 6 feet apart while working on a construction jobsite,” he says.

Other changes included frequent sanitization by AGI staff, and extra shifts for cleaning work areas and frequently touched surfaces. Signage was posted at all entry points to the office areas. Remote employees were encouraged to request hygiene supplies as needed and employees were asked during remote weekly safety tailgate talks if any such supplies were needed.

Stevens adds that a daily COVID-19 screening form was added to the company’s safety app and all employees were required to complete the screening daily before starting work and before entering any AGI facility.

“All employees were issued a personal thermometer to record their temperature reading via a photo option on the daily screening form,” he says. “We continue to take roll daily to ensure a screening form has been completed by every employee present for work, including those who work remotely.” He adds that as a result of these steps taken, the company has not experienced any confirmed cases of COVID-19, nor has it had to cease operations due to the pandemic.

In times of crisis, it’s also important to maintain a sense of community. For AGI, constant communication was critical.

“Our president has repeatedly encouraged all employees to over-communicate, particularly with co-workers but also with customers, suppliers and the local community. He has said, ‘If you think you’re communicating too often it’s probably about right.’”

The company has also implemented other measures to help keep employees engaged. For example, Stevens says the HR manager began a Friday raffle for three gift cards each week.

“A virtual meeting was scheduled every Friday at 3:30 p.m. and employees received a text reminder to join via the link provided. This positive connection opened the door for communication and demonstrated a certain level of positive care for all workers.”

He adds that help is available to all who need assistance with sick-leave, medical resources, unemployment, childcare issues, fear of exposure, available benefits, etc. In addition, AGI has taken action to support local organizations.

“Many individuals in our company are involved countywide in community groups, church groups, pregnancy centers, student programs, police and fire department support and homeless aid,” says Stevens. “Our company gives back to the community via financial donations, gifts, and the investment of time spent with professional and working class members of the community.”

Crystal Window & Door Systems | Queens. N.Y.

“Where we are in New York City was ground zero for the nation in terms of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” says Steve Chen, president of Crystal Window & Door Systems. “Fear was palpable: people everywhere, including the Crystal workforce, were afraid to use public transportation, ride elevators, use laundromats, and to even leave their homes. The entire region was paralyzed.”

In late March, New York State, New Jersey, and Connecticut mandated all non-essential personnel stay at home and closed all construction sites except for emergency and safety work, medical/health-related sites, and affordable housing.

“Crystal’s New York facility was deemed essential to supply critical construction projects and, using minimal staff, we continued that critical production, instituted CDC-recommended practices, and assessed various work scenarios,” says Chen. “Revenues during this period were significantly reduced, as was the case for most businesses in the area. In compliance with local mandates, we had to restrict hours, and operate at a reduced production level supplying essential projects in New York and around the country.”

In early March, even before the pandemic became a prolonged predicament, the company established a crisis management team of top managers and executives that met daily at the New York facility.

“All forms of communication were used to keep employees up-to-date—video and phone conferencing, email and letters when possible, and face-to-face (actually mask-to-mask) when necessary—on a regular basis,” says Chen, adding that the company’s other locations did not experience the same mandated operating restrictions.

Once the New York plant was forced to greatly reduce operations for the first few weeks of the shutdown, the HR and production teams reached out to each employee regularly to see if they needed anything that Crystal could help with. Every New York sales and administrative employee who could was asked to work remotely using the company’s computer platform and other mobile tools to stay in contact. Throughout the New York area shutdown, employees received regular email updates from Chen on the reduced operating hours, when the company expected to begin increasing operations, and safety measures being implemented.

In addition, during the early weeks of the city’s shutdown of all but essential businesses, Crystal reimbursed its essential employees mileage for traveling to and from work in their own cars. This allowed the employees to avoid taking public transportation, which was considered a high risk factor for the spread of the coronavirus. The company also paid essential production employees in the city a 10% bonus during the period of greatest health concerns and restrictions, and all employees physically reporting to work at the New York City facility were paid a daily meal allowance during the peak period of lockdown.

“Early in the pandemic our crisis management team contacted our insurance carriers for guidance on safety measures to implement along with all the government mandates and recommendations for operating,” says Chen. “During the few weeks of reduced operation, our crisis management team used the opportunity to revamp the production and administrative areas of the factory, with extensive cleaning and disinfecting, enhancing and separating work stations, installing partitions, and other steps to ensure employees would feel safe and confident as they returned to more normal operations. Walls and floors in several areas of the facility were repainted, adding a reassuring visual reminder to employees of the cleaning effort. All employees are provided with and required to use personal protection equipment, including face masks, face shields and gloves, where appropriate.”

