#BackToWork: HR Director Alida Malatrasi on ramping up business at Berco after the peak of the Corona pandemic
The numbers of new Corona infections are going down and countries across Europe are cautiously lifting the lockdown. But it will take time before everyone can return to work safely. At thyssenkrupp Berco, original equipment manufacturer of undercarriage components and systems for heavy machinery in Northern Italy, our colleagues have already started the transition back to work. How do they keep safe while ramping up their business?
We talked to Alida Malatrasi, HR Director at thyssenkrupp Berco, about the transition and what Berco focuses on to keep employees safe and healthy.
Even though the two Berco plants in Northern Italy are situated in a region strongly struck by the Corona virus, none of the 1,700 employees was infected. Thanks to luck – and a strong business continuity and safety plan, says Malatrasi. Berco plants and offices took strict measures to keep their business running and guarantee the safety of all employees, already at the end of February 2020.
“Incredibly, none of our employees got infected up to now,” says Alida Malatrasi stunned. “Within just a few days the Corona virus spread like a wildfire!” Especially in Northern Italy. As the number of Corona infections rose dramatically, Malatrasi and her team had to change security procedures day by day and constantly adapt to new circumstances. An unprecedent challenge admits the HR professional, “I have never managed a situation like the Corona virus outbreak in my entire professional life.”
Better safe than sorry: Reopening step by step
After the Berco plants had closed at the beginning of March, the team decided to reopen the two locations about three weeks ago and to gradually ramp up the production to deliver to foreign customers. “At first, we reopened with only a few people,” explains Malatrasi. “Then 200 employees followed for the ramp-up and at the end of April, about 1,000 employees returned to work at the plant – using every safety protection necessary such as masks, gloves, hand disinfectant and a distance of 1,5 meters between each employee,” the HR director emphasizes.
Furthermore, the workers at the plant follow a very strategic and well-thought-out plan to avoid more than three people in one room and to keep the advised distance to one another. “The employees are very strict about it and we are proud to see, how seriously the precautions are taken and how accurately they are being followed,” says Alida Malatrasi content.
Returning to the office
Apart from the colleagues working at the plants, only a few people returned to the office as Alida Malatrasi and her team advise those employees working in the offices to continue working from home. “We will be very careful with the reopening the offices especially since remote working works so well at this point. Why risk anything?” asks Malatrasi. “We will not have 100 % of people back at the office within the next month,” she says.
In any case, the preparations for the return to the office are clear: “We suggest everyone to not use coffee machines, in fact, we closed them completely in the entire office-building. They are literally an unnecessary touchpoint for the virus to spread,” explains Malatrasi. Additionally, the canteen is limited to only half of the number of people that can be seated, after it was shut down completely over the past weeks. Now, the employees have to maintain 1,5 meters of distance, also when eating or waiting in line.”
Advantages of home office
The HR Director is positively surprised by the impact remote working had on the office teams:
“It is strange because via web and video call we can build a deeper relationship compared to when we are at the office. We work in a very large building and some offices are one kilometer apart from each other.” Now, due to remote working, the colleagues can look at each other in the eye more often. “Funnily enough, the home office brought us closer to one another. We are having more efficient meetings to solve problems and the team spirit really improved,” Malatrasi says.
Having experienced that working remotely works well, Berco is now considering making it more accessible even after the Corona pandemic. “It holds a tremendous opportunity and support for parents with small children, just to give one example”, says the HR expert and continues, “I think this is one positive thing we can take away from this difficult time and change the future of how we work and open new ways of working.”
Taking precautions early on: Having a good strategy and safety plan is key
Alida Malatrasi is sure that part of the reason why all employees remained unaffected by the Corona virus is the fact that the teams at Berco immediately got together, developed a safety and hygiene strategy, and most importantly implemented it as early as the ending of February 2020. But part of it was also luck, says Malatrasi, “To be honest, the result was very positive. Up until today, we did not have a single case of Corona amongst our employees, which is incredible, when you take into consideration how highly affected the North of Italy was and still is. I think we have been very lucky.”
The example of the Berco team in Northern Italy demonstrates wonderfully how facing adversity together can transform a group of people and strengthen their team spirit. We cannot avoid difficult times in life, but we can, however, try to grow from it and this is exactly what Alida Malatrasi and the employees at Berco decided to do.