A swift, systematic and proactive response to the COVID-19 challenge has seen Weir Minerals Africa evolving new ways of working and contributing that extend well beyond the workplace.
According to Gavin Dyer, regional MD at Weir Minerals Africa, it was a three-phased approach that brought the business safely through the national COVID-19 lockdown period.
It began with the establishment of a crisis committee when the global severity of the COVID-19 outbreak became apparent. In its first phase of response, the company acted early to communicate vital information about the virus to employees.
Hygiene protocols and resources were provided at its facilities, and fever scanning was introduced.
“Our second phase was more radical, including social distancing and ensuring that those staff with pre-existing medical conditions were not on site and – where possible – could work from home,” says Dyer.
“By planning ahead, we were able to rent about 60 extra laptops to support efforts to work from home, and have about 40% of staff now working remotely.”
To be clear on how the company was responding to these unprecedented conditions during COVID-19, standard operating procedures were developed and shared – keeping everyone on the same page.
The third phase kicked in with the lockdown, focusing on ensuring continued remuneration of employees and keeping customers serviced. The company’s agility in dealing with years of difficult trading conditions was leveraged further in recent weeks.
“By establishing – at short notice – a virtual data interface that employees can access remotely, we have kept the wheels turning efficiently,” Dyer says.
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The product support team remains fully operational, as are the sales engineers and the operational engineering team – working safely from home and in compliance with regulations.
“The whole process continues to be a complete shift in our view of the world of work,” Dyer says. He highlights that, given the physical distance that now exists between colleagues, it is crucial to ensure daily contact and reporting back.
“We reach everyone every day; for those without computer access, the contact is continued through mobile phone apps,” he says.
The company’s long-established Employee Wellness Programme was further enhanced to address employee concerns relating to the coronavirus, and to be accessed from home.
Among the tools being well used is the counselling hotline, which helps employees address a range of issues from anxiety and financial management to childcare.
Leveraging the power of technology through computer platforms and mobile apps, Dyer and his management team address all staff in a non-compulsory video briefing every week or so to keep everyone informed of developments.
“We talk about a range of topics, from the progress of projects in the marketplace, to questions of how we will emerge from the isolation stage and continue to work safely,” he says.
“We also share with staff all that is being done to ensure that we hit the ground running as soon as we can.”
Contact is also being actively maintained with customers, including online knowledge-sharing sessions on topic issues. These events have been well attended, with much positive feedback.
“We’re aware that many customers are also confined to their homes, so our webinars were a useful way to continue sharing information about how our offerings add value and help them optimise their total cost of ownership,” says Dyer.
Rajen Govender, marketing director at Weir Minerals Africa, highlights that the proven usefulness of online forms of communication is likely to open opportunities going forward.
“Tight economic conditions have meant that for many years it has been difficult for mines to release their staff for off-site events like training,” says Govender.
“Being forced to rely on these online platforms in recent weeks has proved that they can be an efficient and practical means of communicating with customers. I think we will see this approach becoming central to the industry’s learning strategies in future.”
Seizing this kind of technological opportunity is really part of maintaining business continuity under very demanding conditions, he says. The lockdown is just the start of a process of evolving new ways to adapt the company’s holistic business approach – embracing employees, customers and other stakeholders – to the future environment as it unfolds.
Innovation and donation
As a well-established South African company with extensive local manufacturing facilities, Dyer emphasises that it has looked beyond itself and its customers during the lockdown. There was also a strong desire to contribute to broader society in this time of need.
“We discussed – at various levels within the business – what other impacts we could have in the fight against the coronavirus,” he says. “For instance, what innovations could we develop that would make life easier for health professionals.”
The result is Weir Minerals Africa’s depth of engineering knowledge is generating ideas that could make the workplace, the home or any public space safer and more hygienic in a post-lockdown world. The company’s design capacity will take the best ideas forward.
“There was also consensus among employees that we contribute to the Solidarity Fund – and we are doing this in two ways,” he says.
“Firstly, the company donated R1 million, while at a more personal level, I challenged my executive team to join me in donating a portion of our own income to the fund.”
Dyer says that as the South African economy re-opens, it will be vital to observe all coronavirus-related regulations to the letter.
“Mine access is likely to be restricted, so we will continue to explore innovative ways to provide our services remotely, particularly when it comes to sharing technical expertise,” he says.
“As mines ramp up within these constraints, Weir Minerals Africa will be on hand to ramp up alongside them.”