“Epidemics mirrors: they show who we really are” – words by Frank Snowden, emeritus professor of history of medicine at the prestigious Yale University. If we are to trust the statement, the image of GAR Srl that rises out of the current health emergency is one to be proud of.
GAR Srl is an SME based in the Milanese hinterland, with about 15 employees and workers, specialized in the production of components for refrigeration and air conditioning, e.g. valves, filters, fittings, oil separators, etc. It is a family-run company and during the months of the health emergency, employees could verify that the idea of family business, in GAR, goes well beyond the company name. But let’s start from the beginning. Moira Antonini (owner, with her family, of GAR) relates: “Like all companies, we immediately complied with the ordinances issued by the central and regional government: we equipped our employees with the necessary PPE and adopted the required security measures. In our case, the latter hardly require any change to the company layout since our production spaces allow to easily maintain distances between the workers. Furthermore, we have specifically arranged our courtyard for deliveries, so that couriers do not need to enter the company building. We have obviously immediately cancelled all meetings with our customers”.
Additional insurance policies and online courses: this is how GAR was close to its employees
Then, in March, the situation deteriorated, and GAR decided to close the company down completely. Smart working was introduced for a few hours a day for the administrative staff, to guarantee availability and to ensure basic administrative work. During those weeks, only few, most urgent, orders were processed, for customers that were part of the essential supply chains and in any case involving as few employees as possible.
In this unusual situation, where everyone was sitting at home “cooking in their own soup and worries”, GAR deemed crucial to let their staff know they were valuable and could always rely on the company: “The closure was a shock for everyone and in this very delicate situation we did not want employees to feel abandoned. Even less did we want to pass on the message that their role within our company was a merely productive one. We have therefore adopted a series of measures that have been highly appreciated and, I am sure, have helped to overcome this awkward and difficult situation”. GAR activated additional insurance policies for employees and their families to cover the unfortunate need for hospitalization. By integrating State support, the company was able to pay full wages to everyone; and everyone was offered to take an online course, of their choice: “Some improved their language skills, others chose Auto-Cad, while others opted for the Office package. We wanted a message to be clear: employees are not only “workforce” at GAR, but a true component of the family, that is the Company”.
The new start? It is a chain game!
GAR partially reopened on April 27th, as an exception, working only on the most urgent requests. And finally reopened on May 4th. What will the new normal be like? “It will be different: gloves, masks, Plexiglas dividers, disinfectant dispensers everywhere, shifts to have meals. This will become normal, at least for a period“. And you, as employers, how do you see the future? “I have to be honest and will admit that the future gives me some worries. To this date, most of our orders and deliveries are on-hold and we don’t have orders on the long-term yet. Yet I am partially optimistic because we are all on the same boat and this forces us to row together and in the same direction. I think this is an important element to start over: that everyone goes in the same direction, respecting rules and commitments made, including payment. Because if you don’t resume the whole chain, you simply are not able to restart”.
Towards a more cautious management of the future
If it is true that epidemics are mirrors and show who we really are, then GAR has discovered sides of itself that it ignored existed: “In many ways, we rediscovered ourselves more flexible than I thought we were. We managed to do smart working, that I initially thought impossible for a small company like ours. On the contrary, it proved feasible and even a precious resource and we will keep it in mind for the future. Moreover, in recent weeks, we managed to maintain communication with our customers very comfortably even from a distance using tools such as Skype or others. We learnt that this type of communication can work equally well, and many meetings can be carried out in this way, reducing travels to the necessary cases. It is a more cautious management of corporate and environmental resources.”