Hear from our colleagues working from home

Marie-Christelle Konan

When we first took action to protect our plants and employees from Covid-19, our main concern was about the health of our people. Our operations were identified early on as essential businesses, so employees were concerned about catching the coronavirus at work, given it’s hard to avoid close proximity with people in a production setting. As initial precautions we quarantined employees returning from vacation and asked those feeling unwell to self-isolate. 

To make sure employees felt secure, we involved them in open discussions to decide on procedures, with the help of the Lac-des-Îles plant’s Union. Because we have fewer than 100 employees across the two plants, it was possible to make sure everyone had input. As a manager, it was undeniably challenging to stay connected and address employees’ concerns in the initial phase of the outbreak while we adjusted to being apart, but the challenge was worth it to give them peace of mind. We continue to communicate through employee-wide meetings via conference calls and we ensure that the same messages reach all employees. 

We have put in place a number of new measures to stay safe while continuing operations, such as staggered lunch breaks, dividing teams into smaller groups, intensifying cleaning protocol and providing all staff onsite with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Anyone external coming onsite has separate bathroom facilities to use, and we are limiting employee contact with the delivery drivers coming on site following discussions with our partners from transportation companies to agree on the best way to do so. The only people that continue to work onsite are supervisors and employees directly related to the operational work – everyone else is working remotely. It’s not easy, but I have encouraged people to rethink the way they work and really consider what is possible to do remotely. These measures have helped to limit the flow of people coming onsite, and at this stage, we’ve not had any known cases of Covid-19.

It has been more important than ever to look after employees’ well-being and make sure their comments and requests are heard by management. As well as checking in with employees myself, we have also registered with an external program, HumanCare, which connects employees to support services covering things like well-being, legal and finance, complementing our organization well.

I can begin to feel the team adjusting to the new normal, which is encouraging to see!  

What advice would you give to those in management positions? 

  1. Lead by example: Visible Felt Leadership speaks for itself. 
  2. Communicate: Messaging should be clear and consistent, with no room for confusion. 
  3. Lean on colleagues: this won’t be an easy time for anyone, and site managers, in particular, may find it stressful, so remember to lean on your colleagues, and ask for support when you need it.

Juarez Borges

Since March 20th, the state of Pará, in the northern region of Brazil, has been under lockdown, just essential services are open like markets, drugstores and restaurants - working through delivery. On April 17th, the governor of Pará claimed new measures to define the time these shops can open during the day and reducing quantity of people that can attend during this time. The beginning of the pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty and concern. When the pandemic began in Brazil, we had planned how this would affect our operations. We were prepared when recommendations were released by health agencies and we had concrete prevention and containment measures and actions, ready to communicate to employees.

All the measures adopted were designed primarily for the health and well-being of our employees and their families, with the aim of minimizing the impact of this pandemic on our business. 

In addition to the recommendations of health authorities, we adopted several internal protocols. Employees returning from travel underwent a period of quarantine, and remote-working was set up in all activities where it was possible. As a measure of protection, and in line with WHO recommendations, some staff members, notably those in the high-risk group, are no longer working on site until further notice. We are also measuring the temperature of everyone that enters our sites and we have implemented higher hygiene standards in the cafeteria, buses, bathrooms and offices, as well as ensuring alcohol gel supply in the operational areas.

We are also monitoring PPE to ensure there would be no shortages for our employees in operations. 

What advice would you give to those who are currently in the same situation?  

  1. This is a delicate time for everyone, so it is essential to stay calm so that everyone can continue working together. 
  2. We must focus on the business and help everyone do their part.
  3. We need to plan the next steps, as I am convinced that at the end of this, we will come out stronger and with renewed certainty.

Crystelle Zhou

What lessons have you learned from this lockdown experience?

To stay in touch with colleagues, I created a social media network group on Wechat, a Chinese social messaging app like WhatsApp. I invited my colleagues to join this group in order to stay connected. Thanks to this network, we felt like we were together and united. We exchanged thoughts on working subjects, as well as updates of the Covid-19 situation in our cities.

How did you organize your time?

I don’t really mind working from home actually. Sometimes, it’s better. I can be more concentrated and focused on certain topics. There are less interruptions than when I am working in the office. Things are quieter for me and I feel more productive.

When I work at home, my laptop is always open, so for my own well-being, I think it’s necessary to take regular breaks. 

What advice would you give to those who are currently confined?

I would advise them to pay attention to your eyes and cervical vertebrae [in your neck] and to take a daily walk if possible. I do exercises from time to time by following an app called Keep.  

When I wasn’t working, I would listen to the music and spend time cooking for my family. This made me happy and helped me to keep up morale.

Bruno Di Sabatino

Italy is one of the countries most affected by Covid-19. Since the beginning of the crisis, most of our quarries, mines and production sites continue to operate.

