It is hard to believe that Saunders Yachtworks convened our first company meeting to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on March 12. In the blink of an eye, we have radically changed so many of the practices and policies of our company and remained productive in our work. A month ago, we didn’t even know what “social distancing” or “flattening the curve” meant! I am very grateful and proud to work with such a “can do” group of people in our company and to be part of our marine industry. We are fortunate that our customers enjoy their lives on the water and that we can support them.
Our stated goals at that first meeting were to keep our people safe and to keep working. As a company, we worked our way through the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the flood of Hurricane Ivan, the BP Oil Spill, and the Great Recession. We know what it takes to get through hard times, but we had never faced a disease pandemic. We adopted a mantra to follow the scientists and have faith. It was a time to turn off the TV and the politicians. I am grateful to the “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers” that was published by the Centers for Disease Control. Early on, that information and the wisdom of experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci established our direction for best practices at work. We were learning new information every day and trying our best to put it into practice.
In truth, I immediately missed the handshakes, pats on the back, and hugs that had been essential to my work life. It is hard for me to congratulate an employee for a job well done by waving and hollering down a hallway. Phone calls, emails, and texts are not the same as looking a customer in the eye and making a deal.
On the other hand, how critical were all of those meetings? We had our last company meeting on March 18 to review the new coronavirus policies. We had our last sit down committee meeting the next day to deal with the changes that happened in 24 hours. I haven’t shut the door of my office for a private talk with an employee or customer in weeks. And yet, Saunders Yachtworks keep responding to customers, turning out great repairs, completing services, and delivering great refits. Invoices are getting delivered, our people get paid, our bills get paid, and we are thriving … all without meetings!
Much of our company confidence is born from the survival of past crises. The most relatable circumstance compared to this coronavirus threat was the BP Oil Spill in 2010 because, unlike a hurricane, the impact was experienced over a long period of time. Even then, we were not forced into social isolation. We knew that the mental health challenges of a slowly unfolding threat can break people down. They will have good days and bad days, but they are still good people.
We have had to work around higher than normal absenteeism. Our people stay home when they are sick and remain at home until they are fully well. We started providing emergency sick leave before the federal government required it. We tested the new access to telemedicine and learned from the experience.
The CDC and other mental health resources provided sound guidance on managing stress and anxiety in a crisis. I reminded our people to be gentle with each other and watch out for the signs of stress in your fellow worker. Keep talking about your concerns and a caring ear is a better outlet for your fears than a shout out on social media. It also helps that much of our work is outside. The healing power of sunshine, fresh air, and water is undeniable.
We are fortunate that our customers have responded to our continued availability and determination with work requests. They have entrusted their boats to our yards and assisted in our efforts to work at a safe social distance. We have asked them to get out of the way and allow our people to have undisturbed access to work. We stopped dispatching into the field and asked them to bring their boats to us. In turn, we are taking extra precautions to disinfect all work areas in the facilities and on the boats. We are committed to protecting their equipment from our possible contamination and have courteously asked them to protect our people from their possible contamination. Working together, we are protecting each other.
The same is true of our community of subcontractors. Early in the process, we stopped signing them in at the office and went to a call-in arrival system. We over communicate schedules so we do not have multiple trades in the same spaces. We have empowered our people to walk away from any situation in which they do not feel comfortable with the social distancing of a work arrangement. In all of these challenges, we have worked through the rough spots to keep the work flowing.
Many years ago, I heard one of our senior mechanics tell a young apprentice, “Son, if you can’t talk and work, don’t talk.” When you work at a social distance, you have to choose your words more carefully and listen more carefully to make sure that effective communication occurs. It is even more important when you are speaking through a mask. Talk less, work more, listen harder.
Throughout the last month, I have been so encouraged by being at work and with our team of employees. My family has been wonderfully supportive as well and a joy to be with on the weekends and the evenings, but our company needed to keep showing up at work to keep the engine of our business in operation. As a family business owned and operated business, we take comfort in the work. So many other industries were not able to keep working through this time. We were very blessed to have the opportunity to support ourselves through our own efforts.
So, we march on. In dealing with this initial pandemic outbreak as a country, we appear to be nearly halfway home. My heart breaks for the lives lost. The disease has hurt all of us in a very personal way even while our medical community has been amazing in risking their own lives to save so many. We still have many challenges ahead. I believe that our social distancing practices must stay in place as we come down the other side of the curve. As long as the virus is out there, we must protect each other from each other. We are also still just learning about the negative impact to our businesses from the stock market crash. There will certainly be tough times ahead with this disease and for the economy.
At the same time, I want to remind people of the benefits of living a one day at a time world. Be grateful for each day. At Saunders Yachtworks, we continue to take care of our people and stay productive. We will follow the scientists and the faithful. We embrace the challenges of the post-coronavirus world. Our lives will actually never be the same. Together, we will watch out for each other and we will be here for our customers so everyone can enjoy life on the water!