Chen says that as the New York lockdown lifted and Crystal increased operating hours and opened more fully, employees were brought back initially in staggered shifts and eventually in more regular shifts. All employees were instructed in new operating protocols. These included, among others, keeping employees separated appropriately on the production floor, loading docks, and in the office areas; hand sanitizing stations installed throughout the building and clear partitions added at the trade sales counter, reception desk, employee lunchrooms, etc.; employee temperature checks daily as they enter the building; accelerated cleaning and sanitizing; and wearing gloves when touching communally used equipment such as printers and copiers.

In addition, Crystal’s HR department has coordinated with New York Hospital of Queens to offer employees a series of virtual workshops on various physical and mental health topics related to pandemic life during work hours. The workshops will be led by doctors and other medical professionals from the hospital, allowing employees to watch and learn about handling stress in current times.

Southern Aluminum Finishing | Atlanta

When it came to communicating with employees amid the pandemic, Southern Aluminum Finishing (SAF) put its technology and resources to work. Vice president of sales and marketing, John McClatchey says they started this with video casts, email updates and their company newsletter.

“It didn’t take long for us to publish our guidelines using the same media, as well as registering employees’ phone numbers who were interested in a text service to alert them of real time updates,” he says.

The company also recognized it would need to change parts of its operations in order to ensure the safety and health of all employees, those working in the facility as well as those working remotely.

“We implemented a rotating policy of office personnel into the office so we were never unable to socially distance,” he says. “We required masks for all office personnel and for our employees in the essential production if they were working within 6 feet of anyone. We have weekly audits and self-reporting to ensure that we abide by our own guidelines.”

SAF conducted a trial run in the weeks leading up to the initial shutdown to make sure remote employees would be able to get their job done from home.

“We have been holding all meetings remotely using web conferencing, and have been heeding and exceeding all CDC recommendations,” he adds.

McClatchey adds that they also took actions to help  maintain community within the company.

“We tried to continue having our office personnel rotate into the office so the production department saw that office personnel were still coming to work and that production wasn’t alone,” he says. “Our CEO has continued to come in the office and reassure everyone we are taking every precaution we can think of and implemented nearly every suggestion we could on doing better.” He adds that they also had an organized, proactive campaign of reaching out to customers remotely to see how they were handling the pandemic.

“We had features in our company newsletter highlighting why SAF was an essential business and tried to empower our employees [in knowing] that what they were doing was critical to our customers, the economy, and the public at large,” he says, adding that they also found ways to have some fun. “We had a competition to pick the best remote/home office for the people working from home.”

In addition, SAF took a number of additional measures to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.

“We have been providing masks for our employees since the beginning of the pandemic and since we have a chemistry department, we have been mixing our own hand sanitizer when needed,” says McClatchey, adding that they also provided a portable HEPA filter unit for all workstations in the office and installed audio enabled webcams at the doors of locked offices to speak with visitors.

“We also installed updated HVAC systems to try and eliminate the virus in our workspace,” he adds.

ACAI Associates Inc. | Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

As the coronavirus began its rapid spread, ACAI Associates wasted no time.

“We closed our offices and switched to remote operations on March 16,” says Jennifer Shields, director of operations. “This was before schools closed or any state or county mandates. We felt it was prudent and demonstrated to our staff our concern for their safety over any other considerations. We had an in-person staff meeting that Monday, then everyone gathered their computers and went home.”

She admits that they were concerned that it would not work well, but they knew it had to be done.

“We invested in additional software to facilitate communications and remote  collaboration. We quickly established protocols to keep staff safe if or when they needed to visit the office or go to jobsites,” she says. “It has worked out very well for everyone.”

Recognizing that some employees thrive on a sense of community and connection, Shields says they took certain steps to address these concerns.

“At the outset, we were concerned that some staff might feel isolated,” she says. “So, we established weekly, Monday morning staff meetings on teams. There, we provide office updates and news. But, conversation doesn’t have to be company related, it is a time for everyone to feel included and ask questions. All employees participate, share personal news, touch base, and talk about whatever.”