Our response to this crisis

As soon as the situation escalated into a state of emergency, we formed a response team, composed of site managers, local Environment Health and Safety (EHS) coordinators across the country, regardless of what hub or Business Area they were in. When you are all facing the same problems, you have to work together. Every day, we are in contact by call at 10 AM. We have been doing this for several weeks and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  

We work within the guidelines and restrictions issued by the Italian government, that we monitor on a daily basis, in combination with the Group protocol that was developed internally in response to the spreading of the virus. 

Thanks to our Chinese colleagues’ experience, we updated our biological risk assessments, looked at our local management plans to guarantee business continuity, and planned for stocks of PPE quite ahead of the outbreak. By the time the government had published protocols on how to manage production and guarantee safety in the workplace, we were organized and compliant. 

In the midst of this unprecedented outbreak, I have seen excellent commitment and cooperation from every level of the local team. I would also like to express some strong recognition to all the teams involved; their solidarity on the shop floor has been outstanding. They are all united to face adversity.

What advice would you give to those who are currently working on-site? 

  1. Keep in touch with others as much as possible. Make sure you are networking with colleagues in your country and sharing feedback. 
  2. In the workplace, apply the rules that have been set by the Group, in compliance with what your government is advising.
  3. Emphasize the importance of daily hygiene and periodically sanitizing work areas. Plants rely on the commitment of everyone to follow procedures to guarantee a safe and clean workplace. Reinforce this. This applies to all staff, including managers and leaders. It can never be too much, especially if it saves lives!

Dongjun Seo

How did you organize your time?

I am used to traveling a lot for work, so I can say I have been trained to work everywhere. But I find working in a hotel or a café is much easier than working from home. 

In the beginning, there were some challenges. I found it hard to focus due to the unusual working environment and I was often distracted by checking daily Covid-19 updates on my phone.

What advice would you give to those who are currently confined?

There is no longer a barrier between the office and my home, so it can be hard to switch off properly between working and resting mode – be aware that this has the potential to cause some mental health issues.

We have to admit the situation and trust that social distance is the best way to protect our people and business.

What lessons have you learned from this lockdown experience?

You must trust team members and be diligent. Don't question how much work people are doing at home. Check what has to be done and assign work accordingly to team members. Regularly check in and remind colleagues of the deadlines. 

Clear instruction is necessary. Specify whether a task is important or urgent. Don't text, just call and talk directly. 

Keep scheduling meetings, but not too many. I think weekly team gatherings seem a suitable frequency.

From time to time, check team members' situations and encourage and cheer them on whenever possible, because they face the same difficulties and anxieties as you.

We may not always remember to do these, but we have to try.

Matthew Chua

What advice would you give to those who are currently confined?

Shower and start your day on time, exactly as you would if you were going to work at the office. The shower really freshens you up a lot. Get changed out of your pyjamas too!

Remind your family that you are working at home and that you are not on holiday. Remind them of the times you have to do conference calls, so that they won’t disturb you. 

Don’t work in the bedroom. Stay away from the temptation of resting on your bed!

Yusuke Aikawa

What lessons have you learned from this lockdown experience?

I have realized that it is not necessary to always work from the office, but it is not easy to manage working time at home – it can feel endless, so be careful not to overwork.

How did you organize your time?

I always keep email access on my home PC, so that I can work whenever I feel I want to work. Having that time at home when I choose to work can often help me concentrate more than when I’m in the office.

Working at home in these circumstances, away from distractions and when you might not be able to do all your usual day-to-day work can provide opportunities to carry out tasks that are not always possible in the office: web training; cleaning up unnecessary emails and documents; or updating databases, presentations and other documents.

What advice would you give to those who are currently confined? 

Communicate with colleagues by sharing updated business tools and common documents. Use e-signatures to prevent authorizations from getting stuck in the system or to minimize the files you’ll have on your desk when you get back to the office. 

Prasanna Karandikar


As of 24 March, the majority of India has been under a Government-ordered lockdown; initially the Government indicated it would be for seven days, but it has since been extended.

In view of the situation in some of our countries of operations and observing the spread of the virus in India, I decided to stop traveling on 17 March, and alerted the plant managers of the coming contagion. With this in mind, we quickly launched business protocol initiatives, allowing us to identify potential gaps several days before India’s lockdown. This in turn enabled us to close the plants very quickly when the lockdown was announced.

In anticipation of the virus, we started screening employees’ temperatures and introduced mandatory hand-washing, with the launch of a “hand-wash break,” signaled by a siren ringing every two hours in each plant. We also set up a hand-washing station at the entrance gate of every plant, so that anyone visiting had to wash their hands before entering, and sanitized regularly the security guards’ base, as a large number of people come through there. 

When the lockdown was announced, the first thing I had to do was to inform all the plant managers of the situation and review with them the steps they needed to take ahead of the closure, which was a major challenge under such short notice. The biggest operational challenge for a business like ours is that some parts of the equipment can’t be switched off, so we had to properly train employees on call to operate the machinery in our absence.

