A panel of distributors from across Canada, including Bartle & Gibson’s Senior Vice President Electrical, Greg Stephenson, were interviewed in April in a ‘Pandemic Roundtable’ by Anthony Capkun for Direct & Current, an audio broadcast presented by Electrical Business Magazine. The roundtable discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their operations and their ability to serve customers. Capkun started the broadcast by saying: “At the end of April 2020, we were just one month into a national lockdown due to COVID-19. Emergency health measures were enacted. Construction was severely curtailed in some jurisdictions and in others it ceased all together. The economy was shutting down, yet electricians were deemed essential in most jurisdictions and by extension their distributors.”
The panelists included:
Cliff Backman, Franklin Empire;
Elaine Gerrie, Gerrie Electric;
Greg Stephenson, Bartle & Gibson;
Jason Taylor, Graybar Canada;
Mathieu Legris, Electrimat;
Michael Gross, Wesco;
Roger Little, Rexel Canada (Nedco, Westburne, Rexel Atlantic);
Tim Horsman, E.B. Horsman & Son;
Tim MacDonald, Ideal Supply.
Q1: How have you adjusted your operations against the backdrop of possible stay at home orders, social distancing, and the like?
While all panelists agreed that health and safety is paramount through this pandemic, they each brought different operation solutions to the table. The distribution centre employees have had to undergo more operational changes—as opposed to office staff, who in many cases have had the option to work remotely—because of the flow of people going through them, including truck drivers, delivery workers, and regular staff. Common solutions discussed were curb side pickup, contactless receiving and delivery, increased sanitation processes, reduced access to buildings or office areas for employees only. Learning how to manage a work force with majority of staff working remotely was new for most of the panelists at the start of the pandemic, but they have been able to quickly adapt by utilizing technology to keep staff connected, as well as ensure quality customer service.
Greg Stephenson explained how Bartle & Gibson has been able to remain open to serve customers, but made multiple layout changes such as removing gondolas with product and marketing displays to create a larger physical space within our counters so we could look after the health of our employees and the health of customers who actually enter our buildings. Some areas within our buildings have become limited access for employees only, where customers would have normally had access prior to these safety measures being implemented.
At the time of this interview Bartle & Gibson had reduced our in office work force in some locations as much as 40% and in some cases a little bit less, between those staff who were deemed most vulnerable, in regards to the age bracket specified by the government, and those who volunteered to temporarily work remotely from home.
Q2: When we get to whatever our new normal is what sort of changes do you see yourself keeping after the crisis passes?
The operational changes these distributors have undertaken have resulted in many lessons learned, which they discussed may cause some of these changes to be maintained in the future of their businesses. Utilizing technology and their knowledgeable IT departments these distributors were able to adapt and develop new remote worker strategies, which some mentioned actually increased communication between employees, customers and supplier partners. By continuing to use the online meeting services they have become accustomed to during the pandemic might allow for less travel for some in the future, allowing for more at home for personal wellbeing and a decrease in their individual environmental footprint.
While some panelists had not been interested in remote workers before, they expressed being more open to some staff working from home part time or full time after the crisis as well. A needed balance between telecommunication and in person interactions was discussed though in order to not lose the valuable collaboration that happens between internal employees, as well as between sales staff and customers when meeting in person.
At Bartle & Gibson Greg Stephenson said telecommunication has allowed for more frequent communication with supplier partners across the country, but also with employees, as they are actively trying to remain informed. “I think another thing that will change moving forward is the physical distancing. Some of those measures will be in place for quite a long period of time,” said Greg. The changes made to the counter day to day operations, such as plexiglass shields, bin installing in our counters, or the zones we have created to be safe zones, are not going to be changed or taken away.