Business: How are companies dealing with the Covid-19 crisis?

The Covid-19 crisis has turned many industrial and logistics organizations upside down. The primary focus on profitability has been replaced by the need to ensure the health of workers while maintaining sufficient activity to meet demand and preserve the business.
To better understand this situation, researchers are studying** how organizations are adapting to this change. Thomas Reverdy, a social and human sciences teacher at Grenoble INP - Génie industriel and a researcher at the PACTE laboratory, is currently collaborating with Axel Genevois, a research project manager, to collect 50 testimonials from managers, engineers and technicians in Grenoble INP’s continuing education program “Sustainable industrial performance engineering” (IPID) as well as input from the school’s alumni.
“While the media have spoken a lot about the fact certain companies have completely reorganized their production chains to produce masks, visors or hydroalcoholic gel, this is only the tip of the iceberg. In all fields of activity, companies have had to re-organize their activities,” underlines Thomas. The industrial and logistics activities, which are both material and human oriented, have been highly impacted. However, few have completely stopped their activities: in the Grenoble region, microelectronics, electric manufacturing and chemistry factories have all continued their production while adapting their priorities to match the current situation.

Differing perspectives on risk thomas reverdy

One of the primary findings from the study carried out by Thomas Reverdy and Axel Genevois is that within each company there are differing perspectives on risk. Depending on an employee’s position (worker, manager, director…) the threat of the virus and its impact are not perceived in the same manner. On the management side, people tend to be highly invested in managing the risk of a company’s economic survival (loss of demand, supply problems, supplier relationships…). On the other hand, worker teams and their field managers tend to be more invested in preventive measures and ensuring employees are protected and reassured vis-à-vis the sanitary risk caused by the virus. “Each person has a different perspective on the various risks at play. Some people believe in the importance of continuing the business activity and respecting commitments made to clients while others believe that during a time of crisis, only vital operations justify exposure to contamination,” highlights Thomas in his study***.

In other words, each actor’s beliefs and perception of the virus and the risk of contamination determines how they accept or implement actions and discussion. Safety measures are re-interpreted and re-defined through negotiations between managers and workers. Field managers, who are faced with employee and union pressure, have had to manage many sollicitations and negotiations. “It’s not just a matter of following guidelines for social distancing. It’s more a question of how you identify all existing risks and invent work methods that minimize these risks.” Many “invisible” jobs in the field such as cleaning or maintenance have become vital activities.

Adapting responses on a case by case basis

This crisis highlights a company’s ability to adapt. Certain necessary changes such as cost reduction measures have important economic impacts and can mean canceling agreements with suppliers, who are often part of the process for new product development. While industrial activity is being maintained, there is much uncertainty as to how demand will evolve over the next couple of months. This study will be followed up by Axel Genevois in order to highlight the various differences and similarities in sectors such as logistics. “The first lesson from this crisis is the importance of resilience for production organizations and their ability to integrate new constraints and deal with uncertainty. But this crisis also gives new meaning to the importance of social dialogue thanks to a shared risk and its impact on workplace activities. The crisis highlights the interdependent chains that link all economic activities. This understanding will be essential to deal with future threats such as climate change and the scarcity of resources,” concludes the researcher in a recent article****.

*PACTE, social science laboratory and mixed research unit (CNRS, Université Grenoble Alpes and Sciences Po Grenoble)
** This study is part of a research project led by Céline Cholez, a lecturer at Grenoble INP – Génie industriel and researcher at PACTE. The project focuses on the resilience of various organizations when dealing with the current epidemic.
*** Reference: “La continuité de l’activité sous la menace du Covid-19 : une résilience fondée sur la négociation” Thomas Reverdy, Maître de Conférences, UGA, PACTE, Grenoble INP et Véronique Steyer, Maître de Conférences, i3-CRG, École polytechnique, CNRS, IP Paris
**** Reference: “La continuité d’activité sous la menace du Covid-19 : l’apprentissage difficile de la négociation de crise” Thomas Reverdy, Maître de Conférences, UGA, PACTE, Grenoble INP