The current outbreak of COVID-19 has left numerous businesses in financial despair. No one could adequately prepare for the repercussions. Economic recovery will be difficult, even for companies labeled as “essential.”
Elite businessman Gome Gomez took exceptional measures to ensure the health and financial safety of his employees. His operations have been uninterrupted. Now, he is sharing the precautionary steps and progressive actions that have protected his employees’ well-being while allowing his company to continue operating.
Q: As COVID-19 spread throughout the continents, explain how you quickly reacted to the news, and prepared a plan of action?
G: I began paying close attention to the evolving situation in mid-January, after discussing coronavirus with two tech investor friends who I consider verybright. They both started projecting potentially massive health and economic damage globally due to the virus based on China’s experience. This was before the WHO called COVID-19 a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)” on January 30th, 2020. Mexico’s first deaths from the pandemic did not start appearing until mid-March. This meant we were able to observe how societies’ and companies’ reactions to the pandemic helped mitigate or intensify its spread, before having to confront the crisis ourselves. We read as much as possible, talked to experts, and listened to panels of public health professionals. We then formed a plan that we thought would be most appropriate for Grupo Tracsa. Planning began with conversations amongst the leadership of the company. As we became convinced that we needed to act swiftly, we escalated to calling a formal meeting involving all senior management.
Q: Have you found reliable sources that you will monitor for situational awareness?
G: Academic papers that appear in top scientific journals, data viewing tools such as Johns Hopkins’ interactive map, books by subject matter professionals, and expert opinions are generally much better sources than news outlets, which mostly want readers to click on articles.
During the pandemic, many repositories for academic articles have made their databases freely available, which is great. Connelly Library provides a list of several publishers that are part of this effort.
Finally, with lives at risk, it is better to err on the side of caution until we have a more precise understanding of this disease. If there is uncertainty about the true mortality of the virus being .05% or 3%, we will assume that it is on the more dangerous end of the spectrum. This assumption may end up saving lives.
Q: What sections of your company are essential, thus able to continue conducting business?
G: Each country’s government determines which activities are necessary for society to function under quarantine. Mexico’s official definitions of “essential work” are aligned with the US’. Not all of our customers’ operations are considered essential, but thankfully, many are. For example, companies we serve that are involved in food production and distribution, infrastructure construction, and energy continued to operate legally throughout the lockdown.
Q: Explain what guidelines your company proposed for your employees. Do you believe your plan will be useful if this phenomenon occurs again?
G: Employees at risk – those over the age of 60 and those with pre-existing health conditions – were sent home to work remotely as a preventive measure before most companies had done anything here. Then, we called for a company-wide shutdown of operations, except for a few exceptions, for five days, from March 21st to March 25th. Since then, we have moved all but critical physical activities to remote work. Across the company, we implemented international health organizations’ recommendations such as social distancing, the use of protective equipment, intensive hygiene, and a testing and contact tracking system for suspected cases.
It is difficult to tell exactly how effective our efforts will be, but we are confident that the benefits will significantly outweigh the costs in terms of protecting our people while allowing the company to endure this crisis. If and when future waves of COVID-19 come, we think the preparation we have already done will have strengthened our emergency protocol planning and deployment processes. Nevertheless, we remain ready to implement additional measures rapidly as new information and tools become available.
Q: Which business activities are continuously conducted and which have been deferred?
G: With a large part of our personnel working from home, we have done away with practically all-in person meetings, and there is no coffee in our office since the people who prepared it are at home – haha. I have been surprised by how much we can accomplish with entire departments working remotely thanks to the broad range of digital tools we have today. We are still able to support customers by monitoring their equipment telematically and by working with them to improve their businesses even though in-person interactions have become limited. Everyone on our team has been wonderful in adapting quickly and giving their all to make the company successful in this new reality.
Q: Are there people on paid leave? Did you have to let anyone go, if so, will they get their jobs back assuming the economy rebounds?
G: So far, we have made zero layoffs, and our goal is to preserve employment. We are fortunate that our business has not fallen as dramatically as it has for companies in other industries. For companies in entertainment, travel, durable consumer goods, among several other activities, the damage is pretty shocking.
Q: Have any employees had COVID-19? How did you handle this, if so?
G: More than three months into COVID-19 appearing in Mexico, 11 confirmed cases have appeared in our Mexico business, which either shows that we have been lucky or that our preventive measures have worked. I should note, all of those infections were contracted outside of the workplace with no intra-company transmission taking place up to now. Luckily, everyone from our team who has gotten the virus thus far has recovered or is making good progress in regaining their health.
Firstly, when an employee or one of their family members presents COVID-like symptoms, they should notify our dedicated Medical Service hotline to receive assistance in obtaining a diagnosis and treatment. Thankfully, most of our people who have presented flu-like symptoms turned out not to be coronavirus carriers, something we have been able to validate via company sponsored tests. In parallel to helping individuals who are feeling ill, we track their contacts and disinfect company facilities that were potentially exposed to the virus.
Q: Has your company discussed its pandemic preparedness efforts with suppliers, other business partners, or customers?
G: Our Marketing Department has done an amazing job of organizing all of our measures against the pandemic into a series of documents. A summary PDF outlining our protocols has been shared with suppliers, customers, and other business partners to keep them informed of how we are doing our best to keep everyone safe. We decided to make this document available to the public (in Spanish, since it’s geared to a Latin American audience) with the hope that others will benefit from our lessons learned:https://workspace.tracsa.com.mx/index.php/s/kz7j99nJK5n7o2r#pdfviewer
Q: How has your company taken a hit? How will you bounce back?
G: There is a saying in our company that roughly translates: “We have been there to serve our customers throughout the many crises that Mexico has had to endure. You can count on us to be there for you into the future when times get tough again.” In the face of this new challenge, we plan to keep that promise.
We sent a company video out in early April to the entire workforce offering the leadership’s perspective on the disease and its implications for our company in an attempt to create a common level of understanding from which we could work.
Humans, it seems, prefer receiving bad news over remaining in a state of uncertainty. Furthermore, as a company, we believe that communication and transparency create a healthier, more productive environment. For these reasons, we prioritize keeping our people informed of all material developments for the organization in terms of public health, government orders, our operations, and company actions, among other important subjects.