COVID-19 Crisis Q&A with Tom Shorma, CEO/President of WCCO Belting, Blog Post

COVID-19 Crisis Q&A with Tom Shorma, CEO/President of WCCO Belting, Blog Post

Tom Shorma, CEO/President of WCCO Belting, shared some insights from WCCO Belting during the current COVID-19 crisis.

Here is what he had to say:

Is WCCO Belting deemed an essential business?

Belting is a key component in equipment function for food production, and agriculture is one of 16 industries responsible for public health, safety, and community wellbeing during the pandemic. We have continued to operate under federal policies to serve our customers in essential industries and the greater good. We know farmers are looking for our support now more than ever given the additional challenges in this environment.

How are you keeping employees safe?

Employee safety is our number one priority, always. WCCO Belting leadership immediately implemented safety protocols in the middle of March when the situation escalated. Here are a few:

  • Implemented social distancing protocols in common areas and throughout the facility for production employees required to be onsite to perform their jobs, this includes a staggered break schedule, supplementary break areas, and rotation schedules in shared offices.
  • Strongly encouraged employees who were able to work remotely to do so, allowing them to take computer monitors and office chairs home to operate comfortably and effectively.
  • Increased sanitation protocols in common, high-traffic areas, including the installation of touchless restroom fixtures.
  • Purchased additional protective supplies such as hand sanitizer, disposable masks, and fabric masks for employees to bring home for after work and weekends.
  • Implemented a temperature checking process for employees feeling ill or suspicious of the virus.
  • Banned all non-essential visitors to the facility.
  • Halted all business-related travel and put self-quarantine protocols in place for those at risk due to recent travel and/or close contact with infected persons.
  • Moved all face-to-face meetings to Microsoft Teams.
  • Created a safety email address for employees to send concerns directly to our VP of Operations.
  • Enlisted a third-party Emergency Notification Service (ENS) to better communicate to the entire workforce, especially employees without company email.

How have you handled decision making around changes that needed to be made at WCCO Belting due to COVID-19?

We established a COVID-19 taskforce that included all teams that needed to be involved in the discussion and decision-making – leadership, human resources, communications – so everyone was in the loop. The taskforce meets virtually daily to discuss how the situation has evolved. In the beginning, it was a bit of a “building the plane while the plane was in the air” situation, meaning we knew we needed to be as proactive and reactive as we could as the situation changed. We haven’t had any cases in our facility, so feel confident we are doing what we can while keeping an eye on the pulse.

How is the health of WCCO’s supply chain?

In 2019, we slowly reduced our levels of inventory due to the downturn in the agriculture industry. We prepared to ramp up supply to prepare for Q1 2020 and did so before COVID-19 crisis became a worldwide pandemic. As a result, the WCCO supply chain is functioning well and we do not anticipate this to change in the short term.

How has the company continued to support production employees throughout this pandemic?

During the first quarter, COVID-19 had little to no influence on our ability to produce products and fulfill customer orders. Being in a rural community has been an advantage to us regarding slowing the spread. We anticipated Q2 would be more challenging as some of our customers began to adjust in response to the crisis in their communities. Our leadership was proactive in securing federal funding to support our small family business, and ahead of Easter, we announced to employees that their paycheck was protected for the next eight weeks, meaning no furloughs or layoffs.

I am proud of our leadership and the COVID-19 Taskforce for developing strategies that allowed us to operate while maintaining the priorities and values that have defined us for decades. I am even more proud of the response from our employees. They have trusted us to continue to put their health and safety above all else, like we always do. I know I speak for the rest of the team when I say that we are incredibly humbled by their faith and loyalty.

WCCO’s Wellness and Safety teams have also done a great job adjusting their strategies to support our employee’s health and happiness. Whether it’s an internal event, such as coordinating free meals or coloring pages for employees’ children, or an external event, such as a food drive, donation to a group responsible for victim services, dino-themed workout video in honor of our Raptor brand and keeping kids busy at home, they are making us feel together while we’re staying apart.

How has the company continued to support its employees who are working remotely?

We implemented Microsoft Teams over a year ago so were fortunate to be prepared for virtual collaboration when the pandemic struck. Because of our business model, we have employees across the globe who have always worked remotely so we all knew it could be an option for most of our non-production personnel. It was more a matter of getting employees comfortable at home, and that is why we allowed them to bring any necessary office equipment home to support the transition. Our EVP slogan is, “Loving where you work begins with the people you work with.” Our team working remotely understand that they are isolating to reduce the risk of exposure to their coworkers that need to be onsite to do their jobs.

What is your biggest key learning from all of this?

My biggest key learning is we need to keep everyone calm and make choices based on facts - not fear. WCCO’s spirit is founded on our ability to work, collaborate, and grow together. I have seen through the past few weeks that our employees are going to successfully weather this storm because our care for each other and our customers doesn’t end when we punch out or work from home. We can and will get through this!

What are you most looking forward to when life goes “back to normal?”

I am looking forward to being back in the office on a regular basis. I enjoy being on the production floor to connect with employees that I wouldn’t get the chance to regularly interact with otherwise. We’re a family business, but we’re also a business that’s a family.  

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