Adapting to a Crisis: Glass Companies Continue Navigating COVID-19

The U.S. has moved past the initial shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and states are in different stages of reopening. While the trajectory of the virus is still uncertain, most glass and glazing companies have established health and safety measures to protect employees as company leadership navigates operating amid a global crisis.

Companies Adjust

Vitro Architectural Glass will likely continue some of the adjustments it made during the COVID-19 peak as demand for glass grows, says Robert Struble, manager of corporate brand and strategy.

“During the height of the pandemic, our float glass plant personnel and production planning groups learned to be very nimble, adjusting production schedules and staffing to meet less-than-predictable demand. They did an excellent job. As demand grows, we hope there will be better predictability and more advanced scheduling, but we’re ready to adjust as necessary if not,” he says. “In addition to that, we’ve learned to function very effectively from remote locations. Working-from-home won’t go away quickly for us, and it doesn’t need to because of how much we can accomplish from our makeshift offices in our dining rooms, kitchens and spare bedrooms. Vitro had already made considerable investments in our own web-based infrastructure, so working remotely and internal collaboration was a seamless transition.”

Struble says the company will also continue to use web-based communications tools such as AIA Continuing Education webinars and the company’s live chat function, in addition to video conferences for customer and architect visits.

Giroux Glass in Los Angeles was considered essential during the shutdown so it had to adjust quickly to ensure safe jobsite conditions for its employees.

“Some of our biggest projects, like the stadiums in both Las Vegas and Los Angeles where there are hundreds of construction workers on site daily, have had workers from a diverse array of companies test positive. We’re happy to see that all of the CDC guidelines are being followed closely: to quarantine those affected and to prevent the spread of the virus when that has happened. We also have written up a COVID-19 response plan for Giroux Glass’ field and office employees, and have made no changes to it in reference to things opening up,” says Barbara Kotsos, director of marketing.

She says many of the company’s office employees are working from home or work in the office distanced from each other. She doesn’t expect the company to go back to requiring a group of people to share the same physical space as staff have become so used to having meetings by video conference.

“Our communications have been more frequent than ever—maybe to compensate for not being there in person—and the results for us have been really good in terms of keeping everyone well informed,” she says. “Who knows when this will ease up and our guard can be let down? We’re certainly not making any predictions or putting any new protocols in place at this time, nor do we have a timeline for doing so.”

Pulp Studio in Gardena, Calif., is another glass industry company that remained open during the shutdown. CEO Bernard Lax says the company has maintained all of its safety protocols and continues to practice responsible behavior.

“As for work, we are quite busy and expect to remain busy through the end of the year. It is hard to say how things will play out, but we choose to be more the glass is half full type people,” he says.

Going Forward

In a session during the virtual Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance Summer Conference, titled “Managing Manufacturing Operations and Customer Connections through the COVID-19 Crisis,” panelists discussed their expectations for the near future.

Lisa Bergeron, director of business development and regulatory affairs at Jeld-Wen, anticipates that higher levels of sanitary measures will become the new normal and that there will be a reduction in air travel.

“I think a certain percentage of meetings will be replaced by web meetings when they can be more effective. We also need to get accustomed to higher rates of absenteeism. In a post-COVID-19 world we won’t allow associates to work with flu-like symptoms and we need to come to grips with that,” she said. “There’s also the possibility of formalizing remote work for certain positions.”

She also predicted that trade shows will need to reinvent themselves and provide high-quality content to get attendees to justify the trips.

“Before it seemed like you had to be there regardless of content,” she said, adding that while she doesn’t think virtual trade shows will be as effective as face-to-face meetings, she expects them to improve over the next six months.

Richard Braunstein, vice president of research and development at Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®, explained that he expects there to be a change in architectural layouts to facilitate social distancing. Braunstein also expects more meetings to become remote, such as design reviews.

“I don’t expect that we will stay with this completely. Clearly we need to engage with employees and interact socially with our peers. We will find a new balance to leverage the things we’ve been forced to use in a productive way that probably wouldn’t have been done if not for this situation,” he said.

PGT Innovations president and CEO Jeff Jackson expects there to be more paid sick leave from now on as companies encourage people to stay home if they’re sick.

“In the past when people came in sick, that attitude may have been rewarded. That’s changing. I think staying home when sick is going to be a tipping point for human resources and our folk,” he said.

When it comes to the next six months Jackson anticipates that, if a second wave occurs, this time the country will have more knowledge and tools to operate through it instead of shutting down.

“We have to learn how to operate within the new normal as safely as possible,” he said.

Greg Lambas, senior director of window and casework development at Katerra, expects that the industry will be able to look back at the data to measure which responses were the most effective.

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