She adds, “We are considering opening a folder for recipes on our server and have everyone contribute to a recipe exchange. We’re still working out the details, but the concept is to keep everyone engaged. Our firm has a strong focus on work/life balance and creating and maintaining a positive work environment.”

Shields says there were a number of other policy and procedure changes.

“We required masks and provided them if needed,” she says. “We are considered essential and some of our staff still needed to make site visits. We instructed them to leave  immediately if people on location were not compliant and cooperative regarding respecting social distancing. Their jobs would not be at risk if they did not feel comfortable going on-site.”

For many of the employees now working remotely, childcare was a major concern.

“About half our staff have children. Child supervision during summer and school has been a major concern for many. From the outset, we have allowed everyone very flexible hours,” says Shields. “As long as they are available for questions during regular offices hours and get their work done, staff can work around childcare and schooling issues, as needed.”

She adds that as of the beginning of September, the company is still working fully remotely with no immediate plans to reopen the physical office.

“When we do return, it is likely that we will install Plexiglas partitions, possibly work rotating shifts to allow sufficient distancing and take other measures necessary to keep staff safe,” she says.

Shields says the company did not have to layoff nor reduce hours or pay.

“In July, we provided a $500 bonus for every staff member to help with these difficult times and to express our appreciation for the tremendous effort and level of professionalism and responsibility that all of our staff has shown in this remote work environment.”

The company also extended efforts to give back to its community.

“We contributed to a National Women in Roofing for a campaign for a family whose roof collapsed,” she said. “They have replaced the roof and fixed all the interior damage.”

Mapes Panels | Lincoln, Neb.

Michael Cintani, product manager for Mapes Panels, says the work to ensure employee safety and well-being started in early March. That’s when the company began putting precautionary measures in place for all employees, including social distancing directives, hand sanitizing stations, and increased signage around the building.

“Our production facility never shut down, but we did start rotating shifts to
minimize employees’ exposure to one another,” says Cintani. “If there was a confirmed case, we would only have to quarantine part of the crew and would still be left with enough of our essential employees to continue production operations.”

“It was a scramble, but we managed to get the vast majority of our office employees set up for remote working by mid-March. It ended up being very successful and actually led to an evolution of how we manage our quote and order data,” he says.

With many employees now working remotely, and travel restricted in many areas, it was also important to find ways to maintain a sense of community, not only with employees, but also customers and suppliers. Cintani says his company stayed in contact with its customer base of more than 4,000 glazing contractors by sending emails letting them know the company was open and operating.

“We also put a notice on the landing page of our website indicating the same. Our customers rely on us to be here and to deliver on our promises. We needed them all to know that wasn’t changing,” he adds.

In order to continue operating safely and efficiently, companies also found they needed to review and modify certain policies, practices and procedures for both the essential employees still coming into work, as well as those working remotely.

“Social distancing and mandatory masking was implemented for anyone physically at our facility. No chances were taken. If they had a fever or any of the COVID symptoms, we asked our employees to stay home, but continued to pay them as they worked through the testing/quarantine process,” says Cintani. “Fortunately, there were only a couple instances of this and none involved a positive COVID case. We also gave our hourly employees additional sick days to use as needed in the event that they or their families were directly or indirectly affected by coronavirus. We also increased the flexibility of our PTO program for salaried employees to adapt to the changing needs.”

He adds that Mapes also stepped up to make sure employees were comfortable and had what they needed.

“We listened to our employees and adapted our practices to ensure that everyone felt as safe as possible. Remote working was implemented wherever possible and we never asked anyone to do anything they weren’t comfortable doing,” he says. “When there were any concerns [i.e. having children at home or needing to care for an elderly relative], they were immediately addressed as we recognized that we couldn’t continue operating without our essential team. Their safety and comfort was priority number one during the quarantine period. Once all employees physically returned to the facility, we contracted a local health system to test every employee for COVID-19 onsite in order to ensure that we were safely re-opening and that our employees felt comfortable. There were no positive test results among any of our employees. We attribute this to a collective awareness and vigilance amongst our team. They understood how important it was to stay as safe as possible.”

He adds that social distancing is still in force and N95 masks are available for employees at no cost and will be for the foreseeable future.

The company also found ways to aid not only its employees, but to give back to its community.

“Mapes gave every employee a $200 Visa gift card to be used at a locally owned business in order to support our community and the business/employees that were most adversely affected by the lack of physical traffic,” adds Cintani.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.