My biggest challenge was to make sure people understand the severity of Covid-19. As it arrived later in India, I think people didn’t appreciate how serious the situation was. I made sure to share statistics on the virus, notably the spread rate across the world, to get plant managers to circulate the information and ensure employees take the lockdown very seriously. 

We produce carbonate in some of our plants, which we then supply to the paper industry; as both print news and packaging are considered essential sectors, the paper mills have requested permission to resume production, so we are looking forward to resetting some of our operations. In the meantime, we are carrying out assessments to see how prepared we are to resume operations, and our teams are conducting their own gap analysis to be as ready as possible for a return to operation.

What advice would you give to those who are currently working on site?  

  1. Communication is key – you need to find effective ways to communicate as quickly and as regularly as possible to ensure employees are not isolated. 
  2. Go by the books – we have great business protocols written up and ready to access. 
  3. Delegate effectively – ask managers or team leaders to engage with their own team members properly. Coordination is vital and needs to be taken seriously, but you can’t do everything yourself, so you’ll need to ensure your team leaders have everything they need to circulate accurate and relevant information.

Uwe Dreiucker

Germany has been under lockdown, with restaurants and most shops closed, since March 22. On April 1, the government agreed with regional states to extend the nationwide lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus for another two weeks until April 19. 

The first indication that we were moving away from business as usual happened early March when a colleague at our Oberhausen site was suspected to have Covid-19. We immediately tried to figure out which employees had been in close contact with him and sent those identified home as a precautionary measure until our original suspected case had been tested. The results came back negative, but the incident raised awareness among the teams about the virus and highlighted the seriousness of the problem. Because of this, when the situation in Germany developed, our sites were already quite prepared and strategies to tackle the spreading of the virus were underway. 

One of the first things we did was separate shift workers to avoid unnecessary contact between colleagues. We introduced shift handovers, so that people didn’t need to meet face to face, with colleagues documenting relevant information on site for the next shift of workers, and team leaders calling subsequent shift leaders to draw their attention to any outstanding actions. We also separated walkways on each site, to set apart colleagues working the late shift (walking on the right-hand side of the plant) from those working the early shift (walking on the left). On top of this, we placed visual signs highlighting best practices for hygiene across all plants. 

In order to welcome truck drivers in good safety conditions, we installed mobile toilets, so they didn’t need to share social areas with our full-time colleagues. We also used plastic glass separators to limit accidental contact with bodily fluids.

Each plant has a dedicated crisis team, who everyday monitors the situation in the country and across the world, the volume of positive cases identified, and checks for announcements and updates from the government. We also follow the news of our customers, in connection with our Sales colleagues. At the Business Area level, we have regular meetings to update on best practices and help one another understand what is going on outside our scope, as different locations and areas are facing different problems, like people in workshops, who have to juggle with additional measures, such as incorporating social distancing and wearing dust masks and gloves.

What advice would you give to those who are currently working on-site?  

  1. Keep employees connected. Everyone has their own feelings about the Covid-19 outbreak, some are more scared than others. In any case, the immediate future is uncertain, so communicating regularly is super important. That’s why I sent them a letter at home to thank them and reiterate how important they are and that we could not continue operating without them.
  2. Be transparent. It is important that employees and relevant stakeholders know why we’re taking the actions we are. 
  3. Be extra vigilant. Keep your eyes open for any signs that employees may be struggling, and provide them with the support they need accordingly, whether on-site or at home. That’s why I make sure to reiterate the importance of being safe at home, not just at work.

Sérgio Cardoso

Sao Paulo has been under lockdown, with restaurants and most shops closed, since March 24. On April 7, the state of Sao Paulo extended the quarantine by May 10th.

Since the first Covid-19 cases in Brazil, I have been working continuously, talking to my team very often, to explain the impacts that this situation can have on society as a whole, and on Imerys units. I also made sure to highlight the utmost importance of taking care of one another to overcome this crisis. 

We have implemented control and prevention measures to prevent the spread of the disease, checking the temperature of anyone entering the plant; those with a body temperature of over 37.3 ºC are prevented from visiting the site. We also distributed hand sanitizer in strategic places inside the plant (cafeterias, meeting rooms and common areas). We restricted the number of employees in the cafeteria at any one time, where we also changed the way we serve meals, which are now served one by one. Meetings with more than 4 attendees are held outdoors. 

Third party access to the unit is limited, and everyone is advised to wear masks and to greet each other without handshakes, hugs or kisses. All forms of physical contact are minimized. 

For employees with administrative work, we adopted a remote-office system and have put in place the right digital tools to ensure smooth communication. 

What advice would you give to those who are currently in the same situation?  

  1. Safety is essential every day, and even more so now. You must make sure that you keep on following the standard rules (use of PPE), and adopt specific recommendations quickly (use of masks, hand sanitizer, less physical contact). 
  2. Keep in touch with your team and coworkers; people are concerned, and words of comfort can make a difference and help you remain relaxed and focused. 
  3. Be clear, direct and honest with everyone. We are working with people who leave their homes every day to maintain essential productions and “keep the wheel turning!”