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What 2020 Has Taught Us

We are approaching the end of 2020, and while there is a widely shared argument that this is a year to quickly forget, I feel there are learnings that will shape our short- and long-term futures. We have learned how fragile some of our business models are; how our lifestyles stood in the way of overcoming the spread of the pandemic; how ill-prepared and ill-equipped many societies turned out to be; and the importance of PPE and what its absence meant in terms of safety.

COVID-19 occurred at a time when communication and team/sharing tools thankfully reached some well-developed stages and were broadly available. This facilitated communication and promoted teamwork beyond just phone lines and enabled remote access to work infrastructure which supported employee flexibility to meet both family and employer needs. For students in some areas, relying on an adequate connection wasn’t always easily solved, as availability of internet and hardware was often a hurdle leaving too many out of touch. Yet, let’s imagine the pandemic happened ten years ago. What would have been ways to overcome the sudden imperative to apply social distancing, to avoid crowded offices, meeting rooms, public transportation, car-pooling etc.? No more face-to-face customer meetings, no more restaurants, gyms… Yet, despite all the video communication tools, we quickly learned how vital face-to-face human interactions are, even informal ones, for our mental and physical balance. Separation from loved ones and even co-workers took its toll.

For those fortunate enough to still have a job and having experienced extended time working from home, research and statistics indicate that a majority would rather not go back entirely to the “pre-COVID-19” ways and that some remote work is beneficial for work-life balance and overall effectiveness. Captured in these findings is also the need to recover the lost informal interactions. Likely, social distancing and wearing some forms of PPE may stay as wise precautionary measures for instance during cold and flu season, regardless of pandemic threats. I found the wearing of PPE became an interesting aspect as it relates to achieving a common goal, whether of a national health scale or as a business change. For many, wearing a mask during the pandemic was quickly understood as a means of protecting others, more so than one’s own protection against the virus. For others, it remained an unacceptable attack against personal liberties and an unnecessary precaution. In business, when introducing needed change, even when proclaiming a consistent message, one has to anticipate a broad range of interpretation of the same message and even conflicting results from the same call to action. This isn’t new, but what is interesting is that even when one’s health is at risk, such simple messages can be controversial and daunting, when designing communication plans to support change.

Overall, I am amazed and pleased at the speed at which our industry has adapted to the new ways of working and communicating. Early into the pandemic we learned that our entire, worldwide supply chain was being disrupted and enduring similar difficulties as ourselves. I believe this shared experience with our suppliers has made us both accommodating and resilient.

In our B2B sales model, we rely heavily on face-to-face meetings with our customers, across diverse subject matter expertise. The pandemic has brought that traditional model to a stop. There is no such thing as an easily scheduled line trial for new product qualification. So, how do we conduct business when remote work lingers on and might remain for at least the near future? Already very busy customers before the pandemic are even less available now, juggling with the increased and less predictable workload from the new environment. We need to re-imagine ways to pursue developing our relationship with clients and continuing to bring them value in the short and medium term, as again, we are unlikely to simply revert to the “old” ways.

A counter-intuitive consequence of the pandemic is the enduring focus on Sustainability, whereas one might have expected a “rebuild the economy at all cost”, consensus seems to be on rebuilding without sacrificing the environment. Furthermore, it appears understood that Sustainability is a source of new jobs and revenues to compensate for some that might have been forever lost during the pandemic. Our development efforts towards even more sustainable solutions for our customers, whether rigid or flexibles, remain in full swing, and we are pursuing the necessary equipment upgrades to produce them.

2020 has taken a heavy toll on many families and our communities. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Winpak employees for their resilience, adaptability, and giving nature in this trying year. As noted, you stepped up during many workplace changes on the shop floor and in office environments to keep each other safe; you pitched in when co-workers may have been absent due to unplanned circumstances; you provided PPE and other health supplies to front-line medical responders; and most recently, you demonstrated graciousness to those less fortunate by contributing donated food items to local charities in your respective communities. The fact that so many lives were taken by COVID-19, that so many families and communities were affected, 2020 won’t be forgotten, and what we’ve learned from it should hopefully guide us into 2021 and beyond. We will learn from 2020 and adopt new ways, adapt our organization going forward to be more agile, more resilient and more effective facing ever changing market conditions.

Enjoy the holiday season while taking all possible precautions to stay safe.
Olivier Muggli
Olivier Muggli
Winpak President & CEO
Winnipeg, MB Canada

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