Staying at Home: Nystrom Team Shines Bright

nystrom at home 2Nystrom team members have found creative ways to use their time productively during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mask Makers

Dozens of our team members and their families have put their sewing machines to good use making masks. Many employees initially donated their CDC-designed masks to healthcare facilities, who reported mask shortages. But as grocery stores, national chains and manufacturing facilities, including Nystrom, mandated mask use, the demand grew. Besides outfitting their own families, neighbors and friends, many team members expanded their mask making for the Nystrom production crew. “Sewing and doing something creative, which I knew would benefit another person, felt great after a day on the computer,” said Nystrom Chief Financial Officer Gretchen Kelly, “and it’s neat to look out on the production floor and see a mask I made benefiting a coworker.”

Executive Chefs

Aside from jokes about the pandemic pounds piled on by being at home and social media memes taunting the “Quarantine Fifteen,” many team members use their cooking prowess in meaningful ways. Human Resources Generalist Lindsey Jankowski turned to an iconic Minnesota dish to cheer up friends. “I made nine tater tot hotdishes and delivered them safely to friends during furlough,” notes Jankowski, who also shared the recipe with friends and co-workers.

Area Sales Manager Shawn Cheney  modestly mentioned over a Teams video call that he’s been stirring up a lot of homemade, from scratch dishes in his kitchen including waffles with apple cinnamon caramel sauce with fresh whipped cream, red pepper risotto, fresh angel hair pasta and steak and mozzarella quiche. When his team members asked for recipes, he confided that he doesn’t usually follow recipes and finds joy in creating dishes from the ingredients he has on hand. When he’s not working with customers, Cheney indulges in TV cooking shows and admits he’s usually cooking three meals a day for his family of 4 and 3 extra long-term guests that are sharing his home.

Distant Learning Teachers

The Pandemic has forced many parents into the role of teacher. Not only is it a role most never imagined but parents are becoming experts at multiple grades and subjects.

Many Nystrom employees are juggling the demands of working from home with managing distance learning, which includes troubleshooting technology, printing worksheets, relearning Algebra and managing lesson plans for multiple children in many grades.

“I always appreciated teachers,” notes Nystrom Controller Nicole Engstrom, “but I have a new respect and admiration for them.” Nicole has juggled her financial duties of month-end reporting and managing the company’s accounting team with supervising the distance learning for her two elementary-aged sons. “My husband and I tag team the school day, but it’s a challenge. I have to admit that I look forward to recess as much as the boys!”

Operating Safety to Supply Construction

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted businesses quickly and manufacturers were forced to respond rapidly to protect the health and safety of their employees. Nystrom was no exception.IMG_2255

Before the governor of Nystrom’s home state of Minnesota declared Stay at Home measures, Nystrom’s leadership team was taking steps to slow production and plan for safer manufacturing policies and practices.

Working with Chief Executive Officer Sue Thomas and manufacturing supervisors, Chief Operating Officer Matt Benson led the development of the company’s Safe Manufacturing Strategy. Benson’s goal was to establish an effective, enforceable plan of action to allow safe manufacturing of Nystrom products guided by established methods and guidance from state and federal health agencies. The plan would go beyond writing policies to include mandatory practices to reduce the risk of transmission.

The Safe Manufacturing Strategy, known as the SMS, was developed and phased in carefully by initially bringing back a small, experienced crew to begin shipping orders. Decisions to increase manufacturing were influenced by the Governor of Minnesota expanding the state’s Safe at Home policy and monitoring health agencies and models showing the effectiveness of social distancing to curb the spread of the virus.

Planning and Preparation

Benson used the well-established Hierarchy of Controls approach to build the safety plan. “Rather than relying on workers to reduce their exposure, the best way to control a hazard is to systematically remove it from the workplace,” Benson said. “During the COVID-19 outbreak when it was not possible to eliminate the hazard, our goal was to reduce the risk of spread.” According to Benson, the most effective protection measures are established and mandated and include engineering controls, administrative controls, safe work practices and the use of personal protective equipment.

The team started with engineering controls that would alter operations to promote safety. The controls included closing lunchrooms, moving the physical layout of workstations to ensure a minimum of six feet spacing and eliminating the production of any product that required team lifting and violation of the six-foot distancing policy. Several improvements were made to eliminate workers touching surfaces, including the installation of touchless faucets and soap dispensers, automated check-in that eliminated traditional punch clocks and propping all doors open during working hours.

Administrative controls and safe work practices were established and tested so Benson and his supervisors were confident employees could successfully follow the new requirements. The controls include limiting one worker to interact with any machine or tool equipment and that individual sanitizes those touch surfaces at the beginning and end of each shift.  Signs were produced and posted throughout the building and workspaces.

Communication and Execution

When employees were called back to begin regular work shifts, the new safety policies were communicated in advance to prepare workers.

Prior to reporting to work, members of the production team received emails from Benson with a link to view a video. The video featured Benson outlining the safety practices and mandatory conduct that would greet the team when they returned to work.

Early on the morning of the first full production day in April, production employees lined up single file outside of Nystrom’s facilities and walked in one-by-one. They were greeted by Production Manager John Chiodo and Facilities Manager Rick Fanning, who were stationed at the entrance to immediately implement the practices outlined in Benson’s video. Chiodo and Fanning directed employees to wash their hands and pick up their personal protection equipment. Employees continued single file and six feet apart to Production Managers Craig Rudesill and Jim Boden, who monitored check-in and conducted non-contact temperature checks. Team members then reported to their workstations for small group meetings that restated safety rules and instructions to start the workday.

Personal Health & Safety First

The development of the new manufacturing plan was an employee-first endeavor, according to Senior Human Resources Director Susan Aaker, who worked with Benson and his team on the plan. “Our resilience and compassion helped us rise to the challenge,” Aaker recalls.  While it was critical to develop new safety protocols to reduce the risk of illness, Aaker formalized standards for employees, including a one-page safety protocol summary that each employee signed prior to starting work.

Any employee who was sick or exposed to sick individuals was to stay home. “We ensured that our leave policies were flexible and consistent with public health guidance and didn’t require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who were sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness.”

CEO Thomas endorsed the people-first approach and communicated to all employees that returning to work was voluntary and that no pressure was applied in the event employees didn’t feel comfortable returning to the workplace due to compromised immunity or other health related concerns.

Education, Enforcement and the Future

Benson, Fanning and the production management team are tasked with effective education, auditing, monitoring and enforcement of the plan during the exposure risk period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Benson is confident that the team is up to the task. “Our employees have thanked us for the safeguards. Every day they leave and return to their families with the confidence that we’ve invested in their safety. We’ve developed a plan that can be communicated, executed and monitored,” said Benson.”  Thomas adds that beyond measuring the activities, there’s one metric that counts to her. “If we remain healthy, that’s the measurement I’m looking for,” said Thomas.