This week on the Bright Ideas series presented by Acuity Brands® Catherine is joined by Ricky Reece, the Vice Chairman of Acuity Brands Lighting and Executive Vice President of Acuity Brands, to share the story of Acuity’s initial response from when the COVID-19 pandemic first started through the evolution of the last year.
RESPONDING TO A GLOBAL PANDEMIC
Back in March 2020, Acuity Brands’ new CEO Neil Ashe and new Chief Human Resources Officer Dianne Mills were confronted with their first major challenge: responding to a global pandemic. Like for so many companies, crucial decisions and fast action became paramount.
One of the first crucial decisions that had to be made was simple: would they, both figuratively and literally, keep the lights on? Should the operations remain open, or would the company have to shut their doors at least temporarily for the safety of their employees and associates?
After a considerable study and evaluation, the leadership team concluded that many Acuity Brands associates could work very effectively from home, and manufacturing operations could continue running with proper safety protocols in place because it was determined that Acuity’s business was considered essential in the midst of the nationwide shutdowns: to provide lighting to healthcare facilities, distribution centers, grocery stores, and other equally-vital buildings.
HOW TO KEEP ESSENTIAL EMPLOYEES SAFE
The next hurdle was determining how quickly teams could set up all the tools and technology they would need to work remotely. Within a single weekend, the company transitioned their campus in Conyers, GA to be fully virtual.
In the company’s multiple production facilities and distribution centers located across North America, the company had to quickly implement new protocols such as social distancing, contact tracing, routine cleaning/disinfection, masks and other protective gear, work area shields and guards, and employee testing.
The company’s Monterrey manufacturing facility, in fact, has since become a gold standard for health authorities throughout much of Mexico. Beyond just social distancing, testing, contact tracing and personal protective equipment, associates are also kept in “pod groups” for additional protection. Particular restrooms are used only by certain pods, and particular tables in the lunchroom are designated for only certain pods. This system keeps the different employee groups from “cross-pollinating” and spreading any potential infection.
Many of these successful tactics were then shared with aligned companies and suppliers of Acuity Brands that were struggling to remain open. As a result, those companies were able to resume operations more quickly and in many cases were able to supply Acuity Brands with much-needed materials and components.
INITIATIVES TO AID WORKING PARENTS, WOMEN, AND MINORITIES
Acuity Brands’ new business models from March and April 2020 continued to make small, incremental improvements as the company adjusted to new ways of operating. And new opportunities, coupled with ways to expand existing programs to improve associate work-life, presented themselves.
For example, after recognizing how difficult the pandemic situation has been for working parents, Acuity Brands made valuable aids available to many of their associates: not just childcare, but also personal computers for students whose school years have moved online. That was one initiative helmed by the company’s Women’s Network, which formed back in 2015 to oversee the unique needs and opportunities of women and families in the workplace.
The Women’s Network was just one of multiple inclusion and mentorship programs that Acuity Brands has been maintaining for years. The M.A.G.I.C. organization has been focused on amplifying the voice and the opportunities of minorities in the workplace as well, long before other companies started such programs in response to the spotlight that 2020 threw on injustice in the country.
THE PANDEMIC’S LONG-TERM IMPACT
Moving forward, many associates will probably continue to work remotely for a majority of the time. As a result the company has launched the Acuity Anywhere initiative, which will allow a large portion of their salaried organization to choose where they work.
It’s become clear even though in-person interaction is still highly valuable, Acuity Brands will likely be investing in far less travel expenses for employee training or product demos. Thanks to tools like artificial intelligence and 360º augmented or virtual reality, customers and new hires can examine many Acuity Brands creations from the comfort of their own homes. And company culture can still be supplemented with virtual events like live concerts and happy hours.
In truth, perhaps one of the most drastic areas where the pandemic will affect Acuity’s business model for the long-term is actually in the lighting industry’s applications for disinfection*. UV lights are already often utilized to disable viruses and bacteria on public transportation, but now schools and other private businesses may apply these tools in their own facilities as well. For example, grocery stores can keep UV lights beneath their conveyor belts to disinfect the belt as it is used in real time.
In the face of the year’s events, Acuity Brands set out to keep their operations up and running while implementing safe business practices for its associates. In the end, it has been a challenging but successful transition. In fact, the company launched approximately 100 new products over this same timeframe thanks to hard work and dedication of its associates. To learn more about Acuity’s response to the pandemic, visit acuitybrands.com/covid-19. Join us next week to hear how the events of 2020 impacted one electric distributor’s network, and what he did about it.
*All references to “disinfection” are referring generally to the reduction of pathogenic bioburden and are not intended to refer to any specific definition of the term as may be used for other purposes by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The disinfection technology as incorporated in Acuity Brands products is not for use as or for medical devices. Reduction of the pathogenic bioburden is a function of fixture run time, distance to the UV light source and/or other factors, and the level of reduction will vary within a specific space.
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